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Straying From The Path

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Health & Safety

The quarry industry has reduced the number of RIDDOR reportable incidents at work dramatically. But the second part of the journey is always the hardest. Part way into the new 50% reduction target and having sites set on a zero incident rate by 2015, HSE figures suggest the industry is starting to stray. MQR looks at why this may be and what can be done to get quarries back on the path to zero.

In terms of health and safety and RIDDOR reportable incident reduction in quarrying, the years 2000-2005 were the halcyon days as the numbers broke through the 50% reduction target.

After cutting incidents by 52%, the industry set a new target in 2005 of a further 50% reduction by 2009 from a baseline of 367 incidents. Coupled with this a zero incident target by 2015 has also been set.

But the peak on the classic change curve is a distant memory, suggests new HSE figures, as the industry starts to experience a trough.

Being on line to meet the 2015 target would have meant around 280 incidents being reported in 2005-2006. But acccording to HSE figures from Inspector of Quarries Phil Smith, incidents instead rose by 4% from 317 to 331. Even the QPA admits its figures show there is “evidence of levelling off”. Either way, improvement has stalled.

So what needs to be done to get the industry back on the road to zero? For the HSE it is a matter of competence, or the current lack of it.

“Experience and training are not the same as competence. There has been a dearth of investment in education and assessing competence. The emphasis has been on training,” Smith told MQR.

The Quarries Regulations 1999 defines competency as “...sufficient training, experience, knowledge and other qualities to enable a person to properly undertake the duties assigned to them”.

It is the “other qualities” that Smith feels have been missing. But with a definition this vague it is open to debate as to what they might be. For Colin Nottage, one term would be ‘follow-through’.

Now a consultant, Nottage dealt with health and safety at Hanson for 20 years. He feels the need for managers to doggedly stick to turning H&S into an instinct among workers is of huge importance.

“There has been a big push on behavioural safety over the past two years but the problem is that management is not developing ownership of health and safety among workers and this is vital if the reduction in incidents is to get back on track.

“Also, rather than sticking with one thing it has been a case of one new initiative after another, so there is an element of fatigue. People need to be engaged at the sharp end and then challenged on how best to take it forward with full back-up by management,” he told MQR.

The QPA’s director of health and safety, Martin Isles, agrees with Nottage. And although he disputes the HSE’s figures showing an increase in incidents as they include operations such as dimensional stone and slate rather than simply aggregates, he does admit that action needs to be taken if targets are to be reached.

A key area for Isles is contractors. When you drill down into the figures, he says, you find the fall-off in improvement is not down to directly employed staff.

“Contractor safety is going backwards,” he told MQR. “Safety passports have been a good development but their content is in need of updating.”

Around 17,000 contractors carry the passport and Epic is currently seeking to renew the content of the two-day course.

The plan is to introduce two days of quarry specific material rather than the current system which splits the days between quarry knowledge and general health and safety.
However, Isles points out the passport should not be seen as a substitute for site-specific inductions. But this is the way they have been sold to the industry, argues Nottage.

And it is a point given weight by the passport section of the Epic website which sells the cards to contractors as “...saving time and expense by not having to sit through repetitive health and safety induction programmes”.

Nottage says: “This is the wrong approach. Most quarry managers don’t know the content of the passport. Also, contractor safety isn’t improving because of them, as the figures show.”

For Nottage, the problem is that many firms have a H&S system, it is just not embedded in the company.

The systems are more like bolt-ons, he says, which are then ignored. As a result, contractors look at the client as being responsible for health and safety. They don’t look at themselves.

“You need to fundamentally change the way people think in a business,” says Nottage, “and keep auditing their behaviour to demonstrate that managers, employees and contractors are working together effectively to improve the workplace.”

Another major target area for incident reduction is plant. Through the QPA the industry is campaigning for 25 essential standard features to be added to plant sold into the UK quarry industry (see MQR May/June 2007).

These include basics such as red and white chevrons on excavator counterweights, front view mirrors and autolube systems.

MQR spent time walking around Hillhead this year with Isles and former Foster Yeoman H&S director Rory Graham for their views on some of the machines on display.

It soon became clear that plant designers are not necessarily experts in health and safety. Likewise, H&S is not high up the agenda for plant firms selling products at quarrying shows in the UK – with the notable exception of Komatsu at Hillhead.

Some of the design-led problems highlighted by Graham and Isles were half metre gaps from floor to first step on wheeled loader access. On rough ground this could easily grow to 0.75m-1m, creating a slip and fall problem.

Ingress and egress was generally poor, especially on excavators where operators need to enter the machine over the tracks, another major slip and fall hazard. Two areas on which the HSE concentrates.

Other design failures were inaccessible fuel points, poor engine access, and doors opening away from the front of a vehicle ensuring a strong wind could easily knock off an operator – the opposite to a car door which will open away from the driver.

The QPA is currently in the later stages of raising funds to ship Graham off to the various BSI and ISO committee meetings across the UK and the world where design standards are finalised.

These meetings are currently dominated by engineers. A quarry specialist’s input would ensure a future design focusing more on safety – however, it would take five years for any new models to make it to market.

All the plant firms we talked to were supportive of the idea. Meanwhile, former CEA president Paul Ross and new president Colin Wakeham have told MQR they will work to make it happen.

The problem for plant firms is that they move through different markets and different countries. Even in the UK one industry’s safety is another’s hazard. Handrails on excavators are a good example. In quarries they are a safety necessity. On demolition sites the nature of the work means they can be easily ripped off.

Nottage feels there is a role for the multi-national quarriers to play here. If they standardised H&S plant demands across their operations then heavy plant would be standardised for quarrying across the world, aiding improvements in health and safety for workers globally.

But there would be cost implications, say the plant firms. All this is possible at a price, they say. Graham says he believes the industry is willing to pay it: “It is the price of keeping staff safe,” he says.

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