Creating Safe Workplaces

Alcoa and Omron STI combined talents and resources to provide unique, high-quality EHS services as well as comprehensive machine guarding solutions for clients and prospects.

by Jim Wille

Most companies in the United States are extremely sensitive about maintaining the safest possible working environment in their plants or mills, and managers are serious about enforcing rules and policies that protect the health and safety of all employees.

In fact, comments made by spokespersons of companies such as Alcoa, Tyco and United Technologies indicate that safety comes before productivity and quality. They believe that without a safe workplace, production, quality and financial performance goals are not likely met or sustained.

"Alcoa wants its employees and contractors to be able to work safely in a manner that protects and promotes the health and well-being of the individual and the environment," says Jeff Shockey, Alcoa's director of safety and regional services. "While every Alcoa manager and employee must be fiscally responsible to the shareholders of the company, we value human life above all else and try to manage our risks accordingly."

When a company protects its employees, treats them fairly and obeys the law, then other benefits will follow, including improved morale, trust and respect; better company image; and workers' compensation reductions.

It is a proven fact that plants that have good safety performance generally run better from the quality, labor relations and overall business perspective. For example, widely quoted results of a poll conducted by the Liberty Mutual Group indicate that 61 percent of the executives estimate that their companies saved $3 for every $1 spent on workplace protection.

An EHS manager typically is responsible for compliance with standards that cover air, water, waste, land, chemical programs management and employee health and safety.

According to Shockey, the following are the four main activities undertaken in support of Alcoa's safety system:

  • Assessing the risks, aspects and impacts associated with our products, services and operations.
  • Developing and implementing operational controls with built-in layers of protection.
  • Monitoring and maintaining the risk assessment, controls and implementation to ensure they are current and effective.
  • Reacting to correct gaps in our protective systems and continuously improve system stability.

At Alcoa, each business unit is expected to identify its safety aspects and associated impacts, including regulatory compliance. As a result, business units and locations then are positioned to implement prevention and control strategies to minimize significant risks and generate sustainable positive impacts.

Alcoa's Global Business Services organization includes EHS professionals who act as internal consultants to Alcoa locations worldwide. These professionals seek to maintain expertise-related, standardized risk assessment tools that assist in identifying and prioritizing Alcoa's risks and standardizing countermeasures, programs and processes to defend against risks. Machine guarding and fall arrest are two countermeasures commonly employed to defend against the risks of moving equipment and working at heights.

Outside Expertise

The EHS professionals often need to look outside their own organization when peaks in the EHS-related workload exceed internal capacity, or the technical expertise is so complex that it is difficult to maintain in-house proficiency. In order to service plants quickly and efficiently, Alcoa complements the efforts of their full-time health and safety professionals with the expertise of highly specialized external providers.

Most equipment and machinery have inherent hazards associated with their point of operation or means of power transmission that require some form of machine safeguarding to protect the operator. In addition to machine safeguarding, risk assessments such as high-voltage electrical safety surveys, electrical arc flash-hazard analysis, crane inspection, testing and maintenance services, design and installation of engineered fall protection systems and contractor safety often are candidates for outsourcing to an external provider.

EHS professionals in Alcoa's Global Business Services organization often are charged with the task of selecting expert services consultants to ensure the best combination of expertise, safe work methods, response time, quality, pricing and integrity to provide the full services. Often, a selective partnership develops where the external provider is given an opportunity to become a "niche consultant" within its field of EHS services expertise.

Finding a Machine Guarding Solution

Such was the case when Alcoa went looking for a machine guarding provider. Alcoa Global Business Services evaluated 10 to 15 companies, giving each a standard package of five or six machines to quote during an online bidding event that also included ranking the prospective providers' capabilities in risk assessment, design, engineering, materials and hardware, fabrication, installation and guarding methodology.

The field was narrowed to three prospective providers for a final interview. The providers were pre-qualified based on their safety performance, customer feedback, staff capabilities and preliminary interviews and discussions.

As a result, Omron STI was selected as one of Alcoa's machine guarding providers. According to Shockey, Omron STI offered:

  • Standardized work methods for conducting the gap assessment. He cited the overall quality of the risk assessment and the clarity of the report as well.
  • The ability to provide cost-effective and practical solutions by listening to and involving machine operators and maintenance personnel as needed.
  • Competitive pricing and quality of workmanship.
  • A willingness to be a full-service partner by supporting training and other needs.
  • Quick response time by upper management in the rare case when an issue arises.

Provider vs. Partner

Omron STI is more than a provider, it is a partner. Alcoa Safety and Health Services and Omron STI jointly teach a course on machine safeguarding. Omron STI contributes class material, helps maintain timely course material and adds valuable hands-on knowledge.

Any quality issue, such as incorrect wiring or a guarding equipment malfunction, is resolved immediately. It is important for mill or production floor management to know that if equipment is down because of a safeguard malfunction, the provider quickly will be at the plant to repair the equipment in order to keep downtime to a minimum.

Omron STI's philosophy is that as a provider/partner, it should develop a close working relationship with the Alcoa personnel who operate and service the equipment. Communicating with the employees on the production floor at the beginning of the program and securing their input and participation was a key factor when implementing machine safeguarding and countermeasures.

A safety professional can identify many potential risk factors that are not obvious to the machine operator. On the other hand, since he cannot observe all possible situations, then the information offered by the people using and servicing the machine is extremely important. So, a dialog between the safety professional and the machine operators helps identify nearly all possible risk factors.

Equally important, operators who are intimately familiar with the operational tasks are involved in the review process, offering input on potential safety equipment solutions to minimize potential obstructions to their work by the new safety equipment. As a result, the operator will be less tempted to shortcut safety procedures. Productivity actually can increase after the installation of the safeguarding equipment. Properly training the operators can eliminate some work-a-rounds, precautionary steps and hesitation that existed before due to lack of guarding.

A New Opportunity

Historically, Alcoa's exceptional health and safety reputation in the industry has generated frequent requests from its customers to provide assistance with improving their own health and safety programs. Government agencies, affiliated businesses and even competitors have come to Alcoa for such assistance.

Consequently, in 2005 a new Alcoa business, Alcoa Safety Health Services, was formed to provide business-to-business consulting services to other companies. Shockey points out that Alcoa Safety Health Services professionals are "consulting practitioners who bring with them real-world floor experience. Our consulting approach allows us to transfer our knowledge, skills and methodology so that a client's investment doesn't walk out the door when we do."

One of Alcoa Safety and Health Services' commitments is to help its clients manage safety and health for better business performance. This can include how to establish and manage priorities and strategies related to health and safety; how to set meaningful goals and track the right metrics; and how to re-shape the organizational culture and improve the employee/management safety and health interface. Other aspects include managing change and rapid integration following new acquisitions; operational accountability; fatality prevention; contractor safety; health risk management; and operational hazard assessments.

Because Alcoa Safety and Health Services only recommends specialty consultants who have effectively supported Alcoa's success in the past, it seemed only logical that Alcoa Safety and Health Services and Omron STI should form a partnership creating a professional safety services referral network for their respective clients. Under this agreement, when a client of either service provider needs additional services within the area of expertise of the other partner, they are given a direct link to the appropriate safety professionals.

Jim Wille is national accounts manager for Omron Scientific Technologies Inc., Fremont, Calif. (www.sti.com). He can be reached at (866) 260-4784.

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