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Safety investment pays dividends

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While it is still very early in the implementation of Bostik’s safety program, initial numbers already show a 20% reduction in injuries.

The scale of the improvements to Bostik’s Thomastown site in Melbourne’s northern suburbs is vast. The factory produces about 9 million packs of Blu Tack each year - a small percentage of its total output, which also includes solvents, sealers and rubber for automotive applications.

Built in the 1960s, the Thomastown plant had some very old machinery dotted across its sprawling 16-acre site that, although perfectly functional, had not kept pace with modern safety standards. There were also fire system, manual handling, asbestos and personal protective equipment issues to address. Even more fundamentally, the culture of the site had to change, according to Bostik’s health and safety manager Ray Curtis.

Equipping engineers

Curtis began by calling in expert help to educate Bostik managers and engineers about the standards and regulations underpinning production line safety: Australian Standard AS4024.1 for Safety of Machinery, Plant and Equipment; and the Victorian Plant Regulations.

“While I am very conversant with the standards and the regulations, I needed someone who could go the next step and provide practical solutions the engineers could implement,” he said.

“I knew by reputation that AS4024.1 expert and engineer, Pilz Safe Automation’s Frank Schrever, could both train the engineers and recommend solutions that they could implement – offering education as well as compliance.”

The foundations of culture change

Of course, cultural change had to extend well beyond the engineering department and safety training is ongoing for all job functions at Bostik.

Curtis also has plans for a behaviour based safety program called ‘Safe place’ – A Partnership in Safety” to provide a motivational environment offering the discipline Curtis believes is necessary for change.

“At the point of making a decision whether to take a risky short cut or do it the Bostik way, we want them to choose the Bostik way,” Curtis explained.

“You have to make rules that are agreed, acceptable and workable, then use a combination of gentle coercion and reward and recognition to reinforce them and have a good feedback loop.”

Consultation critical

Bostik has worked hard to garner widespread support for the machine safety program.

“We kicked it off with Frank delivering a four-hour course on safety standards to all sorts of people, like fitters, operators and even managers,” Curtis said.

He then acted as a guide for risk assessment groups, comprising team leaders, engineers, occupational health and safety committee representatives and area managers, which systematically worked their way across the site.

The feedback from staff members, according to Bostik’s automotive manufacturing engineer, Peter Rachwalski, has been positive, despite some reservations about change.

“A lot of Bostik people have worked here for decades,” he said, “so it’s not surprising that it was difficult for some, but people do appreciate that we care for their welfare and that if it comes down to a choice, it’s more important to be safe than to keep the machine running.”

Although Bostik had done risk assessments in the past, environments, machinery and process changes demanded a fresh examination.

Risks scored, hazards prioritised

The 32 risk assessments on plant and manufacturing processes completed to date have revealed an almost limitless array of hazards demanding control. Around 90% of the hazards were deemed to belong to Category 4, the most demanding of all the AS4024.1 categories.

To make the upgrade manageable, Curtis and Rachwalski prioritised hazards for control implementation. Each hazard was scored according to a matrix developed by Bostik that, based on the current AS 4360, calculated risk in terms of the probability of injuries, the severity of the consequences and the exposure of workers.

The scores provided Bostik with a baseline for the measurement of future safety performances, a list of priorities and objective justification for the allocation of resources.

“Like anybody else, we have to manage people and funding but we have the backing of senior management, including our CEO, who’s made it very, very clear that safety comes first,” Rachwalski said.

“It’s too costly not to get involved in safety and Bostik is very keen to ensure our people are safe.”

The scores also allowed Bostik to develop a ‘Risk Action Plan’, which Curtis has presented to WorkSafe Victoria under its ‘high risk’ program covering plant, manual handling and noise.

“We want to continue to develop a relationship with WorkSafe and are very proactive about sharing our plans with them,” Curtis said.

While Bostik assessed the risks posed by existing plant and equipment, the spotlight was also turned on suppliers and installers of new machinery.

“We drew a line in the sand,” Curtis said. “Any new machinery and any changes to the plant have to go through the same rigorous hazard identification and risk assessment process before commissioning.”

Bostik is keen to involve safety considerations early in the design process to minimise costs and maximise productivity. Curtis and Rachwalski found that many suppliers either lacked detailed knowledge of plant safety requirements or interpreted them loosely.

Bostik also discovered that even machinery designed in compliance with European standards and carrying a CE mark did not necessarily meet local requirements.

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