MRO Magazine

Play It Safe: Maintenance can reduce plant accidents


April 14, 2003
By PEM Magazine

Today, safety management is a whole new game. It’s one that finds maintenance, engineering and facilities managers functioning as proactive safety team players. Striving to meet workplace safety goals, they’re judged by their success in meeting related performance measures.

In the past two or three decades, safety management has been characterized, for the most part, by an emphasis on strict legal compliance. Another factor has been the application of due diligence tactics, which are used to successfully defend prosecutions and performance measures (based mostly on accident rates and related lost hours). During this time, safety has also been largely viewed as the preserve of the safety department, with a legally required joint health and safety committee (JH&SC) the means by which worker involvement was achieved.

In the 21st century, safety management will become an even more important of an organization’s culture. To compete in a global marketplace, companies must demonstrate they meet international standards of product and service quality. Inevitably, this will necessitate a new focus on safety quality assurance. Emphasis will also be on total employee involvement, with the occupational health and safety (OH&S) joint committee acting as a focal point for such involvement.

"Enlightened committees (and companies) realize they must focus on health and safety, as well as the environment, productivity, quality and cost management in an integrated model," says Jim Boughs, health, safety, environment and training director for Toronto-based Apotex Inc. "This will ensure continued organizational success."


The new safety compliance mode means going well beyond the strict letter of local OH&S law. This involves setting up integrated management systems to ensure ongoing compliance with international safety, product and quality standards. As a result, it’s no accident that we’re hearing people, including OH&S regulatory authorities, use certain safety-related terms (i.e. best practices, networking, voluntary compliance and search for excellence).

Global safety perspective
An OH&S management system involves the entire production system. This is unlike older notions of safety management, such as total loss control or prevention programs. This new approach recognizes that what’s needed is an organizational support framework, which will enable prevention strategies and programs to succeed. This includes a responsibility and accountability framework, the support and total involvement of all employees at every level and function, as well as a formalized system. This type of process ensures that all aspects of the safety program are designed to meet identified goals, including needed monitoring through established performance measures.

An OH&S management system is designed to manage change affecting health and safety, allowing for the continuous improvement of health and safety performance. Looking overseas, the British Standards Institute’s BS 8800 on OH&S Management Systems is fast becoming the benchmark standard in North America for designing and auditing such management systems.

This British standard is largely based on International Labour Office (ILO) guidelines on health and safety management systems. The importance of total employee involvement and direct participation in all aspects of the health and safety program is emphasized throughout this standard, as well as an emphasis on planning, organizing and monitoring safety performance.

A complete set of these guidelines can be downloaded from the ILO’s Web site at:

Both the British and ILO standards place heavy emphasis on the need to establish safety performance measurements for every aspect of the safety program. These measures need to be established, since they relate to each department’s identified OH&S roles and responsibilities within the overall OH&S management system. They must also meet established safety goals and objectives at corporate and functional levels. Later in this article, we’ll consider what sort of performance measures might be suitable for maintenance and facilities functions.

Network to meet safety goals
First, the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) initiated an interesting pilot project a couple of years ago. Modern approaches to safety (i.e. the effective identification of safety solutions within an organization), networking and the sharing of information and best practices become more important. This is why the recent WSIB Safety Group initiative is interesting. Companies that volunteer for this program are put in touch with a particular group of firms, as well as a group sponsor to facilitate the pooling of resources and sharing of best practices.

Group members must select five safety elements from an Achievement List prepared by the WSIB. In effect, these become safety goals for the participating organization for which it develops an action plan. At the end of the year, each group is eligible to receive a WSIB rate rebate. This is based on the entire group’s success, in terms of implementing their selected safety elements.

To qualify for such a rebate, each group member must demonstrate how it has integrated its chosen elements into the management system. However, it isn’t enough just to draw up a new procedure. The group must be able to show how it achieved implementation success through training, communication and evaluation of the practice element. For example, employees need training to recognize hazards before you can expect appropriate reporting.

When developing plans to implement chosen elements, the considering and sharing of best practices is very important. For example, the WSIB Achievement List elements in Figure 3, shows the reporting of hazards is a possible element in the hazard recognition and assessment category. But what’s the best way to ensure workplace hazards are reported in a timely fashion, communicated and acted upon? Of course, legal requirements must be taken into account. When it comes to developing a program that works, however, this doesn’t really help you.

The WSIB defines a best practice as: "For the purposes of this collection, best practices are defined as a process, intervention, strategy, program or practice that has been developed and implemented to produce superior outcomes. It may come from an individual workplace or have developed through collaborative input and review of workplace partners or through benchmarking evaluations. In short, best practices are ideas that work."

Some examples of best practices applied by safety-successful companies that relate to the WSIB’s Achievement List of elements include:

  • Hazard Reporting: One company implemented a three-part hazard communication tag system. A three-part brightly coloured label is completed by anyone spotting a hazard. One part is tied to the machine or equipment, that’s the cause of the problem. The label stays there until the hazard is fixed. It also instantly informs the next shift of an unresolved problem. Another part is sent to the person or department responsible for addressing the problem;
  • Workplace Inspections: Generally speaking, OH&S legislation only requires that workplace inspections be carried out monthly, with involvement from worker members of the JH&SC. However, the law says little about how to conduct effective inspections and proper follow-up, etc. Most often, these inspections focus entirely on identifying problems, forgetting that another purpose is to determine whether existing controls are working and proper procedures are being followed.

    With its routine workplace inspections, a Saskatoon, SK-based company has found a way to get "buy-in" from all employees. It identifies not only what’s wrong, but also what’s working and being done correctly in each department/area that’s under inspection. A scoring system is used that has a plus factor for correct items, as well as a minus factor for problems. At this company, all inspection results are entered into a database and reviewed regularly. This allows for the identification and communication of trends. Another company goes even further by presenting awards to departments/areas that have achieved satisfactory inspection scores over the year.

  • Worker Participation and Safety Committees: The WSIB simply includes "worker participation mechanisms" and "JH&SCs" as elements under its Organization category. Joint committees are required in most Canadian companies with more than 20 employees. Workers are also supposed to be involved because they have the right to know and refuse. However, the real issue is how to find effective ways to get constructive and formal worker participation.

    Successful joint committees are those that have identified ways to involve all employees in the safety system. For example, committees in larger workplaces, such as Toronto-based Labatt Breweries of Canada, have formed joint sub-committees for each department or location. These sub-committees, often involving just two people, deal with day-to-day safety issues. The sub-committees only refer to items with company-wide implications to the central joint committee.

    In a U.S.-based Babcock and Wilcox plant (and winner of a coveted Voluntary Protection Program Award), a formalized "safety partnership" exists that extends from the safety office to the shop floor. The JH&SC is a focus point for this partnership that sees a full-time worker safety representative interacting with the safety manager and departmental sub-committees (consisting of supervisors and worker safety representatives who hold joint weekly safety meetings for all employees in their areas). At Pickering, ON-based Avery Dennison, any employee, worker or supervisor may attend its short and focused JH&SC meetings.

In terms of the impact of maintenance and the facilities function on workplace safety joint committees, direct representation may involve:

  • Maintenance manager sits as a manager member of the committee;
  • Facility manager serves as manager co-chair of the committee;
  • Establish a joint safety sub-committee for maintenance and mechanical utilities; and
  • Involve at least three representatives from the maintenance department on the joint committee (i.e. one manager and two worker members).

Measure your safety performance
Goals, objectives and related performance measures lead the way to continuous improvement! If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you know if you’ve arrived safely? Throughout the organization, modern systems approaches to safety management demand high-level attention to the setting of goals and objectives. Once you set goals and objectives, performance measures are needed to determine the extent to which goals are being met.

Besides organization-wide safety goals, you need to identify specific objectives and goals for every function, according to their defined safety responsibilities. Yes, this also applies to maintenance, engineering and facilities functions. Here are some possible safety performance measures for maintenance and facilities applications:

  • Time taken from work-order start to completion (your goals should establish target times, according to priority ratings);
  • Records inspection for preventive maintenance (again, you need to measure against identified goals);
  • JH&SC findings (i.e. based on workplace inspection of maintenance areas);
  • Response time for committee recommendations (committees need to rate their recommendations and target-time ranges should be set accordingly); and
  • Number and quality of safety suggestions and/or initiatives taken.

Dilys Robertson is a Cobourg, ON-based safety coordinator and author of OH&S books. She can be reached at (905) 373-7255; email: