As the old saying goes, when life gives you lemons – make lemonade. And when unexpected plant shutdowns occur, safety and plant managers should capitalize on the opportunity to evaluate and improve their safety procedures. Often during plant shutdowns, floor employees may feel confused or be filled with uncertainty. Managers should seize this chance to increase communications and encourage employee engagement regarding company safety protocols.
So why should your Electrical Infrastructure be a Maintenance Priority?
Simply stated…properly maintained equipment is safer to operate and leads to fewer unplanned interruptions. Shutdowns related to a lapse in regular maintenance are preventable but may lead to a reduction in employee confidence and productivity. Employees may lose faith in management, the equipment’s reliability, and job security. Production numbers will decline, costs will rise, and momentum will be lost. Prioritizing electrical maintenance will increase safety and decrease property risks. Be careful not to overlook the obvious – even new equipment requires a proactive maintenance and service program. By doing so, that new equipment will continue to run like new, therefore maintaining its value over a more extended period-of-time or, in other words, slowing its depreciation.
What are the best practices for Electrical Safety Auditing & Planning during an unexpected shutdown?
First, it’s essential to realize now is a great time to revisit electrical specifications to see what new technology can be incorporated. Often, these electrical safety innovations will not only improve safety protocols but also reduce costs and increase productivity. Seeking out technologies that provide multi-prong benefits can show organizational leaders that these technologies offer operational and cultural advantages along with added safety.
Next, exploring opportunities to standardize electrical safety procedures throughout a facility or across multiple facilities will help establish a safety culture throughout your organization. Consistency in messaging, communication distribution, and processes will provide clarity while increasing employee and upper management buy-in. Plant shutdowns allow for a physical walk-through of plant operations and safety procedures. These hands-on and visual exercises can reveal gaps in safety or maintenance operations. Encourage floor employees to participate in the walk-through, so they are engaged and feel ownership over the process. Many times safety procedures vary from department to department, shift to shift, or location to location. Over time, workers may have gotten complacent, adopted bad habits, or incorporated short-cuts for several reasons, including pressure for increased productivity, lack of supervision, or inadequate safety training. Taking an internal survey or walk-through with plant or safety managers and floor employees will help nurture electrical best practices company-wide.
Finally, look for ways to reduce risk and increase business value by leveraging the Hierarchy of Controls as well as ways to design out hazards. Engineering Controls are automated processes that reduce exposure to hazards and opportunities for human error while improving efficiencies. They involve a physical change to the workplace itself, rather than relying on workers’ behavior to follow administrative controls or requiring workers to wear protective clothing(1). An example of an engineering control would be an Absence of Voltage Tester or AVT. Use the Hierarchy of Controls as a tool when examining opportunities to improve your electrical safety processes. Ask yourself and your team… Are there processes or technologies to incorporate an engineering control into this safety or maintenance process? Remember to think outside of the box and investigate new electrical safety technologies.
How to work within predetermined budgets during an unexpected plant shutdown.
The cost of doing business safely and responsibly requires profound accountability. Electrical hazards in the workplace can cause fatalities. Additionally, they can inflict a devastating impact on workers with debilitating and potentially disabling injuries that can cost millions of dollars in treatment. These impacts create a massive financial burden for any company, in addition to the human toll. There have been significant advancements in safety technology, and with new products coming to the market, it’s entirely possible to reduce risk and financial worry by investing in electrical safety.
The hardships are hard to ignore, especially when we consider that minor electrical incidents in the workplace often go unreported. Furthermore, according to the National Safety Council’s Safety+ Health magazine, the most common cause of arc flash accidents is human error.(2) Which is a hard fact to swallow, considering the investment of time to train a qualified electrical worker is significant. An outdated, under-emphasized, or ill-communicated electrical safety program is a financial disaster waiting to happen.
So how do you leverage your current budget during an unexpected shutdown to strengthen your electrical safety program? Here are three quick tips to reduce financial risk:
- Think about integrating technology that will minimize the chance of human error. Will new permanently-installed test equipment upgrade the plant’s ability to create an electrically safe work condition?
- Think about user adoption. Can qualified electrical workers be better trained? What tools and equipment will create better efficiency, so they’re put in a safer environment?
- Think about the current safety processes the facility employs today. Where can improvements be made that will make compliance with standards even easier and reduce human error?
Even trained experts can experience accidents, but a well-informed Safety Management Team can be a significant asset to the company by keeping the investment in electrical safety a top priority.
In summary, it is essential during a time of uncertainty, as an unexpected shutdown, to convey a cultural message of strength and unity to your employees. Showing a dedication to electrical safety on the plant floor will nurture that message by illustrating your commitment to their safety. Encouraging them to participate in the electrical safety process will foster their ownership and adoption of the procedures. Use this downtime wisely, and you’ll reap the benefits when you’re back to business as usual.