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General Aspects of Health and Safety in an Iron and Steel Plant

General Aspects of Health and Safety in an Iron and Steel Plant

Iron and steel plant is a large and technologically complex heavy industrial plant which has a large number of hazards because of the strong internal as well as external forward and backward linkages in terms of material flows. Employees are to work in hazardous environment because of complicated equipment layouts, high temperatures, heavy equipments, moving machinery, hazardous processes, heavy lifting and movements of materials which include movements of liquid metals, handling of corrosive and toxic materials, high levels of noise, radiation and vibrations, and the presence of respirable air-borne substances (such as vapours and fumes) in the work environment etc. Further, several operations involve working at heights or in confined spaces. In short, the steel plant working involves both very high volume as well as the complexity of operations which results into employees getting exposed to a high level of health and safety risks.

The health, safety, and protection of employees, equipment, and the environment are of serious concern in the iron and steel plant. The health and safety of employees is crucial since it affects both economic and social factors. Accidents and incidents taking place in the iron and steel plant also cost money and time because of employees off work, material costs, and damage to the buildings, plant and equipments, or products. On the other hand, a healthy and safe workplace contributes towards plants competitiveness as well as in profit growth.

In the iron and steel plant, ‘nothing is more important than the safety and health of the employees who work in the plant’. At its simplest, the health and safety in the iron and steel plant can be defined as ‘the avoidance, prevention, and improvement of the adverse outcomes or injuries or health problems stemming from the processes of the plant’.  The processes of the iron and steel plant are, in many cases at least, inherently hazardous and the above definition implicitly acknowledges this. Prevention and improvement firstly refer to the need for intervention to deal with the immediate crisis, but also to the need to care for injured persons. However, it is important to treat this simple definition as only a starting point for a deeper involvement. Safety does not just mean avoiding serious injury. Simply trying to avoid damage is not enough. Rather it is necessary to reduce errors of all kinds and pursue high reliability as an essential component of high quality working at the workplace. Several practical safety managers, adopt a view where safety is seen more as the ability to anticipate and effectively respond to hazards and difficulties. Successful units of the iron and steel plant, and individual employees, are flexible in the sense that they deal effectively with the constantly changing, but always hazardous, environment existing in the iron and steel plant.

Health and safety measures in the steel plant needs (i) identifying of the reasonably foreseeable hazards which can give rise to risks, (ii) eliminating the risks as far as it is reasonably practicable, (iii) implementing the control measures in those plant operations where it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks, and (iv) ensuring maintenance of the effective control measures. Following of the health and safety practices results reduction of the risks to a level which is as low as is reasonably predictable. Health and safety measures when well-managed in the iron and steel plant contributes to the employee productivity, promotes steel plant’s competitiveness and economic growth, reduces costs resulting from occupational accidents and work-related health problems, and enhances employees’ motivation.

The iron and steel plant has potential dangers inherent in its working environment which the plant employees can be exposed, unless suitable and stringent precautions are taken. For this purpose, the management of the iron and steel plant develops occupational health and safety programmes which concentrate particularly on (i) the peculiar problems to the plant, (ii) the plant processes, and (iii) the nature of the materials being processed. These include (i) liquid metal and slag and coke at high temperatures, (ii) huge quantities of handling of materials, (iii) toxic and corrosive substances and gases, (iv) flammable and explosive substances and gases, (v) heavy machinery, (vi) work carried out at heights or in confined spaces, (vii) extensive road and rail transport systems, and (viii) noise etc.

The occupational health and safety programmes which the plant management develops deal systematically with (i) identification of potential hazards including potential new risks from new technologies, (ii) assessment of risks, (iii) establishment of physical protection, (iv) development of safe systems of work, (v) development of audit procedures, (v) provision and use of personal protective equipment (PPE), (vi) investigation procedures, (vii) standards for new equipment and processes and process modification, (viii) fire fighting programmes, (ix) provision of fire fighting equipment etc., and (x) training of employees. In addition, health programmes are developed concerned with the health aspects of employees. Many of the issues involved with the health are closely interwoven with safety and the same sort of approach is required with the health programmes.

There are three imperatives for adopting safety practices. These are ethical, legal, and financial. It is necessary that the management recognizes the advantages of safe work environments and progressively adopt safety management practices to prevent hazardous events, avoid production and manpower losses, and fall outs associated with the accidents. There is a moral obligation placed on the plant management to ensure that the workplace and the work activities are safe. Also, there are regulatory requirements for the safety and health at workplace which the management is to meet. These regulatory requirements are defined for safe working.

Effective controls measures for the safety and health in the steel plant falls into three categories in order of priority. They are (i) engineering controls, (ii) administrative controls, and (iii) personal protective equipment controls. Engineering controls are applied to the layout and / or equipment design so that the workplace becomes safer for the employees to work. Administrative controls are training of the employees, making and implementing of working procedures, carrying out of the hazard analysis, or risk analysis etc. and providing of adequate supervision and so on so that employees work safely at the workplace. Personal protective equipment controls are those controls which ensure that the employees use proper personal protective equipment when they work at the hazardous workplace.

The three important aspects for the progress of safety in the iron and steel plant are (i) the condition of the work place environment such as means of access, physical plant safety, housekeeping, and safe place of work etc. (ii) the training and competence of the employees which include ability to understand the application and positive reaction to the safe systems of work, and (iii) the development of motivational and behavioural influences of the employees which also include the use of more direct strategies to identify unsafe behaviour and attitudes and to motivate the employees.

Good safety practices can be defined as those practical activities or actions which aim to improve safety and health of the employees at the workplace. Seriously following of good safety practices assists enhancement of employee’s knowledge of operation, results into improvement of technical procedures, maintenance of accurate process safety information, and increase in overall plant productivity. Safe working practices also reduce down time, improve employees’ morale, and promote systematic working, resulting into substantial reduction in the cost of production and contribute to the financial savings.

Multiple factors potentially affect the health and safety issues in the iron and steel plant. Structural factors represent both physical structures (buildings and equipment) but also basic organizational characteristics such as the number, qualifications, and training of the employees. These characteristics can be changed, but normally only slowly. Human resource practices, which influence employees’ morale and working environment, also have relation to the health and safety issues in the iron and steel plant.

The fundamental characteristics of the iron and steel plant are mediated by a number of more transient factors, such as morale, motivation and safety culture, which affect employees’ attitudes and behaviour, in turn affect the work of the employees at the workplace. Teamwork, individual performance, use of technology, working conditions, and organizational ethics and culture can all be relevant. These are the ‘mediating variables’ in measurement terms, more easily described as ‘influences’ or ‘contributory factors’. They can only affect employees’ working indirectly, but are also have potential reflections of the health and safety of the iron and steel plant and its potential to improve working in the future.

The organizational culture in the iron and steel plant, and the existence or non-existence of a health and safety culture within particular plant has a profound effect on the behaviour of the employees of the plant. The health and safety culture is required to reflect an uncompromising commitment to work safely. Establishing and developing a safety culture within an organization and managing safety from a behavioural perspective, is the most powerful approach to the management of health and safety.

Safety culture has assumed a considerable importance for the health and safety issues in the iron and steel plant. A good safety culture is certainly an important foundation of a safe plant. The definition of the safety culture indicates ‘the safety culture of an organization is the product of the 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. Organizations with a positive safety culture are characterized by communications founded on mutual trust, by shared perceptions of the importance of safety, and by confidence in the efficacy of preventative measures.’

A safety culture is hence founded on the individual attitudes and values of everyone in the organization. A strong organizational and management commitment is also implied with the health and safety needs to be taken seriously at every level of the organization. The management needs to provide clear and committed leadership, communicated throughout the organization, which gives the safety of the employees a priority. Employees are to be conscious of workplace hazards, line managers are to be alert for potential equipment problems and additional safety risks because these problems affects the working at the workplace, and managers are to monitor the incident reports because of potential equipment problems.

For having a good health and safety record in the iron and steel plant, two important principles involved in the establishment of a safety culture have been identified. Firstly, the role, responsibility, and accountability of directors, senior managers, middle managers, and employees normally for the health and safety are to be clearly defined, and secondly, there is to be a conviction that high standards are achievable through proper management.

In creating and maintaining a safety culture in the iron and steel plant, the important requirement are (i) a genuine and visible commitment from the top (ii) an acceptance that improving health and safety performance is a long term goal which needs sustained effort and interest, (iii) a policy statement of high expectation which conveys a sense of optimism, (iv) employee ownership, involvement, training and communication, (v) good codes of practice and safety standards, (vi) provision of adequate resources for health and safety, (vii) health and safety is to be seen as a line management responsibility, (viii) setting of challenging targets and measurement of performance against those targets, (ix) thorough investigation, documentation, and dissemination of information relating to all incidents or deviations, irrespective of whether injury or damage occurred, (x) compliance with the standards is to be ensured through auditing, (xi) good safety behaviour is to be a part of the employee annual appraisal, (xii) all deficiencies regarding health and safety are to be remedied promptly, (xiii) managers at all levels are to regularly assess the health and safety performance in their control areas, and (xiv) factors which influence the behaviour of managers, line managers, and employees are to be properly managed.

There are a few essential elements which are necessary for implementation of safety culture in an iron and steel plant. The plant management is required to have substantial commitment and leadership for the employees’ health and safety both with heart and mind. This commitment of the plant management is to be a strong and visible and is to be communicated to and shared by all levels of the management. Managers are required to set the examples and raise the standards by doing themselves what they are telling others to do. Also, health and safety consciousness is to be ingrained amongst the employees of the iron and steel plant.

Management is required to put into place mechanisms which have influence on behaviour of the employees towards health and safety, such as the safety performance of the employee is to be recognized towards career development. Also, there is to be recognition for the best practices in health and safety and there is a healthy exchange of the health and safety related ideas both within and between the departments.

Communication regarding health and safety problems is normally an issue in iron and steel plant. There exists normally  an iceberg of ignorance in the pant. The percentage of the health and safety problems existing at the workplace known to the employees reduces as the level of the employees in the organization increases. Fig 1 shows the iceberg of ignorance related to the health and safety problems.

Fig 1 Iceberg of ignorance related to the health and safety problems

The management is to ensure that there is a communication plan and a participatory way of working from the maximum number of employees which is a way to confirm that the commitment towards the health and safety is real. This is to be reflected by the change in the attitude and behaviour of the individual employees and the working groups with respect to health and safety.

The iron and steel plant is required to have an appropriate structure for its safety organization. This structure is to be well defined by the management and is well understood by every employee of the plant. The safety organization is to have well defined role and responsibilities in the organization. The safety organization has to have ambitious goals for the improvement of the health and safety and measurement of the progress by the collection of appropriate statistics.

Through organizing of regular training programs for health and safety, the management is required to demonstrate that attitude and behaviour to health and safety is an essential part of the professionalism of every employee and all the employees are to accept their responsibility not only for their own health and safety but also for their fellow employees. After all, employees work in iron and steel plant not as individuals but as a part of a team.

Further, the iron and steel plant management is not to have two tier approaches to health and safety. It is equally essential that the contract employees working in the iron and steel plant attain the same level of health and safety consciousness as the regular employees of the plant and use the same methods for the contract employees to achieve this.

The six safety and health principles which are important for the iron and steel plant are (i) all injuries and work-related illness to the employees can be and are to be prevented, (ii) regular employees’ training in health and safety aspects is essential, (iii) deep management involvement is necessary for the health and safety performance of the plant (iv) employees are to ensure working at the their workplace by strictly observing health and safety norms of the workplace, (v) health and safety issues are to be integrated with all the management processes of the plant, and (vi) health and safety related parameters are to be measured and monitored on a regular basis since they greatly influence the performance of the plant.

The triangle of accidents and incidents

The motivation to take a fresh look at safety performance in some of the iron and steel plants has arisen from the shock of high rate of fatalities. In some of the iron and steel plants, the bench-marking of performance with plants has shown lags in the health and safety performance. Also, the realization in some of the iron and steel plants that the downward trend in accidents had stagnated has prompted fresh initiatives. Whatever the motives, the triangle of accidents and incidents drives the initiatives towards the objective of the elimination of all accidents through the elimination of all unsafe actions.

The nature of various types of accidents is shown by a triangle of accidents and incidents in Fig 2. The various types of accidents as shown in the triangle are unsafe actions, incidents, minor injuries, lost time injuries, serious accidents, and fatalities. 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. The outcome of an incident can be a fatal accident or a near miss with the difference is frequently being a matter of luck.

Fig 2 Triangle of accidents and incidents

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. The relationship between near misses and unsafe acts shows that for every 500 unsafe acts there is one near miss. The accident triangle 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 is considered as one of the most familiar occupational safety management tools, describing the severity distribution of occupational accidents and incidents. Fig 3 show Heinrich’s and Bird’s pyramids.

Fig 3 Heinrich’s and Bird’s pyramids

Every iron and steel plant is required to aim for zero accident. To aim for an accident free working environment in the plant is everyone’s responsibility. It is possible to reduce dramatically the number of accidents at work by assigning necessary priority to the safety since a safe way of working is a quality and efficient way of working. The pyramid of the overall approach to the target of zero accidents is depicted in Fig 4.

Fig 4 Pyramid of overall objective of zero accident

The maturity curve

The experience of many iron and steel plants is that improvement in the plant health and safety is a medium term to a long -term aspiration and best seen as part of a development process, which has three identified components. These components, when added together, allow access to further improvements and a very real change in health and safety culture. The three components are (i) the state of the workplace environment e.g. means of access, physical plant safety, housekeeping, and safe place of work, (ii) the competence and training of those involved including the ability to understand, apply, and respond to the safe systems of work and (iii) the development of motivational and behavioural influences including the use of more direct strategies to identify unsafe behaviour and attitudes and to motivate the employees.

The process is continuous and long term, needing repeated evaluation of the status of safety in the iron and steel plant and judgement as to whether the plant is ready to tackle initiatives and challenges which are intended to reinforce and make changes in the health and safety culture. Measures, which assist the evaluation of improving performance, are reactive (after the event) and proactive (before the event). Reactive measures include the number and frequency of accidents and incidents, the results of inspections, and the number of enforcement actions etc. Proactive measures include numbers of employees trained, of safe behaviour observed, of near misses recollected, and of risk assessments undertaken etc. As the management of health and safety matures, the number of proactive measures increase and, because of the progress, allow less reliance upon reactive measures, which are essentially measures of the failure rate.

The development stages (the maturity curve) are illustrated in a graph in Fig 5. The curve shows progress over time, resulting from the cumulative effect of the three elements. While it is true that several safety managers address workplace environment issues before training and behaviour, some other safety managers stresses that it is not necessary to do this. All three elements are complementary and additive and are to be applied, measured, and reviewed simultaneously. The difference is that while failings in the workplace environment can be corrected quickly, the change of individual behaviour is a much longer-term process.

Fig 5 Maturity curve

Different safety performance indicators which are measured normally in the iron and steel plant are (i) industrial accident, (ii) industrial injury, (iii) lost time injury, (iv) fatal injury, (v) severity rate, (vi) frequency rate, and (vii) lost time injury frequency.

Industrial accident – It is an unintended event due to an unsafe act or unsafe condition or a combination of both, which may or may not result in property damage, personal injury, work interruption, product damage or a combination of these.

Industrial injury – It is an injury arising from an industrial accident which occurs while a person is working for the organization or is on the premises of the organization for purposes in connection with or arising out of and in the course of his work, but which may not necessarily result in absence from work.

Lost-time injury – It is an industrial injury causing loss of time from the job on which the injured person is normally employed beyond the day or shift on which the injury occurred. In addition, cases where loss of time does not immediately follow the injury, but where there is a direct relation between absence and injury, are normally regarded as lost-time injuries.

Fatal injury – It is an industrial accident resulting in a fatal injury to either the organizational employees, contractors carrying out work for the organization, or other persons where these result from an industrial accident arising from organizational activities.

Severity rate – It is the 1,000 times the ratio of total number of days lost and total time of hours worked.

Frequency rate – It is the data on injuries (lost-time and / or the total number) and is frequently presented in terms of frequencies by relating the absolute numbers to the total number of hours worked. A base of one million hours is most common.

Lost-time injury frequency – It is one million times the ratio of lost time injury number and the total number of hours worked.

Hazards in the iron and steel plant

The iron and steel plant is full of hazards at every step of its operation. These hazards are to be tackled for the sake of safety in the plant. Major amongst these hazards are enumerated below.

Road hazards – Road hazards are high because of heavy concentration and heterogeneous nature of the road traffic in the plant. This hazard is having maximum intensity during the shift change timings.

Coke oven and by-product plant – The main hazards in the coke oven and by-product plant are heat, dust, smoke, moving equipment, chemicals, fire and explosion etc.

Sinter plant – The main hazards in the sinter plant are moving equipment, dust, and smoke etc.

Blast furnace – The main hazards in the blast furnace are heat, dust, noise, liquid metal and slag, gas poisoning, moving equipments, moving locomotives, fire and explosion, and working at heights etc.

Steel melting shop – The main hazard in steel melting shop are heat, dust, noise, liquid metal and slag, moving equipment, suspended loads, working at heights, and fire and explosion etc.

Rolling mills – The main hazards at rolling mills are heat, noise, moving equipment, splinters, cobbles, suspended loads, and slippery floors etc.

Thermal power plant – The main hazards are heat, working at height, noise, vibrations, and gas and steam lines etc.

Material handling – The main hazards are posture, excess loads, moving equipment, improper signaling, and suspended overhead loads etc.

Besides the above, there are other major hazards which are common to most of the places. These are (i) working in confined space, (ii) working with improper tools, (iii) poor illumination, (iv) poor ventilation, (v) electrical hazards, (vi) falling objects, (vii) loco movements and unmanned crossings, (vii) moving equipments, (viii) unpreparedness for emergencies, (ix) unsafe scaffoldings, (x) over confidence and working without safety appliances, personal protective equipments (PPEs), written clearances, and shutdown clearances etc. Violation of safety protocols and shut down procedures etc. are also cause of hazards.

There are several good health and safety practices which are normally followed by the iron and steel plants. The good health and safety practices include (i) assigning and publishing the responsibility and duties of the employees associated with the management of the health and safety in the plant, (ii) investigation of all the accidents whether small or big and the implementation of corrective measures, (iii) studying the significant safety incidents which have happened in other steel plants and learning from the same, (iv) registration and control of safety standards and maintaining a register of the significant incidents, (v) internal and external publication of safety investigation results and the obtained experiences, (vi) conducting regular shop review meetings regarding status of health and safety in the shop as well as monthly review meeting at the chief executive level, (vii) conducting training as well as refresher health and safety training programs amongst the employees where investigation of various incidents are also to be discussed, (viii) conducting emergency safety drills, and (ix) conducting of regular health and safety audits to locate unsafe areas and practices and to ensure that the corrective actions have been taken. Health and safety audits can also help in early detection of the equipment deterioration and the deviations and / or procedures which can degrade or deteriorate the health and safety levels.

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