Role of Safety and its Importance in a Steel Organization

Role of Safety and its Importance in a Steel Organization

The steel organization operates steel plant which is a large and technologically complex heavy industrial complex and which has strong internal as well as external forward and backward linkages in terms of material flows. Due to the presence of a large number of hazards, the risks for severe injuries are normally higher in iron and steel production compared to other manufacturing sectors. Occupational accidents and serious near-misses occur when accident prevention barriers break down. Safety measures when well-managed in the plant, contributes to labour productivity, promotes economic growth, and reduces costs resulting from occupational accidents and work-related health problems, and enhances employees’ motivation.

Management of safety in a steel organization is one of the high-profile topics in the present day environment. It is claimed that socially responsible steel organization aims to exceed the demands set by the statutory authorities and works sincerely towards successful plant safety and environmental performances. Furthermore, setting ambitious targets provides a reliable picture of the steel organization which follows through with socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable principles. Steel organization needs to have accident free work places for its employees which is to reflect as one of its main objectives.

Steel organization uses extensively in the steel plant large amount of energy and raw materials. Traditionally, working environments in the steel plant contain several risks for personnel because of the use of a large number of complex mechanical equipments and energy intensive processes. Several processes of the steel plant work with very high temperatures and / or high pressures. There are movements of liquid metals as well as materials with very high temperatures. There are toxic and / or corrosive substances, and respirable air-borne contaminants. There are places where the materials are moving at very high speeds. Further, the iron and steel production involves many other hazards, such as noise, vibrations, radiation, chemicals, working at heights or in confined spaces, moving machinery, and heavy lifting. In short, the steel plant has got both the very high volume as well as the complexity of operations. This results into conditions in several areas of th plant which are dangerous and full of potential hazards.

Spurred by fast changing technological development, economic pressures for greater efficiency, and stricter statutory regulations, the steel industry has made great strides in the introduction of newer equipment and improved processes which afford higher safety and better control of physical and chemical hazards. This has significantly reduced the potential safety hazards, but there still exits considerable safety issues in the steel plants. Steel production continue to remain consisting of dangerous processes, where the potential hazards cannot always be designed out. Accordingly, this presents a formidable everyday challenges to the plant managements. It calls for continuous studies, vigilance, and monitoring, responsible supervision, and updated education and training of the employees at all the levels in the steel industry.

In the production of iron and steel, the safe working procedures are very important, since the working personnel face several risks due to the nature of the job in an ever changing, complex, and heterogeneous working environment. The work environment in which the working personnel work is frequently hot and noisy, and work tasks are regularly heavy and demanding on the body, and there is always present a risk for crushing injuries and burns.

The accident triangle, also known as Heinrich’s triangle or Bird’s triangle, provides a theoretical view of the industrial accident prevention. It shows a relationship between serious accidents, minor accidents and near misses and proposes that if the number of minor accidents is reduced then there is a corresponding reduction in the number of serious accidents. The triangle was first proposed by Herbert William Heinrich in 1931 and has since been updated and expanded upon by others, notably Frank E. Bird. It is frequently shown pictorially as a triangle or a pyramid and has been described as a cornerstone of 20th century workplace safety philosophy.

Heinrich’s pyramid or Bird’s pyramid (Fig 1) is considered as one of the most familiar occupational safety management tools, describing the severity distribution of occupational accidents and incidents. The pyramid is statistically invalid for different economic activities and geographic regions. However, the inconsistency is small, and the pyramid can be used for practical purposes as a descriptive and predictive tool. The safety pyramid has become a popular way to show the safety performance. Several steel organizations use pyramid illustration in their yearly safety performance data report. World steel association (WSA) has used it in their definitions, while one of the studies has applied it for a comparison of accidents versus near-misses and hazard observations. Near-miss is defined as an incident where no injury and ill health occurs but has the potential to do so. Hazard is a source with a potential to cause injury or ill health.

Fig 1 Pyramids of Heinrich and Bird

The management of safety in the steel organization is to be led by safety improvement programme which is to be focused on (i) identification and assessment of all process-related hazards at the workplaces, (ii) an integrated safety management system which includes pertinent standards both for the personal safety as well as the for process safety, and (iii) arrangements for measuring and monitoring the organizational safety performance.

Both the organizational culture and the operating practices define the extent of the requirement of the safety practices in the organization. The safety practices in the steel plant need focus on preventive actions, such as leading performance indicators and creating a uniform safety culture for shared workplaces with a sustainable foundation. The development is to be supported by the commitment and participative development at all the organizational levels. Learning from internal good practices and external benchmarking are valuable methods for this purpose. Safety management, change management, internal and external standardization, and information technology systems are needed to be exploited to support this goal.

Nowadays, it is normal in a steel plant to have workplaces consisting of diverse nature of employees with varying level of knowledge and experiences. But when an incident / accident happen, it affects all the employees of the area equally. The financial benefits of accident prevention and safety promotion are not strong enough reasons to implement the safety measures, but the loss of reputation and a number of customers wake up calls propel even the most complacent steel organization towards safety. However, it is always better to implement preventive measures and act before anything happens. Responsible plant management is concerned with the working environment, the wellbeing of the employees, the impact of operations on the local community, and the long-term effects of the steel plant products and activities. Such management acknowledges the importance of proactive safety management in the plant.

Plant safety is strongly affected by the way the safety management is implemented in the plant. Special attention is needed to create a healthy, safe, sustainable, and productive work environment. This is particularly the case when the working environment is actively and continuously changing such as (i) changes in working personnel, work tasks, and processes, (ii) complex nature of workforce which include regular employees, contractors, and subcontractors working in the workplace, and (iii) heterogeneous workplaces since all the workplaces are unique and different from the other workplaces in the plant. Due to this reason, safety management in complex and dynamic situations is a challenge in the steel plant, and the planning is complemented by resilience and managing the unexpected. Resilience is the adaptive capacity of the steel organization in a complex and changing environment. Effective safety management practices, safety performance, and a safety culture, all play important roles when striving towards excellence in safety management.

Management of safety effectively in the steel plant has extensive advantages. A good management of safety has a wide-ranging positive effect on the plant performance, including safety, competitiveness and economic-financial performance. A long-term strategic commitment to safety in the steel plant has a positive effect on the organizational economic performance. Employees in safe work environments are more motivated to work towards organizational goals and objectives. Good economic performance is also related to low accident rates and successful risk management. Investment in safety practices and training leads to a decreasing rate and severity of undesirable events and improvement in the productivity as well as in the overall quality in the plant.

The indicators to measure safety performance are normally known as safety indicators, key performance indicators, or safety performance indicators.  The organizational safety indicators are frequently divided into safety climate, and to risk analyses tradition. All safety related indicators do not measure the same. Process safety indicator is a widely used term to measure process safety. A distinction between process safety and occupational personal safety is to be made because personal safety indicators do not reflect how well process safety is managed. However, there is a link between occupational personal safety and process safety and between fatal and non-fatal occupational accidents. That link is the hazard.

There are different safety indicators which are normally used for the personal safety and the process safety. The pyramids for personal safety and process safety are shown in Fig 2. As can be seen from the pyramids, the parameters which require monitoring of the process safety are different from the parameters needed for the monitoring of the personal safety.

Fig 2 Personal and plant safety pyramids

There is little consensus among theorists and practitioners regarding the terms used to categorize the types of performance indicators to assess the effectiveness of safety management system elements and practices. In one of various studies on the subject, safety performance indicator is used to describe an indicator which is used to measure the safety performance in the occupational safety context. ISO 45001 defines safety performance as ‘performance related to the effectiveness of the prevention of injury and ill health to workers and the provision of safe and healthy workplaces’. Based on the ISO 45001 definition, performance is a measurable result. The role of the indicator is ‘to provide information on safety, motivate people to work on safety and contribute to change towards increased safety’. Safety performance can relate either to quantitative or qualitative findings, and the results can be determined and evaluated by qualitative or quantitative methods. Furthermore, safety performance can be linked to broader strategic management processes.

Safety performance indicators are frequently divided into leading and lagging indicators. However, there is a lack of agreement on basic definitional issues concerning leading indicators and lagging indicators. The use of leading indicators and lagging indicators is problematic since they are inter-related in complex ways, and the lagging indicators can also have the characteristics of a leading indicator in predicting another outcome or event. However, the outcome is not large if the indicator is described as leading or lagging. Hence, it is not important to know about what is leading and what is lagging, but there is a need to develop and implement useful indicators which can provide early warnings about potential major accidents. There is another view of safety professionals on this. As per this view, there are causal relationships between leading indicators and lagging indicators, and it is important to develop causal relationships between them, and for experiential feedback and organizational learning, this distinction is important.

Leading indicators – A growing number of safety professionals have questioned the value of lagging indicators, e.g. accident statistics, arguing that they do not provide enough information or insight to effectively avoid future accidents. Leading indicators are also referred to as pro-active, positive, predictive, upstream, heading, indirect, activity, drive or monitor indicators. These indicators address the need to predict and act before an unwanted event, and they are invaluable for enabling the plant management to identify and correct deficiencies and for preventing or mitigating the worst effects from injuries or damage.

Several studies have characterized effective leading safety performance indicators. Good leading indicators are complete, consistent, effective, traceable, minimal, continually improving and unbiased. Another common criterion for indicator selection is ‘SMART’ which means ‘specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound’. A third list of criteria includes valid, reliable, sensitive, representative, openness to bias and cost-effectiveness.  The leading indicators are required to correlate with lagging indicators, thereby providing proof for the management that they are indeed valid. The carefully selected leading indicators provide the best predictive results.

There is no such thing as a universal model or method for the development of safety performance indicators. In a steel plant, several different methods are used for providing the best outcome. Normally, the plant performance is mostly measured with lagging indicators, but on the work place level, the focus is more on leading measurements since leading indicators are very process-specific. Another reason is that the plant management can find it difficult to roll up workplace level leading indicators to the plant level since work places differ in terms of size, location, operations, structure, culture, safety procedures and many other characteristics, which make them difficult to normalize and sometimes impossible to compare. However, plant management can develop and validate a standard index for leading indicators in the plant which can be used for benchmarking across different department of the plant.

In a study, in which investigation has been carried out of leading safety indicators at construction sites, where suppliers, vendors and the organization’s own personnel worked together (a set up is roughly comparable to the shared workplace), it has been asserted that although leading indicators as concepts are defined, no specific leading indicators can be identified or specified. Another study lists examples of themes in leading indicators namely (i) accountability for occupational safety, (ii) audits and workplace inspections, (iii) consultation and communication about occupational safety, (iv) empowerment and employee involvement, (v) management commitment and leadership, (vi) positive feedback and recognition, (vii) prioritization of occupational safety, (ix) risk management of occupational safety, (x) occupational safety systems, and (xi) occupational safety training of the employees.

It is very important for the steel organization to record minor incidents since they are relevant and effective measures and projections of the overall safety performance. It is necessary as well as important to investigate the underlying causes of the more minor and more frequent incidents or deviations. A breakdown of accident causes and potential severity ratio at a barrier level are both important for the risk management. Hazards and their barriers need independent and deeper scrutiny, and this does not merely entail looking at the more frequent incidents or using their decline as safety indicators. The importance of preventive safety actions and a reporting is to be emphasized in accident prevention strategies. Active reporting of near-misses are indications of a good safety culture, where people are not afraid to talk and report their own failures. In fact, safety culture is a leading indicator, which is influenced by the context, and it can be used as a strategic management tool.

Lagging indicators – Accident rate is one of the most commonly used measures of safety performance. In addition to the preventive actions, reactive indicators such as the lagging safety performance indicators are to be monitored ,if good external practices are considered, and a comparison is to be made between internal and external safety performance levels. LTIFR (lost time injury frequency rate) is a commonly used indicator for the monitoring of the safety performance. It is defined as the number of lost time injuries per one million hours of work excluding the day of the accident.

The WSA uses LTIFR as its main public safety performance indicator.  In addition, some organizations also uses total recordable injury frequency rate (TRIFR). TRIFR includes fatalities, lost workday cases which are comparable to lost time injury (LTI) and medical treatment cases. The number of fatalities, LTIs, medical treatment incidents, first aid incidents, near-misses and safety deviations are the main indicators followed by several organizations.

Although actively being used for benchmarking purposes, LTIFR has some deficiencies as an indicator as given below.

  • It is insensitive to the severity of the injuries. It places equal weight on accidents with one day absence, 100 days absence, or permanent impairment.
  • It is possible to manipulate the registration and classification of injuries. Accidents are frequently self-reported since the injured person can decide not to report. This defect is a common problem for accident reporting, not just for LTIFR statistics.
  • The use of alternative job means the restricted work, for the injured person. An accident victim can end up with a long period of restricted work but no absence at all. Still, the accident harms the injured person for a long time.
  • It is fluctuating and sensitive to changes in small organizations. Working hours in small organizations are small and only one accident can show a high increase in LTIFR.
  • Details in the defining of LTIFR equation can differ, for example frequencies can be defined in several ways. In USA 200,000 labour hours are taken while European statistics on ‘Accidents at Work -and ILO define separate incidence rates for fatal accidents and for accidents leading to more than three days of absence. Incidence rate is the number of accidents at work per 100,000 persons in employment. There are more uncertainties related to occupational accident statistics in general.

Under-reporting of accidents is quite common in steel industry. Under-reporting is there since employees and / or management decides not to report an occupational accident or illness for a variety of reasons, or do not know whether they are obliged to report it. Under-reporting of non-fatal accidents is a big issue in the steel industry. The injury data of the steel plant normally under-represents the true occurrence of occupational accidents and injuries due to under-reporting. Further the data regarding occupational injuries are less available from mini steel plants, and wherever the records exist, they are normally unreliable.

There are several reasons for under-reporting. A study reported several reasons such as (i) small injuries do not need to be reported, (i) pain is a natural part of the job, (ii) home treatment is enough, (iv) uncertainty if the symptoms are related to work activity or not, and (v) a fear of negative consequences (such as losing one’s job or safety incentive, and potential of not being considered for other employment). Job insecurity, production pressure, safety compliance, and safety reporting attitudes are some of the reasons for under-reporting. The other reasons for under-reporting include (i) lack of knowledge about the obligation to report or how to report, (ii) time needed to obtain and complete the accident report forms, (iii) fear of negative consequences in the case of a minor accident, (iv) fear of a negative influence on the reputation of the organization, and (v) fear of consequences in general and cultural reasons.

Safety culture – Continuous changes in workplaces create challenges for the safety management in the organization. The safety culture and climate, commitment to safety and communication are essential when aiming for excellence. Organizational changes can have the features of psychosocial risks which can have negative impacts on risk management and employees’ engagement, safety, and well-being. The complexity of systems in the steel plant is growing, and it needs an approach to safety which goes beyond the simple rational analysis of technical systems, organizational patterns and procedures. Safety management is to consider the dynamics of processes and actions which influence or are directly involved in the safety. Thus, risk awareness and safety culture are essential complements for the safety management system in a steel plant.

The organizational culture can be defined as ‘a pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, which has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems’. Safety culture is a more general form of safety. Sometimes the term safety climate is used. Safety culture has several definitions, but frequently used definition is the definition by the ‘Advisory Committee on the Safety of Nuclear Installations’ which states safety culture as ‘the safety culture of an organization is the product of individual and group values, attitudes, competencies and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organization’s health and safety programmes’.

The role of commitment to safety – Participation, engagement and commitment to safety at every organizational level is necessary. Also, ISO 45001 emphasizes the importance of employee participation. Safety participation includes acts such as helping co-employees with safety, seeking to promote the safety programme, making suggestions for change, participating in voluntary safety tasks or attending safety meetings. It is frequently claimed that participative leadership is supported when safety and reliability are combined with job satisfaction. When line managers show empowering behaviours, they facilitate collaborative learning processes which result in increased safety participation.

It is frequently contented that the effectiveness of the safety management and its practices depend on the levels of safety-focused cognitive and emotional employees’ engagement. The management of the safety in steel plants can be designed and implemented to promote and enhance employees’ engagement. Safety motivation affects safety behaviour and change implementation. In this respect, social motivation is more important for safety behaviour in large steel plants compared to mini steel plants.

In a steel organization which aims for zero accidents, there is a high commitment of both the management and the employees. This commitment, combined with other factors, is the main driver for long-term safety improvements. The steel organization aiming for zero accidents is to be serious in its strategies and practices to improve safety, and the management to understand that it is a continuing effort in spite of the tension which is always present between productivity and safety goals and objectives. Safety can be used as by the steel organization management as a spearhead for making wider changes in the organizational culture or at least in its climate, e.g. to change attitudes towards pride in work, performance and general productivity.

Commitment from management, employees’ participation and engagement, and available resources (financial and personnel) supports the implementation of a good safety practice. Management commitment is normally most strongly associated with the accident prevention. A study suggests the following five principles for good leadership for safety in the organization.

  • It is essential for the executives and the employees to take seriously the responsibility for the establishment of a positive safety culture and safety climate.
  • The management needs to prioritize safety policies above other corporate objectives and apply them consistently across the organization and over time.
  • Safety actions can deliver to their full potential if they have the unambiguous commitment of the organizational management. Higher level management is to be directly involved in the implementation of the safety policies.
  • Good, regular, multi-level communication is fundamental to the delivery of improvements in safety. Executives are to encourage an open atmosphere in which all can express their experiences, views and ideas about safety, and which encourages collaboration between stakeholders, both internal and external, around delivery of a shared safety vision.
  • Executives are to show that they value their employees and promote their active participation in the development and implementation of all the actions related to safety.

The importance of safety leadership throughout the organization is well known. Empowering executives promotes collaborative learning directly and by encouraging dialogue and open communication helps in the achievement of safety goals and objectives. Also, there is a need for a sustained safety leadership training programmes for executives at all the levels to understand their roles and to learn how to be safety leaders. Increasing executives’ safety awareness, influencing executives’ safety attitudes, recognizing executives’ safety commitment, emphasizing executives’ safety responsibilities, developing adequate organizational safety procedures, managements’ encouragement and support, benchmarking others’ safety activities, understanding the economic effects of safety, and safety improvements are the issues which promotes executives’ commitment to safety. Problem-solving, social competence, and safety knowledge are relevant for the management’s engagement in employees’ behaviours which demonstrates their safety commitment.

Safety training interventions have been shown to lead to positive effects on safety knowledge, adoption of safe work behaviours and practices, and safety and health outcomes. However, the methods of safety training can vary widely ranging from passive (lectures, videos and pamphlets) to moderately engaging (programmed instruction, and feedback interventions) to very engaging (e.g., training in behavioural modeling, and hands-on training). More engaging training is normally found to provide the most positive impacts, but all forms of safety training can be beneficial. Video training is widely used due to its scalability, ease of implementation, and lower cost.

If there is a good safety culture without a safety management system, then safety is organized inconsistently. It can be under-resourced and not seen as organization driven. In addition, if the organization is seeking to improve its safety culture, then the defined safety indicators play an important role. It is claimed that safety culture is correlated with concurrent measures of safety performance and can be related to future performance. Two elements are important contributors when improving workplace safety. They are positive safety communication and an error management climate. The creation of a positive error management climate includes, for example, sharing near-misses with line managers and co-employees.

The characteristics of a positive safety culture are the way safety is perceived, valued and prioritized in the organization. It reflects the commitment to safety at all the levels in the organization and is to go through all aspects of the work environment. Safety is frequently defined as a value, which is ‘a long-term commitment in having safety integrated as a positive value within all organizational operations and strategies’.

Safety culture and performance monitoring – The best alternative is to measure the safe and unsafe behaviour before an accident occurs rather than to investigate what happened after the incident. Hence, sometimes, one extra layer is placed on the bottom of the Heinrich’s pyramid which is the layer of the behaviour. In a study on the safe employee behaviour in the steel industry, it is concluded that encouraging employees’ safety is more than slogans and posters, frequently serves as substitutes for safety programmes in industrial settings. The study has found that safety hazards have more of an effect than only directly causing accidents. Indirectly, hazards influence employees’ perceptions of the organizational factors, e.g. safety climate and pressure, and lead to unsafe behaviours.

It is contended that when seeking to improve safety performance, benefits can be gained from distinguishing between safety behaviours of pro-social, e.g. helping others, and pro-active, e.g. seeking change. Management can reduce the rate of minor injuries and property damage by increasing the help it extends to the employees and creating environments in which employees feel comfortable raising their suggestions and concerns about safety. The positive safety climate is characterized as one with an open-door policy for hazard and accident reporting, a sincere concern for employee well-being and fairness in accident investigations.

Some steel organizations have used safety climate assessments. Safety climate is frequently seen as a superficial and momentary reflection of the organizational safety culture. Safety climate is both a leading and a lagging indicator. The employees’ perceptions of the safety climate are to be partly based on previous accidents / injuries (lagging), but the safety climate also sends messages to the employees about appropriate and expected behaviours, and in that way, it influences accidents (leading). The safety climate can be regarded as a predictor of safety performance. It is frequently summarized that the practical use of safety climate assessments is not to be an indicator for safety performance but an indication of where to focus next.

Proactive safety management has led to significantly more positive safety climate perceptions as well as improved employee organizational commitment and job satisfaction. The general organizational climate can influence perceptions of the safety climate. These perceptions of safety climate influence safety performance through their effects on knowledge and motivation. In a study investigating the safety culture at a large steel organization, it has been found that employees’ perceptions are that the risks present in their work environment are to be accepted since they cannot do anything about them. They experienced that safety performance at work is the responsibility of the individual, and that it is not possible to count on one’s colleagues or the line manager. Also, the employees reported that there is a constant and ongoing trade-off between productivity and safety.

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