Simplified Safety: How Effective is Your Company Safety Culture?

Small changes can enable big improvements through safety automation and a more competitive presence in the global marketplace.

03/24/2011


What kind of safety culture does your company have? Is it receptive to the benefits and opportunities new safety automation technologies offer? Does it better position your company to play in today’s global marketplace? Taking time to examine your company safety culture—and taking steps to create a fertile environment more conducive to change—can reap significant benefits.

Your safety culture may not be doing all it can to foster improvements and adopt new technologies for a number of reasons. First, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), through what many term its “rearview mirror enforcement” and qualitative regulations, impacts everything safety. It places the burden of creating a safe workplace squarely on the manufacturer’s shoulders. Essentially, the end user must drive safety improvements by making demands on the OEM and requests of the consultant.

Yet this position is almost diametrically opposed to that of Europe, where the European Union (EU) and its Machinery Directive impose compliance first on those who make and/or engineer machines, and only then on the end user. Further, the European safety culture drives most international standards, including and especially EN ISO 13849-1 2008, the now-infamous quantitative-based machine safety standard poised to take effect December 2011 following two postponements. As we become an increasingly global society, it is no wonder such conflicting cultures cause consternation for all.

Becoming an improvement enabler

A bit of attention to U.S. safety cultures and how well they nurture or resist safety system changes might go a long way toward reconciling some of these differences. Indeed, how does a U.S. end user ramp up to comply with European standards such as EN ISO 13849-1 and its complex engineering elements? Although U.S. standards-setting bodies recognize the importance and impact of international standards, no U.S. organization ever adopted EN 954, Safety of Machinery, the previous European machine safety standard about to be de-activated. Instead, the U.S. incorporated some of the concepts of the European standards into its own.

But conflict with foreign values is only part of the story. Other factors play a role in culture formation and change. For one, U.S. industry is steeped in a philosophy of doing things its own way. “It is pride in our way of doing it,” said J. B. Titus, safety consultant and president of J.B. Titus & Associates. “And our way has always been largely successful. We know that a new wave in international standards such as EN ISO 13849-1 is coming, but we still want to do it our way.”

What industry needs, in Titus’ view, is a vision for continuous safety improvement. And that vision can be developed with just a few changes to existing safety culture. “We need to create a shared value concept that includes all employees, from the hourly worker right up through management,” he said. “Operators and managers need to work together to create a safety policy that fosters the use of safety automation technology, especially for companies who play in the global arena. Even suppliers and consultants can help create and develop that shared value concept.”

Further, industry needs to re-direct its training efforts, which have typically focused on operators, rarely on management. “Now management needs training,” Titus suggested. “A lot of managers don’t know about the safety automation technologies available today that enable companies to operate better,” he went on. “Unlike hard-wired systems, safety automation technologies offer diagnostics that can help minimize downtime, facilitate troubleshooting, and do those things that impact OEE and help a company compete globally. Some of this technology can drive companies to do things differently even if local standards don’t require it. Management needs to be brought up to speed on it and become an enabler of these kinds of improvements.”

Building a case for safety automaton technology

Finally, Titus recommends companies consider the compliance lifecycle. What happens to the level of safety compliance in a wired system over time is closely tied to a company’s safety culture. A culture that can ensure continual, failsafe maintenance over the life of a facility’s safety systems might be able to respond to the intensive requirements and demands of a wired system. However, safety automation solutions are unquestionably more flexible and forgiving.

“Although a hard-wired system and a safety automation system are at least equally reliable the day they are commissioned on a machine,” said Titus, “the larger question is what happens over time? Design changes are quick and simple using safety automation technology. They can be programmed into a machine through software. All of the features offered by conventional machine logic, including diagnostics, are now available to a safety system. Safety automation is critical today because manufacturing can’t afford to do anything that isn’t optimally efficient or reliable.”

Companies today need to understand the influence their safety culture has on safety practices and systems, acknowledge the role management plays in implementing safety changes, and develop an environment that will enable—not resist—change and the adoption of best practices and technologies.

“How safety is approached in Europe by the Machinery Directive is not the same as how it is approached in the United States through OSHA,” said Titus. “It never will be.” So companies need to take a look at their corporate safety cultures to see what they might do to make them more responsive to all kinds of situations and keep their safety systems and programs current, dynamic, efficient, and, where applicable, competing successfully in a global environment.

Studies show that many machinery manufacturers(OEM’s) have been able to eliminate hundreds of hours of shop time from the time needed to make their machines and reduce debug and start-up time significantly by adopting new technology safety automation, said Titus. “It has given them the distinct advantage of reducing product price or increasing product volume, or some of both.”

With a few small changes to your corporate safety culture, maybe you can too!

J.B. Titus, CFSE, is president of J.B. Titus & Associates, Solutions for Machine Safety, Duluth, GA. Contact him at jb(at)jbtitus.com or visit the website at www.jbtitus.com.

 

For more information on safety automation related products, visit the Siemens Industry website at www.siemens.com.



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