MRO Magazine

Successful safety programs now more important than ever

The new year usually brings new resolutions. For those in industry, one of them should definitely be a resolution to improve plant safety. There's a reason this should be one of the top priorities for the year. That's because the federal governmen...


February 1, 2004
By Simon Fridlyand, P.Eng

The new year usually brings new resolutions. For those in industry, one of them should definitely be a resolution to improve plant safety. There’s a reason this should be one of the top priorities for the year. That’s because the federal government has introduced amendments to the criminal code in Bill C-45 that have a direct impact on workplace safety.

Under Bill C-45, new criminal offences have been created for corporations and individuals who fail to protect workers and the public. Those who undertake or have the authority to direct how other people work or perform tasks are required to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to any person arising from the work. (The bill is relatively new, only having been passed by parliament on Oct. 31, 2003. A plain-language version of it is posted at www.canada.justice.gc.ca/en/dept/pub/c45/.)

In related safety legislation, under the requirements for the Pre-Start Health and Safety Review (PSR) introduced in Ontario in 2000, the owner, employer or lessee of equipment or machines is required to have a review conducted before the machine or process becomes operational. The review must be signed and sealed by a professional engineer registered in Ontario.

As a result, PSR requirements presumably take care of the safety requirements for new equipment. But what about the existing equipment? Bill C-45 very much applies to both.

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In my practice, I quite often see that process equipment or a new machine is located next to existing equipment. The new machine or process equipment will be significantly better protected than the old, existing equipment. That raises a question: Does the well-being of the operator of the new equipment have a higher value than the operator of the old equipment? If the answer is no, then something has to be done about the existing equipment.

“Things fall apart,” wrote the poet William Butler Yeats. That observation is as relevant to machinery and equipment as it is to civilizations, empires or our individual lives. If I could impress upon managers only one piece of advice, it would be this: Things go wrong, so be vigilant; seek out your hidden problems.

Maintenance professionals have been dealing with preventive maintenance (PM) issues for a long time. Sophisticated PM programs are available and widely practiced in plants and buildings. PM programs help to prolong equipment life and ensure productivity goals are met. The worst that could happen to a piece of equipment from a maintenance point of view is that it would have to be replaced if it fails. If a safety component fails, the consequences can be much worse. With Canada’s new legislation, you cannot afford any safety failures.

To improve workplace safety, a program similar to PM should be developed for the safety aspects of existing equipment. A bona fide safety program should include:

– An audit of existing equipment by professionals

– Periodic inspection by the Joint Health and Safety Committee

– Preplanned training activities

– Actions to correct deficiencies found through audits or inspections.

A safe piece of equipment means the equipment is in compliance with applicable standards. The Ministry of Labour in Ontario publishes an extensive list of applicable standards. It includes standards of the Canadian Standards Association, American National Standards, European Standards, the National Fire Protection Association Standards, and others. All together there are hundreds of applicable standards.

In order to conduct a professional review of existing equipment, one has to be familiar with all the applicable standards. Generally speaking, members of a Joint Health and Safety Committee are not familiar with these. That’s why the initial review of the existing equipment should be undertaken by professional engineers specializing in this field.

Once the deficiencies of existing equipment have been discovered and eliminated, the Joint Health and Safety Committee can conduct periodic audits to ensure that the guarding systems have not been altered in any way.

The key to a successful safety program is scheduling and execution. Priority should be given to dangerous pieces of equipment and a very aggressive program should be in place to monitor the schedule and ensure that the upgrade work is completed according to the schedule.

A quality safety program also requires a highly motivated crew. To provide proper motivation, the following activities are suggested:

– Establish audit, inspection and execution as a recognized and important part of the overall plant operation.

– Assign competent, responsible people to the safety program, which include members of the Joint Health and Safety Committee, engineering, maintenance, operations, top management and outside consultants.

– Follow up to assure quality performance and to show everyone that management does care.

– Provide training in safety practices and procedures.

– Set high standards.

– Publicize details about reduced costs, improved uptime and revenues that are the result of an effective safety program.

Studies clearly indicate that improved safety results in higher productivity. Expenses associated with safety programs are usually well compensated for by productivity increases. It makes total sense from a legal, due diligence, productivity, people and cost point of view to improve safety.

Safety File columnist Simon Fridlyand, P.Eng., is president of S.A.F.E. Engineering of Toronto, a company specializing in industrial health and safety issues and compliance. He can be reached at 416-447-9757 or at simonf@safeengineering.ca.

The Westray Bill

Bill C-45, the so-called Westray Bill, establishes a Criminal Code responsibility on “every one who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task … to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task.”

The penalties under the code can be severe. If a worker dies, the maximum penalty for an individual convicted of criminal negligence is life imprisonment. Bill C-45’s amendments to the Criminal Code make it easier to convict a corporation for the acts and omissions of its corporate decision-makers.

The Bill was prompted partly by recommendations from the judicial enquiry into the Westray Mine disaster that occurred in Nova Scotia in May 1992. The mine exploded and killed 26 miners.

The incident received national attention because of the loss of lives and the corporation’s disregard for appropriate safety measures. However, no criminal negligence or occupational health and safety offence convictions resulted.

Bill C-45 amends the Criminal Code term “representative” to mean a director, partner, employer, member, agent or contractor of organizations. It also defines a senior officer as a representative who plays an important role in the establishment of an organization’s policies or who is responsible for managing an important aspect of an organization’s activities. For corporations, it includes a director, its chief executive officer or its chief financial officer. It just may include you.