|Low-Cost Ways of Improving Working Conditions: 100 Examples from Asia (ILO, 1989, 190 p.)|
|CHAPTER II: THE PHYSICAL WORKING ENVIRONMENT|
It is far better to make a work process intrinsically safe by eliminating all potential dangers. But it must also be emphasised that safe working procedures are essential in any situation. Safe procedures should start with equipment selection and plant design. Work methods should be planned so that workers can do their work properly and safely following the prescribed procedures.
Safe working procedures go together with various other measures to create a safe working environment. They should be laid down by each enterprise and regarded as codes of conduct to avoid injury and damage. They should be applied to each work area, work method and each category of worker in the enterprise. Obviously, it is not enough to lay down procedures. They must also be properly applied. New workers should be trained in safe working procedures. This could be done either by the safety officer or line supervisor or preferably both.
There should also be regular retraining in safe working procedures. The frequency and nature of such retraining depends on the circumstances in the particular enterprise.
Whenever possible, safety committees should be established within each enterprise. They should be made up of managers, supervisors and workers, together with the safety officer (if there is one). The committees should initiate and monitor safety promotion programmes and suggest ways of preventing accidents. All new materials and processes should be reported to and assessed by the safety committee concerning potential hazards and safe working procedures.
Equipment and training concerning first aid and fire safety is usually required by law. However, it is often possible to meet or go beyond these legal requirements at low cost.
Often, changes in environmental conditions or work methods can help workers observe the safety procedures more consistently. It sometimes happens that despite repeated instructions, it is difficult for workers to observe these instructions all the time. Modifications such as elimination of certain hazards by slight changes in the workplace environment or making work methods easier to follow can help the workers observe the safety procedures. Together with a well-planned programme of safety education, these small changes can contribute to enhancing safety at work.
The examples below give an idea of how safe working procedures are planned and implemented, often at low cost. It should be kept in mind that safe working procedures vary a great deal from enterprise to enterprise. Each enterprise needs to make its own assessment of what procedures are necessary for its own set of circumstances.
Case 69: Improvement in safety through low-cost mechanisation
In the upholstery section of a furniture-making factory in the Philippines, workers used the conventional method of tucking upholstery materials with a hammer and nails. Hand injuries due to the accidental slipping of the hammer occurred. The fear of such injuries also slowed down the work. The upholstery section employed five workers.
Figure 109: The old method of using a hammer to drive in the nails manually.
To overcome the problem, compressed air guns were installed and substituted for the hammers. The workers were given careful instructions on how to use their air guns. Employees were enthusiastic about the change, as it reduced both their physical effort and increased safety. There was an increase of 30-40 per cent in output.
The air compressor cost about US$ 1,000 and the fittings, hand tools and installation about US$ 500. At the same time, the compressor also served the needs of another section of the factory. Maintenance and electricity costs were estimated at around US$ 5 per month.
The 30-40 per cent increase in productivity was partly used to pay for an increase in wages.
This is an example of how low-cost mechanisation improved both safety and productivity. It must be emphasised that the use of the compressed air gun is not entirely free of danger. The mechanical tool must also be handled with care, but is more convenient to use than the hammer.
Figure 110: The new method using the compressed air gun.
Case 70: Tilting a saw frame for safer use
In a section of a wood furniture factory in Malaysia, about five workers operated radial-arm saws. The rotating saw blade was a constant threat to the safety of these workers. Accidents had occurred in which the operator's hand was severed by the rotating blade. After planks were placed on the feed table, the radial-arm saw was pulled forward by the operator towards himself. While being pulled forward, the saw cut the planks. The saw was left at the forward position when the cutting was over and the operator turned around to collect some more planks.
Many accidents happened when the operator turned around again to place the planks for the next cut, not realising that the saw-head was still in contact with the revolving blade. Although the saw was provided with a counterweight or springs for the automatic return of the worktable, some workers found the counterweight unsatisfactory and heavy and also the tension in the springs too high. Extra force was required to pull the saw forward. Thus, the counterweight or the springs were often removed or rendered inoperative.
Instead of providing the saw with a counterweight or springs, the front legs of the saw table were raised slightly so that the saw frame was tilted backward. This tilting caused the saw to return to its starting position by its own weight and inertia due to the rotating action. Thus, the danger of the rotating saw blade at the front end of the worktable was eliminated.
Figure 111: Tilting the saw frame for automatic return of the saw.
The cost of inclining the saw frame was negligible as only a small amount of concrete was necessary. It helped save the further cost of counterweights or springs. The new arrangement was found to be successful in returning the saw to its original starting position. The operators were satisfied with this simple modification. After the change, there were no reports of accidents involving the operators of the saw.
Case 71: Prevention of finger injuries by mechanised riveting
The riveting section of an electrical component manufacturing company in the Philippines employed four workers. Their work was essentially to join a copper fuse holder to its plastic base. To do this the worker placed the base on a stand and then knocked the fuse holder into place with a hammer. There were instances in which workers hurt their fingers with the hammer.
Figure 112: Knocking fuse holders into a plastic base with a hammer.
The engineering department of the enterprise designed a twin-feed riveting machine. Using this, the operator could set up as many as 20 plastic bases, two at a time, in a stand. He then activated the pneumatic-driven riveting machine which knocked the fuse into its plastic base. At first only one of the four workers used the new system while the other three continued using the hammer.
Figure 113: Use of a riveting machine instead of a hammer.
Output increased by 15 per cent using the riveting machine. Moreover, the worker using the riveting machine did not sustain any injury, whereas the other three workers reported hurting themselves with the hammer at least once a day.
The cost of parts to construct the machine was about US$ 2,000. Training of the workers on the machine required overtime payment estimated at US$ 9. Average maintenance costs were estimated to be US$ 150. The direct savings were about US$ 100 per month overtime pay and the loss of productivity due to work injuries, both resulting from using the manual process.
This is another example of how the mechanisation of a procedure led to greater efficiency and safety. Again, it should be pointed out that a riveting machine is not devoid of danger. However, if the controls are properly designed and located, the risk of accident should be lower than that from a manual method using a hammer.
Case 72: A hazard overcome by safe working procedures
A Singapore factory manufacturing metal components had several power presses. Machine guards activated by electronic sensors were installed. Even then, several finger injuries occurred because the workers found ways to bypass these safety measures by tampering with them to speed up production or for other reasons.
The safety officer launched a carefully-planned programme of safety education. At first, clear safety instructions in both English and Chinese (as every worker knew at least one of the two languages) were put on the machines. All the existing operators were then required to undergo an intensive training of one week on the proper and safe use of the presses. They were only allowed to resume work on the machines if they passed a test conducted either by the section head or the safety officer.
Only workers with several years of experience in the company were selected as new operators for the power presses. New workers would start off in other safer sections of the enterprise first. In this way, most of the power press operators had at least five years of service in the company. This ensured that only workers known for their sense of responsibility and safety consciousness were allowed to work on the power presses, which was an attractive job because of higher emoluments.
Since the implementation of these safe handling procedures some time ago, no accident from power presses has occurred in the factory.
The costs involved were minimal. The costs for the training programme involved mainly the time spent by trainers and trainees. The installation of the safety guards and sensors cost about US$ 50 per press. Maintenance and other costs were minimal.
It is important to install machine guards whenever necessary, but unfortunately almost all kinds of guards can be tampered with, as in this case. It is therefore essential to adopt safe working procedures as well. Not only were the dangers and use of safety measures fully explained to all the workers, an elaborate programme of training in safe working procedures was also carried out. The selection of only experienced workers to man the presses must have also contributed to the improvement of safety. Another point to note is that information and educational programmes may need to be given in more than one language, as in this case.
Case 73: A mechanical interlock to eliminate an electrical hazard
Machines used for the manufacture of barbed wire in an engineering factory in Burma presented a particular risk, because the method used required the operator to come very close to the revolving frame underneath the machine several times in every shift. Though the machines were switched off during such operations, electrical faults or interference with the switch might start the machines and cause severe injuries. A fatal accident occurred on one of the machines in this manner.
Figure 114: Operation often done underneath the barbed wire machine.
Immediately after the fatal accident, the safety committee and the engineers concerned shut down all the seven machines and carried out investigations. As a result, it was suggested that suitable interlocking devices be used. These devices would lock the electrical system when workers were required to work underneath the machines. During normal operations, the revolving part of each machine would be covered by a sheet of metal which was hinged on the lower frame of the machine. This cover was to protect the workers during normal operations and had to be opened when the work was done underneath the machine. This opening of the cover was used for the interlock. A limit switch was fitted on the frame of each machine to cut the electricity supply to the revolving frame when the cover was opened.
Figure 115: The limit switch put to on position by an extension strip on the metal cover.
Figure 116: The limit switch in off position when the cover is down.
Additional measures were also taken to prevent any possible faults. The wiring of the machine on which the fatal accident occurred was changed. The control buttons of each machine were cleaned and the workers were advised to always keep them clean and to touch them with clean fingers. The newly wired system and the operation of the limit switches were thoroughly tested.
The cost of procuring a limit switch and a short length of electric wire was US$ 15 per machine. There was no cost for labour as the technical staff of the factory carried out the modifications. Thanks to these new interlocking devices, there was little chance of a similar accident.
Case 74: Prevention of an electrical hazard by main switch locking
A plywood production plant in Thailand used several machines run on electricity. Because the machines were acquired secondhand, they required frequent alterations and repairs. The machines were arranged along a long production line. Workers repairing or inspecting individual machines could not always be seen from the place where the main switch was located. Injuries had resulted because the main switch was started when workers were still working on the machines.
It was decided that a way must be found to seal off the main switch while the line was under inspection or repair so that the power could not be accidentally started until all maintenance or repairs had been completed.
The switch for the machines was a common knife switch, in which all the knife blades had to be thrown up to complete the circuit and start the machinery. A bracket was attached below the knife switch. From this bracket a non-conducting chain made of strong plastic was attached around the switch while in the off position and locked to the bracket. The bracket was made in such a way as to accommodate a series of padlocks along the length of the chain. Once any of the locks was placed in position on the chain, the switch could not be moved to the on position.
Each supervisor or member of the work crew was given a personal lock for the chain. They were instructed not to touch the machine until the master switch was switched off and they had fastened a lock onto the chain. Later on, a large box was constructed over the master switch. This contained six locks which could be used to shut down the electrical power until any maintenance or repair work was completed.
This new arrangement effectively prevented injuries from accidental switching on of machinery during inspections or repairs. The bracket, chain and locks cost less than US$ 10 in total. It was difficult to compute accurately the costs saved in the prevention of injuries, but undoubtedly safety was improved significantly.
Case 75: Improving electrical wiring
In an engineering factory with 40-50 workers in Pakistan, there were frequent incidences of short-circuiting which damaged electrical equipment. In certain cases, workers received an electrical shock. It was found that damage caused by defective electricity installations amounted to about US$ 190, and that about US$ 100 had been spent for the treatment and transportation of injured workers.
A short training session was organised to educate the workers on electrical hazards and protection against such hazards. Then, the workers participated in the replacement of old unsafe wiring, insulation of wires and provision of good quality switches, plugs and sockets.
Figure 117: New wiring arrangement with insulated wires.
The approximate cost for changing the wiring was US$ 156. In addition, US$ 32 were paid to the external instructor who lectured at the training session. An example of the new wiring arrangement is given below.
The change of the wiring systems gave a new look to the workplace, with orderly arranged or insulated wires and safe electrical connections. The change contributed to the reduction of electrical hazards. Damage to the electrical equipment was reduced to a minimum. The manager of the factory noted that the new arrangement helped increase the safety awareness of the workers and had a positive impact on work efficiency.
Case 76: Warning about the movement of a mechanical lift
In the finishing section of a printing plant in the Philippines, materials and products were transported to and from the upper floor by a mechanical lift. The plant employed 150 workers and had three sections, a photo-lithography section, an offset press section and a finishing section. A die-cutting machine which was frequently used was located in the finishing section.
The manager observed the operations in the finishing area and found that the accidental activation of the lift switch on the upper floor might lead to serious injury of a worker on the ground floor who was unaware of the lift movement. When he consulted the workers, the majority confirmed this. After discussions, it was decided to install a signal light and a bell to warn workers on the ground floor as soon as the mechanical lift was activated.
A red signal light and a bell assembly were purchased and installed near the ground floor end of the light. The workers were taught how to use the warning device and given written instructions on the operation of the lift. The warning signal worked quite effectively. The likelihood of accidents was reduced considerably. The workers were able to work and move freely and easily without fear that they might be accidentally hit by the moving lift.
The plant cost incurred was minimal. The red signal light and the bell assembly cost about US$ 20. The cost of labour for installation was US$ 4. In all, the management spent US$ 24 for the improvement.
Figure 118: A red signal light and instructions on how to use the lift.
Figure 119: A bell alarm to warn workers of the movement of the lift.
Case 77: Modifications in the use of a portable stand
In an aluminium extrusion plant in Indonesia, an accident involving a die-polishing worker occurred. His hand was cut by a sharp object on a portable stand where he placed dies. The safety committee immediately studied the problem. It was found that the stand was unstable, neither bolted to the floor nor made to balance the weight of dies, and that the safety guard around the top of the stand was crudely made. This guard actually injured the hand of the worker.
The stand was modified so as to meet safety requirements. It was made stable. The safety guard around the top of the stand was also modified to eliminate sharp edges and obstruction of the movements of the worker's hands. The cost of the modification, including materials and work, was about US$ 25.
Case 78: Provision of first-aid facilities
About 100 workers of an engineering factory in Sri Lanka had to leave the worksite to seek treatment at government clinics or from private medical practitioners even for relatively minor injuries. These medical facilities were located some distance away. Some injured workers did not get their wounds attended to. Consequently, some developed infected wounds which prolonged their period of incapacity. At the worksite itself, there was a first-aid box but no person to treat or dress the wounds.
After consulting the factory inspectorate, the management provided a small room of 4.5 by 3.6 metres. It was cleaned, whitewashed and painted. A wash-basin with running water was installed. The room was furnished with a desk, three chairs, a foot stool and a medical examination couch. Towels, bed sheets, pillows and pillow cases were purchased.
Two workers were selected on the basis of their helpful and friendly disposition and willingness to undergo training in first aid. They were sent at the expense of the company to attend a first-aid course comprising ten lectures and ten practical sessions. After completion of the course, they resumed their normal duties but also rendered first aid whenever injuries occurred.
Accident leave was reduced by 30 per cent during the months after the implementation of the first-aid programme. The workers were also spared considerable inconvenience as they did not need to travel to an outside clinic or to wait to get their dressings done. Moreover, the incidence of infected wounds also fell.
The cost of preparing and equipping the first-aid room came to about US$ 240. The cost of training the two workers in first aid, including travel costs, amounted to US$ 16. The indirect costs, including the time spent in training away from normal duties and that in first-aid duty by the two first aiders were not more than US$ 40 for the whole year. The total costs were therefore about US$ 300.
The management estimated that the 30 per cent reduction in accident leave, savings in productivity, and the evident increase in the morale and extent of co-operation by workers, more than recovered the expenses incurred.
Case 79: Provision of a first-aid room
In a battery factory in Burma, 325 workers were engaged in manufacturing sulphuric acid and batteries. The existing first-aid facilities were found inadequate by the safety and health committee as only a nominal amount of first-aid materials were being kept in a small place adjacent to the time-keeper's office. Only a few workers had been trained as first-aiders. The records showed that in the previous year, there were about 160 cases handled by the first-aiders, of which 15 were referred to a hospital.
The management agreed to provide a room in the factory premises for use as a first-aid room. An amount of approximately US$ 375 was provided for buying and replenishing first-aid materials. Fifteen workers were trained as first-aiders. Five first-aid boxes were placed in major sections of the factory. Plenty of water was made available near the workers working with acid. Arrangements were made with a local health officer who undertook the supervision of the first-aid operations. A trained first-aid nurse was appointed to attend to the first-aid room.
The room was arranged by volunteers at no cost. The recurring cost of approximately US$ 375 per year and the salary of approximately US$ 150 a month for the nurse were borne by the management.
Figure 120: Entrance of the new first-aid room.
Figure 121: An examination table, first-aid materials and a trained nurse.
Figure 122: A first-aid box placed in a workroom.
Case 80: Ready accessibility of first-aid supplies
In an electronic parts factory in Singapore, first-aid supplies were frequently missing from the unlocked boxes in which they were stored. The company arranged for the supplies to be placed in locked boxes with the keys in a sealed container below the boxes. In this way the first-aid boxes could be easily inspected for possible loss of contents by noting whether the seal on the key container was intact or not.
Figure 123: The first-aid supplies box.
These boxes proved useful. The first-aid supplies could be kept in good order at all times. The boxes could be easily located by anybody in the factory. The arrangements helped assure quick treatment in case of emergency.
Case 81: Ready accessibility of fire fighting equipment
In a company making electronic parts in Singapore, fire-fighting equipment was kept in a storeroom where chemicals were also stored. Because of the chemicals, the storeroom was kept locked. The fire-fighting equipment was not easily accessible in the event of fires. The fire equipment was then transferred to a box with a glass window outside the storeroom. The glass could easily be smashed to get at the equipment. With this simple procedure, the equipment became easily accessible when needed.
Figure 124: The fire-fighting equipment box with a glass window.
This example presents a straightforward instance of how emergency equipment could be made more readily available when needed. The first few minutes of an emergency could be vital in putting out a fire or saving a life. Precious time is often wasted trying to locate the custodian of or the key to emergency equipment. All the workers in an enterprise should know the whereabouts of such equipment, have quick access to it and be trained to use it properly.