Management of Safety in an Iron and Steel Plant

Management of Safety in an Iron and Steel Plant

Iron and steel industry is a combination of complex processes and large scale operations. Its processes are extremely hazardous in nature. There are potential dangers inherent in the industry’s working environment and to which its employees are exposed, unless suitable and stringent precautions are observed. In the absence of suitable and stringent precautions, operations in the iron and steel industry expose employees to a wide range of hazards or workplace activities or conditions that can cause incidents, injury, death, ill health or diseases.

The unsafe acts, accidents, and related outcomes are mainly due to three general causes (Fig 1), namely (i) causes involving the person, (ii) causes involving the system, and (iii) causes involving system–person sequential interrelationships.

causes for unsafe acts and accidents

Fig 1 Causes for unsafe acts and accidents

In the unsafe acts with person-as-cause, the employee attitudes and behaviours are the most important antecedents to unsafe acts, accidents, injuries, and other outcomes such as compensation claims. The employees who have the worst attitudes are the most likely to have accidents. However, the tendency to engage in at-risk behaviours in work settings can be reduced through training and behavioral reinforcement.

The system based viewpoint emphasizes technical system factors as the primary determinants of workplace accidents. The unsafe acts due to operator error are very frequently have their true roots in system design. In these cases, many of the unsafe acts ranging from quality errors to major disasters, can be traced to system design and process management. Hence in these cases there is a need for correction in the system and design.

In the case of the unsafe act due to system–person sequential interrelationships, the role of organizational climate (a social system variable) and the technical attributes of the system (safety hazards) are important since they influence human behaviour. The messages, symbols, and values communicated within the organization can influence employees to take safety shortcuts. Furthermore, the role that the operator plays in reacting to the technical system, potentially set off a series of ping pong like effects between the operator and the local environment. When hazards and risks are present, and the likelihood of a serious accident increases.

The following are the likely causes for the unsafe acts.

  • Safety hazards – Safety hazards are defined as tangible factors in the work environment (e.g., heavy items that must be carried, exposure to chemicals, moving objects, repetitive motion) that may pose risks for possible injuries or ailments. Within this definition, hazards do not always result in accidents or injuries, but they lurk in work  environments, waiting for the right combination of circumstances to come together.
  • Safety climate -Safety climate is also known as safety culture and is described as a construct that captures employees’ molar perceptions of the role of safety within the organization. It is the beliefs, norms, attitudes, roles, and the social and technical practices that are concerned with minimizing the exposure of employees to conditions considered dangerous or injurious.
  • Pressure for expediency over safety – Many times, employees find themselves torn between compliance with safety rules and support of production quotas. Pressure is defined as an employee’s perception that the organization encourages him to work around safety procedures in order to meet production quotas, keep up with the flow of incoming work, and meet important deadlines.
  • Cavalier attitudes toward safety risk – Numerous studies have demonstrated that individuals differ in their willingness to take risks. In the context of workplace safety, cavalier attitude characterizes those who possess a mix of arrogance (justified or unjustified), innate risk orientation, and a tendency to rationalize risk taking behaviour. Cavalier attitude is defined as the extent to which an employee feels that he can ignore safety procedures without incurring the risk of an accident or injury.
  • Safety efficacy – It is a belief in one’s capability to mobilize the cognitive resources, motivation, and courses of action needed to meet task demands. Employees who have a high sense of safety efficacy for a particular task  perform better than those who have low safety efficacy for that task. Safety efficacy is defined as an employee’s confidence that he has the skill to work safely in the context of a specific environment.
  • Safe work behaviours – Safe work behaviours and their reciprocal, unsafe behaviours are important because of their widely acknowledged link with workplace accidents.

If the organization is to make a fundamental and sustainable improvement in its operational areas then it has to consider safety as a core activity. Hence management of the safety is a very important issue for the steel plant leadership.

The issues related with management of safety in an iron and steel plant are quite peculiar in nature and they need concentrated efforts from everyone which include not only steel plant employees but also employers, designers, suppliers, contractors, and regulatory authorities etc. Safety programmes which need implementation in the steel plant, are particularly to be directed towards (i) peculiar problems of the steel plant, (ii) processes of the steel plant, and (iii) handling of materials being processed. Some of the important issues related to safety are as follows.

  • Handling of liquid metals and slags
  • Handling of materials with high temperatures
  • Handling of materials with very low temperatures e.g. liquid oxygen, liquid nitrogen etc.
  • Handling of materials and gases which are toxic and corrosive in nature
  • Handling of flammable and explosive materials and gases.
  • Moving objects
  • Heavy equipment and moving machinery
  • Work carried out in dirty, dusty and contaminated environment
  • Work carried out at heights or in confined spaces
  • Working with high voltage electric power
  • Extensive road and rail transport network
  • Other issues like noise etc.

The following three components are essential for the progress of safety in a steel plant.

  • The condition of the work place environment
  • The training and competence of employees
  • The motivation and behaviour of employees

Management of safety needs a safety oriented culture in the steel plant. In almost all the steel plants with a very good safety record, this safety culture is very much visible. The cultural of safety is to be well ingrained amongst the top management, middle management, and entire workforce. It is not easy to adopt especially in those steel plants where safety gets only the lip service. But in case a safety culture is adopted sincerely in a steel plant then it has a profound effect on the behaviour of the people. The statement ‘this is the way the work is done here’ should reflect an uncompromising commitment from the organization towards work safety.

The establishment and development of a safety culture within the steel plant and managing safety from a behavioural  perspective is a very powerful approach of the top management of the organization towards safety. For this, the organisation is to clearly define the role, responsibility and accountability of directors, senior managers, middle managers, and employees generally, for safety. Also the organization must have a conviction that high standards of safety are achievable through its proper management.

For the establishment and the maintenance of a safety culture in the steel plant, the organization has to fulfill the following important requirements.

  • The top management is to have not only a genuine commitment towards safety but the same should be visible to the employees. Further safety is to be the responsibility of the line management.
  • Commitment to safety is to be reflected in the objectives of the organization. This action demonstrates an acceptance from the organization that improving safety performance is a long term goal which requires sustained effort and interest of the management.
  • The organization to have a policy statement with regards to safety. This policy statement is to reflect the high expectations and is to convey a sense of optimism.
  • Employees of the organization are to own safety and are to be fully involved in the safety related activities. Good safety behaviour should be part of their performance appraisal.
  • Training and retraining of the employees on safety related matter is to be a continuous process.
  • There has to no hold bar communication amongst employees on safety related matters.
  • The organization is to develop good codes of practice and safety standards, updates them regularly and educate the employees on these codes and standards. Compliance with these code of practices and safety standards are to be ensured through regular auditing.
  • Management is to set challenging targets of safety in the annual plan and the performance against these targets are to be measured and reported. The management is to provide adequate resources for safety in the annual budget.
  • There is to be thorough investigation, documentation and dissemination of information relating to all incidents or deviations, irrespective of whether injury or damage has occurred or not.
  • All deficiencies with respect to safety are to be reported and remedied promptly.
  • The safety performance of all the shops is to be regularly assessed and reviewed by the management.
  • Factors that influence the behaviour of managers, supervisors and employees towards safety are to be properly and effectively managed.

Role of management for safety in the plant

Management of the organization has individually and collectively the primary responsibility for providing a safe workplace for its employees in the plant.  Though it is generally accepted in all the organizations, but its implementation differs from organization to organization because of several motivating factors.

There are a number of negative and positive motivating factors  which determines the approach to safety in the plant and the organizational management is to pay attention to these factors. All these factors have a part to play and in practice, a combination of these factors is normally present in any organization due to the different approaches followed by the organization.  These approaches are given below.

  • The first approach is the moral approach towards safety. If an employee falls ill or meet an accident because of his work, then it has a big demotivating effect on the co-employees  and in turn this has a major effect on the performance of the employees as well as on the performance of the organization. The fear of deterioration of performance can motivate line manager to pay sufficient attention to safety. The welfare and health of the employees working with him provides a moral responsibility for the line manager to pay attention to safety.
  • The legal approach to safety is essentially that approach which has its focus on what the law requires for the management to do and no more. Managements who subscribe to this approach fundamentally do only what is necessary to comply with the regulatory requirements. This approach of management is for keeping the organization out of trouble from the enforcement authorities. Every initiative is judged on the basis of ‘whether it is necessary to do this’. While compliance with the law is proper and a necessary prerequisite for a safe working environment, but the same is not enough to have a healthy environment for safety in the organization. Normally it is necessary to do much more for the improvement of the safety performance of the organization. Only the legal approach does not achieve the desired results. At best, it tends to lead to maintenance of the status quo in the organization. Further people at all levels have different perceptions of and respect for the law. Hence a legal approach to safety which is enforced under the fear of the penalty of legal sanction, has very little chance of succeeding in the present day environment and has practically no effect on improving the organizational performance.
  • Another approach is financial or cost benefit approach. The organization which follows this approach try to find a balance between, on the one hand, the value of the resources necessary to obtain and maintain high standards of safety and, on the other hand, the value of the benefits derived from following the high safety standards. While this may sound eminently reasonable and economically sound, the problem with this approach is that it is does not take into account the price of human disability and in extreme cases the price of human life. Hence the following of the financial approach does not have a considerable effect in the improvement of the safety performance of the organization.
  • The traditional approach for improving the safety performance of the organization is based on the management of the safety related issue. However if management is to be successful in improving the safety performance of the organization, there has to be a balance between leadership and management activities as opposed to the leadership activities. Since safety is a core activity of the organization, it is to be visibly integrated with other activities. Any organizational change with respect to safety is to begin with the leaders who are responsible for first transforming themselves. If the leaders do not visibly change, nothing will change in spite of management actions.

 Management responsibilities for safety implementation

 The following are the responsibilities of the management for the implementation of safety in the organization.

  • To establish safety as a priority and core value for the organization. Top management has to be, and also seen to be, active in living this priority and value.
  • To establish an effective and efficient safety implementation plan. The plan must have a strong and clear internal accountability system to ensure its implementation. The plan must make every employee to clearly understands the responsibilities and the relative relationship which the safety has with other skill needs which can be technical, operational, and administrative.
  • To work out, issue and implement the safety workplace codes and standards. These codes and standards are to be updated regularly to suit any change in the work place environment. Also, employees are to be trained in these codes and standards.
  • Management is to visibly demonstrate leadership in the implementation of the safety plans and adherence to the safety codes and standards.
  • Management is to integrate employees safety with other activities of the organization.
  • To provide the necessary resources for supporting the development and implementation of the safety plans so that the overall objective of the organization with respect to the business improvement plan be met.
  • To ensure that the competent personnel are identified for bringing the organization under safety culture and to ensure proper implementation of safety plans.
  • To reinforce the safety activities in the organization since safe working contributes to improved cost, an enhanced image and leads to improved performance of the organization , particularly in reliability, quality and team development.
  • To develop a comprehensive safety management system that uses negative and positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is the more traditional method employed in obtaining compliance, but alone does not result in sustainable nor significant improvement. Positive reinforcement applies the principle of determining what the management want the employees to do and reinforcing them for doing that in a way that is meaningful to the organization. Applying this technique properly in combination with negative reinforcement results in not only improvement in the safety of man and equipment but also leads to a culture change. The consequences for all employees of non-compliance with safety policy must be tangible. Also there is recognition for good safety performance in the organization.
  • To set improvement targets with respect to safety performance.
  • To integrate safety into each decision taken for the organization.

The management can fulfill the above responsibilities by taking the following steps.

  • To ensure that the accountability of the employees are built up for meeting of their responsibilities in all safety plans and in the safety management system.
  • To draw and focus employee’s attention towards safety management must include safety as one of the criteria in the employee’s incentive scheme. Also safety is to be made as a part of the employee’s appraisal.
  • To behave in a manner that is, and is seen to be, consistent with the organizational values and safety plans and objectives. The leadership shown by the management in this regards is a most powerful tool that can be used to change the employees approach towards safety.
  • To directly participate in the shop floor evaluation of how the employees carry out their work. To provide encouragement to the employees for working safely and to correct unsafe practices.

Employees role in improving safety performance

Employees have a very important role to play if progress is to be made in improving safety performance. This is particularly true when the organization recognizes the importance of the behavioural aspects of the safety. A good employee is a safe employee and does the following.

  • Works safely by following rules and procedures.
  • Accepts responsibilities for his own safety as well as the safety of his colleagues
  • Adopts a proactive rather than a reactive role on safety issues.
  • Reports all unsafe situations.
  • Participates fully in the development of safe working practices in their widest sense.
  • Undertakes the necessary training to ensure his competence and applies the training fully to all his activities.
  • Takes active part in the investigation conducted for accidents, incidents and near misses.
  • Sets an example in safe working to his colleagues.
  • Supports management for the improvement of the safety performance.
  • Contributes to the work of safety committees where appointed.

Safety organization and its role

Safety is no different from any other activity carried out in an organization. Specialists are needed for safety activities the way specialists are required in many other fields such as maintenance, technology, research, human resources, and commercial etc., each of which has its own department within the organization.

Whilst the overall responsibility for safety within the steel plant is of management generally, it would be unreasonable to expect that all the managers to have the depth of knowledge of safety and related subjects for them to carry that responsibility without assistance. This is the role of the safety experts. They may be of varying specializations. They are also to know in detail the legal requirements of the land. Safety department provides in-house expertise in all these fields to the management and addresses to all the safety related issues.

A safety department is necessary in the organization to propagate and enhance the safety culture in the steel plant. This department provides the professional inputs and facilitates the management of the safety in the organization. The department plays a vital and integral role to play in the organization’s overall approach to safety. Whilst the major impact of safety department is traditionally felt during the production process, its needs is also have there in many other activities such as construction activities,  maintenance activities, road and rail movements, and disposal of waste material etc. In addition to these activities , safety department need is there for contacts with external bodies and regulatory authorities.

Further since safety enters almost every facet of the activities of the organization, there is a case for safety organization which involve employees from other departments (shop safety officer) in the safety activities in the steel plant. Safety department is the focal point of such safety organization. The safety organization includes shop level and plant level safety committees. These committees include experts from different disciplines within its ranks or have access to them. The methods by which the safety organization operates and its relationship to the other activities of the organization is to be clear to all the employees.

However, safety continues to be responsibility both of the management and the employees. Every employee must be aware of the safety organization and have access to it if necessary.

The role of safety  department in the organization includes the following.

  • To provide advice on safety matters to the management and where appropriate to all the employees.
  • To develop general and specific policies as well systems and procedures for safety in various shops. Also help management in setting of safety targets.
  • To ensure that the operations in the organization are carried out without the violation of the safety procedures.
  • To track the performance with respect to safety policies and targets not only by organized auditing, but also by more general discussions and observations.
  • To ensure fulfillment of the statutory requirements

The links between the safety organization and the top management is to be strong. It works best when it is based upon a genuine respect between the manager and the specialist concerned and a readiness to consult and/or advise whenever this is appropriate. The links between the safety organization and the shop floor employees is through safety committees which bring together the management, employee representatives and the safety specialists.

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