Engineering Company Achieves ‘Safety Breakthrough’ Reduces Injuries by 73%

Sponsored Article by Hugh Maxwell

Hugh Maxwell has led numerous change initiatives in various high-risk industries. As Global HSE Director for molten metal flow engineering specialists Vesuvius, he led a risk reduction initiative which mitigated workplace risks in different environments, resulting in significant financial savings in insurance premiums, improved emergency planning, risk profiling, increased awareness and increased management focus for business.

The Challenge

When Maxwell joined Vesuvius, the company lacked a formal framework for safety. He was plunged in at the deep end when, in his first few days, a worker in Brazil lost his hand in a mixer. Far worse followed – just days later, a worker in the Teesside steel plant was killed when he suffered a traumatic head injury. It was an extremely emotional and pivotal moment for Maxwell and the company; the accident was the spur for change, and he was able to gain buy-in for a new initiative to drive safety improvements and shape the structure of safety management, known as ‘Safety Breakthrough’.

‘Like most multinational organisations, Vesuvius’ ultimate goal is zero work-related injuries and illnesses,’ explains Maxwell. To achieve this, annual objectives were agreed for the Lost-Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR). At the time, Vesuvius was going through a period of rapid expansion.

‘Many countries did not have a competent person to support the development and implementation of good HSE practices, focusing on a risk assessment methodology,’ he says. ‘The first thing I had to do was assess where we needed such people to support the business, recruit them, train them and enable them to progress as the local risks required. This took a lot of effort and support from local management.’

The Solution

The aim of Safety Breakthrough was to raise awareness throughout the business of the pre-eminence of safety in everyone’s daily actions. By applying sensible pragmatic risk assessment methodologies for work – both for standard, repetitive activities and for the less frequent and one-off activities – the huge benefits of reducing workplace risks, raising people’s awareness and ultimately preventing accidents became a tangible reality.

‘I did a gap analysis, built a team, and we did it ‘top down and bottom up’: we trained the managers in auditing, reporting and behavioural safety, while working on engagement with the employees,’ Maxwell explains.

He also worked to decentralise safety at Vesuvius: making people more self-governing and developing self-sufficient teams by setting targets and encouraging teams to push themselves.

Gaining Buy-in

Maxwell’s first real challenge was to gain consistent buy-in from the board. Support and engagement of the CEO and new Operations Vice President were evident, but this had to be extended throughout the whole senior management team.

A risk-based approach to safety management – engaging employees from the top throughout all levels – was agreed to be the right approach. The focus was made on manufacturing and customer location employees in steel plants and foundry environments. A clear programme of training was developed, and senior management were the first recipients. Thereafter, they took on the role of
trainers and led the change initiative by example.

‘All standard and non-standard tasks and activities were reviewed. Risk assessment protocol was extended, developed and improved. This enabled safe systems of work to be developed through this
best practice approach,’ Maxwell goes on. ‘Standardised work’ was developed for all routine, regular activities and for non-standard work, a similar risk-assessment based methodology was developed throughout all areas of the business.

A 2-year training programme was delivered globally under Maxwell’s leadership with the full support and backing from senior management. Sensible and pragmatic lead and lag indicators were
established. These promoted and measured the number of safety audits and safety improvement opportunities. Based on these, permanent corrective then preventive measures were implemented.
The level of participation in safety audits and risk assessments was measured and monitored against targets and then shared. In the first 2 years alone, more than 1,500 employees were trained in the 2-day programme in over 30 countries.

In addition, a dramatic reduction in the number of LTIs was already being seen and more and more employees and customers were getting involved in this successful change programme.

Key Drivers

– High levels of employee participation in safety audits and identifying safety improvement opportunities to eliminate the workplace risks.
– Introducing a Permit to Work system based on a risk identification carried out prior to work commencing for all non-standard work activities.
– Risk assessment training, application and risk reduction measures were applied and taken globally.
– High levels of management and employee engagement resulted in timely and strong application of the risk assessment, development of meaningful company safety standards, programmes of behavioural-based safety audits and the creation of ongoing continuous improvement activities.

The Benefits
The initiative had a measurable effect – in 2008, 184 people suffered an LTI; within 4 years, that number had dropped to 50, an improvement which is still being sustained, with 2018 seeing the
number of employee and contractor lost-time injuries falling to an all-time low.

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