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Best Practices for Promoting Site Safety: Tried, True and Non-Capital Intensive

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Every year, XL Catlin’s Property Risk Engineers conduct thousands of safety assessments at industrial facilities around the world. They also regularly attend conferences, workshops and continuing education sessions to stay informed about the latest developments and innovations for protecting a wide variety of commercial operations.

Many of the new technologies and innovative approaches being introduced today are indeed exciting and will promote greater protection. At the same time, my colleagues and I also regularly return to a familiar set of tried and true best practices that have proven to be effective in safeguarding a company’s physical assets and are not capital intensive.

One of our U.S. clients, for instance, invested less than USD 25 thousand for online training on the basics of defensive driving. In the following year, its auto losses fell by more than 50 percent!

All of the topics outlined below are covered in greater detail on our GAPS website. There you can find an extensive assortment of technical guidelines on a vast array of loss prevention procedures and systems for different occupancies.


Control of Hot Work

After electrical faults, hot work – using flames or heat for welding, grinding, cutting or brazing – is the second leading cause of fires in industrial settings.

The principal hazard associated with portable hot work equipment is the introduction of unauthorized ignition sources into random areas of the facility.

A written and fully documented Hot Work Permit System will reduce considerably the possibility of hot work getting out of control and starting a fire. Making sure that employees and outside contractors complete a written permit, and have it signed off by an authorized person, will help ensure that potential hazards are identified and eliminated before the hot work begins and that the people involved in the project are informed about the procedures and controls to be followed.

It’s also essential that separate permits be filled out each time cutting, welding or hot work is conducted.

A copy of XL Catlin’s Hot Work Permit can be found here.


Control of Outside Contractors

Your employees have been informed about the safety measures and policies in place in your operations, but what about outside contractors?

Most outside contractors are used to working in a variety of settings and typically employ sound safety practices. Nonetheless, when briefing a contractor and its employees on the work to be done, it’s also important to review in detail the loss prevention rules that are in effect at the particular location as well as relevant information on the safety systems.

These briefings are most effective when they are supported by a written protocol that is applied whenever outside contractors are working at a facility – whether for major construction, renovation, remodeling or routine maintenance.

We also suggest that this protocol be attached to all bid specifications and all signed work contracts to help reinforce to the contractor the importance the client places on loss prevention.


Management of Change

It’s well-established that the likelihood of an accident/incident in an industrial setting is heightened whenever there is a deviation from “normal” operations. That’s why a Management of Change (MOC) system can help to ensure that potential risks are identified before a project is undertaken and monitored over the course of the effort.

MOC systems are formal written procedures that require a review and approval of proposed changes on site.

The objective of a MOC system is to ensure that changes in structures, equipment, materials, operations, maintenance and support functions do not introduce unacceptable/unknown risks.

The MOC procedures encourage careful review and approval of the proposed changes. The system also can be adapted to reflect the organization, culture and workforce in a particular facility.


Employee Training

Most accidents are attributable in some fashion to human error. That’s why regular training on relevant work practices is critical. In fact, along with periodic safety audits, developing and maintaining a robust training program is one of the most effective steps a plant/safety manager can take to reduce the potential for an accident.

The Program should cover safety best practices tailored to the facility’s operations as well as specific jobs. The material developed for the training can also be incorporated into the protocol for briefing outside contractors as outlined in the section covering “Control of Outside Contractors.”

Our experiences suggest that these training programs are most effective when they are presented in a clearly written format with well-defined aims for each segment of the program. The content is also more likely to be internalized when it’s broken down into logical parts and comprehension is regularly measured; it’s especially important that trainees be given feedback at frequent intervals to reinforce their progress.


Pre-Emergency Planning

The key to successful emergency management is a pre-emergency plan that is prepared and tested before an emergency strikes. By anticipating and preparing in advance for whatever emergencies that might arise – whether site-specific incidents associated with the facility’s operations or a natural catastrophe – the firm will be much better equipped to respond to and rebound from the event.

A key component of these efforts is preparing in advance for various emergency events. While many actions can only be taken during or after an event, some emergencies allow time for precautions to be put in place before an incident, such as a predicted storm. Having a written plan in place that outlines the steps that need to be taken – including, for instance, pre-positioning critical recovery materials or having contractors on standby – can make that short window of time even more productive. And that, in turn, can limit the damages and speed the recovery effort.


Smoking Regulations

Each year, numerous fires are attributed to carelessly discarded smoking materials that set fire to combustible materials. These materials have always been a notorious cause of industrial fires and should be strictly controlled.

One way to lessen this risk is to survey the facility and identify where smoking can be permitted and where smoking must be prohibited. Clear signage in the respective areas – and particularly in the no smoking zones – is essential.

In developing a smoking policy, firms should recognize that smoking is a habit and some people will smoke regardless of whatever prohibitions are in place. As a result, firms may need to consider making special accommodations for smokers as a tradeoff for limiting the possibility that an errant cigarette starts a fire. The smoking policy must apply to everyone.


Loss Prevention Audits

The best defense against loss is a series of interdependent programs created to identify and control hazards.

Without feedback, however, it is impossible to tell whether programs have been implemented as initially intended. The effectiveness of these programs must be continuously monitored because the failure of one or more of them significantly increases the potential for loss.

Our experiences show that periodic and fully documented Loss Prevention Audits can provide highly useful information/insight on unsafe or otherwise unsatisfactory conditions. The results of these audits can not only highlight areas where appropriate corrective actions are needed to improve safety but also opportunities for improving the facility’s performance/productivity.

Depending on the location, type of operation and protection systems/equipment available at each site, the scope of these Audits could be expanded to encompass fire protection equipment, toxic or hazardous materials, security and surveillance, and many more.

In many ways, these tried and true best practices will often represent the core of an operation’s overall safety and protection programs. While they won’t address all of the potential risks, consistently paying attention to these basics will ensure a safer and more productive work environment. And, again, our GAPS website contains an extensive collection of technical guidelines on these topics as well as many other loss prevention procedures and systems for different occupancies.


About the author: Roberto Novo is a Regional Risk Engineering Leader. He is responsible for managing a group of property risk engineers in Spain, the UK and Scandinavia, as well as for organizing field service delivery. He is based in Madrid and can be reached at roberto.novo@xlcatlin.

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