By Andy Hill

Like most manufacturing industries, the processes involved in the construction of high quality carbon steel pipe can make it a hazardous job. But, an effective health and safety policy can significantly reduce the risks involved.

Pipe mills are equipped with heavy and automated machinery, including Over Head Cranes, forklift trucks and wagons. Fast-moving and heavy pipes averaging 5 tonnes move along conveyors and across benches, with hot processes as well as cold deployed. Add people to the mix, with their own “habits,” and the potential for hazards is clear.

However, with good control of operations, through procedures and work instructions, effective systems and processes, supported by thorough training and appropriate behavior means a safe place to work is created.

In the past, poor management control, a focus on productivity above safety, coupled with a macho image of ‘steel men’ resulted in practices that we were not prepared to tolerate. This and the demands of the oil and gas industry for ever-higher safety standards, led to the establishment of our first formal safety program in 1995.

Three clear staged improvements are visible that demonstrate an improvement in performance followed by a plateau.

Phase 1: Formalization and Structure - 1995 to 2000

The first 5-year plan established a structure to the process of improving health and safety. Priorities were agreed and set as management objectives, and communicated to the workforce. Areas of focus included:

• Safe access and egress to workplace

• Slips trips and falls

• Compliance with PUWER, Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations

• Introduction of a near miss systems and a plethora of control measures.

CT historic annual accident frequency rates.To monitor progress we were audited and attained safety standard ISRS level 4 in 1998, recognizing the work done to improve overall performance. However by 2000 the improvements had plateaued.

A significant intake of new recruits resulted in a major increase in incidents. CTE undertook a full revamp of training material and methods for training and testing competence. This focus has had, and continues to support, the improving trends in our health and safety performance. However, a key initiative at this time focused on 2 elements:

• Visiting other sites and business to observe best practice and where possible incorporating into our own plans

• Using DuPont (what is this? DuPont are a company widely acknowledged as industry leaders in safety) to assist us in developing a behavioral auditing program and regime that targets unsafe behavior.

Phase 1 saw us build a solid platform by focusing on strong systems. But we had not addressed directly the behavioral issues. By Phase 2 the culture was starting to improve in terms of attitude at all levels to the importance of health and safety. We were moving into the independent cultural phase (see Figure 2).

This trend was illustrated by a growing number of employees who were starting to report any form of unsafe situation and their refusal to accept unsafe practices. But within five years performance had started to plateau once again. A positive and important factor was that initiatives already introduced were being sustained but the downside was that they alone were unable to take us forward on the next step.

Phase 3: Safety Absolutes and Brothers Keeper - 2005 to 2010

A review carried out in 2007 showed that the most common cause of significant accidents in the preceding 18 months, all had a link to failings associated with immobilization of area, when carrying out the required task. This in spite of

• Systems in place, where every area/ job had its own unique immobilization switch to make the job safe

• The focus on improving the culture of safety within the mill

Changes in culture organizations experience.With so much work already done in this area, the decision was made to make this a cardinal rule or safety absolute. Thus any employee going into their work area to carry out a task on the product had to ensure the bench was immobilized, visibly denoted by a red/ green light system. Failure to comply would result in disciplinary action

This approach served to act as a catalyst to bring about changes in both management and shop-floor attitude that in turn, lead to the next significant step in our health and safety performance. Moreover, as our safety culture continued to mature, supported by regular communications, involvement and campaigns, health and safety has become a priority where even ‘steel men’ believe that you expect to come to work and NOT be injured. We are moving into the interdependent culture, where operators will tell colleagues not to do something that is unsafe because they know it the right thing to do - for themselves and others.

Fig 2 represents the changes in culture an organization must experience over time, if it is to achieve an improvement in health and safety performance.

Natural instincts. In an environment with poor or no safety control the culture is one of self preservation based on natural instincts

Supervision. Employees are in a dependent culture where they do what they are told, whether they believe it to be right or not, and no more

Self. Independent culture, here employees are involved in health and safety initiatives and raise concerns because they believe it is the right thing to do. They perceive health and safety as an important feature and want to improve the safety of their workplace. Here the individual tends to worry about himself only.

Team. The last phase of the cultural journey moves into one of interdependency, were employees believe fully in the importance of health and safety and are concerned for the safety of others, as well as themselves. The Brother’s Keeper approach is commonplace and zero tolerance to unsafe acts/conditions is the norm.

Finally in this period we have achieved OHSAS 18001. The structured audit system helps prevent complacency and continually asks what are we doing to improve.

Phase 4: 2010 and beyond

We believe we are moving towards this interdependent culture, but accept there is no room for complacency and there is still much more to do.

Greater attention to the management of change, training, increasing number of safety absolutes, and to PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) are all areas that need more consideration.

The journey towards greater health and safety is an ever-evolving process. We improve by sharing learning and identifying best practice among others, because the standards that are considered acceptable today may not be tolerable to future generations.

Andy Hill, operations manager, SAW Mills, Corus Tubes