The annual turnaround is one of the most critical activities of the year, and still companies usually hire hundreds of unknown contractors from different companies. How can you manage to reduce the odds of a safety incident?
Safe + Sound Week is August 12-18. It is a nationwide event held each August that recognizes the successes of workplace safety and health programs and offers information and ideas on how to keep America's workers safe. I Figured it was a great opportunity to talk about safety during an annual turnaround.
When an annual turnaround is approaching, it is crucial to foresee the number of contractors that your company will be dealing with, and define a plan to align safety practices. Still, a 100% compliance rate is almost impossible considering that contractors don’t have the same culture employees have, they are trained with different habits and behaviors that are hard to transform in only 10-20 days. We usually underestimate the communication gap we have with them, which is normally the root cause for near misses and accidents.
Common approaches to reduce accidents
One of the most common approaches to reduce accidents is to make every contractor pass a safety training previous to working in the facility, to ensure a common understanding of various safety aspects. Other common approaches are sharing digital safety manuals and holding regular meetings before and during the outage with the contractor’s representative. The problem is that these type of training sessions or meetings don’t usually dig deeper on some typical problems, like dealing with: extreme weather conditions, work delays, language barriers, exceptions and other one-time events that may come up.
How can you work to reduce this communication gap?
I agree it is impossible to cover everything in a meeting, a training session or a manual. I propose on top of them, to adopt some of the following best practices to help you bridge the gap and be on top of the problems at any particular time during the outage.
Leading safety by walking around
There is nothing more effective than seeing things by yourself. First-hand knowledge is the highest form of information. Normal practice is to have the owner of the process or the engineer visiting the site at the beginning of the shift to sign the job safety analysis. Even though pre-job observations are effective, they are rarely reviewed during the day, they are merely seen as part of the bureaucracy. Safety advocates, as well as engineers and managers, should get more involved in the job, observing regularly how work is being done, asking questions and detecting problems at the gemba (where the action occurs, in Japanese).
Attending toolbox meetings
Toolbox meetings are meetings held by contractors or employees at the beginning of the shift. The benefit of attending to them is the possibility to talk and listen to the entire crew, while during the day they are all busy working on different machines. It can be used to communicate safety incidents, refresh on safety topics and listen to the contractor’s concerns. Sometimes the concerns are not discussed with the crew supervisor, but building a close relationship with the employees directly could help gather more inside information to help the safety team prevent issues. Make sure to adapt your own meeting schedules to accommodate for these meetings.
Dedicating full-time safety advocates
In order to ensure all groups are covered and receive the same type of information across the board, some companies hire full-time safety advocates during the outages. This person is in charge of making sure the specific safety practices for the outage are followed, not by attending a seminar, but by observing contractors at work. They are also in charge of tackling specific concerns, like how to react to specific weather conditions, sharing company values and expectations for this outage in particular or answering specific job-related questions.
Using visual management tools to communicate housekeeping practices
When housekeeping is not a good practice for the employees, contractors are not going to be better, period. So if you want to keep the plant in good standing during the outage, avoiding tools, machine parts and boxes to become safety hazards, start at home. Training the employees to keep the workplace organized at any time, using signs and colors to communicate where are the trash cans and hoppers located and where tools, restrooms or emergency exits can be found is part of the pre-outage effort.
Planning for weather conditions
When work is done outside is when weather conditions can mostly impact the outcome and duration of the outage. Planning weather conditions in advance is extremely important. Some questions that for sure will rise are: should work be stopped with rain, with snow or with lightning? With extremely hot weather, be prepared to rent cooling stations, fans, provide water and Sqwinchers or electrolyte beverages, and again, have the safety advocate encouraging proper rest and hydration. Communication in these situations is key.
Considering language barriers
You may know and communicate well with all your employees, but communication with contractors can be very different. Especially language barriers are important to consider, as contractors and experts can come from different regions and locations. In Texas, for example, the number of Hispanic speaking contractors in an outage can be as high as 30-40%. It is a must to make sure that signs, manuals, training and continuous onsite communication are 100% understood by everybody. Never assume that because someone lives in the US, speaks or reads perfect English.
These 6 tips are essential to make the most out of your outage planning. Yet it is never enough. I would like to repeat and highlight the last piece of advice, which is: never ever assume anything. Again, you can never plan for everything, so being vigilant, open-minded and taking nothing for granted is important to detect and prevent issues before they get worse. When attending tool box meeting for example, many times I realize when a group is not communicating well, is having discipline issues or the team members don’t have the right support. Always be ready for the unexpected!
If you would like to learn more about hiring a safety advocate, contact us to learn more.