Better risk management, upgraded equipment and training, training, training is making a difference at Knauf Insulation’s Simbach plant in Germany.
When Herbert Rieder took over as manager of Knauf Insulation’s Simbach Wood Wool plant in 2019 he inherited a series of unexpected safety challenges.
Accident rates were high, risk management was low, outdated equipment needed upgrading, the HSE manager had left, and a major culture shift was required to improve safety behaviour.
“My priority has always been that everyone who works at the plant has to go home safely at the end of the day,” says Herbert. “Safety cannot be only about words on a safety poster, words have to be translated into action.
“At Simbach this was not happening. In 2018, before I arrived, there had been a major incident and then when I took over management there were a series of small incidents that highlighted the need to completely transform safety at the plant.”
New safety measures introduced
Supported by Plant Assistant Kerstin Niedermeier, who stepped up to handle safety administration, Herbert appointed himself HSE manager and immediately began making changes.
Engineers and safety specialists from Knauf Insulation’s Central team as well as external experts were brought on site to carry out hazard spotting tours, assess the safety standards of equipment, carry out training and make risk areas safe.
Among dozens of new measures, new entrances and exits were introduced to keep pedestrians separate from forklifts, for example, new safety fencing was installed where necessary, trip-risk holes in the ground were filled and ‘lock-out tag-out’ procedures ensured machinery energy was completely shut off during servicing or maintenance.
Major upgrades implemented
Significantly, out-dated equipment was replaced. “It was important to be completely honest about the standard of machine safety at Simbach and the need for very significant investment,” says Herbert. “The management was receptive and the major upgrades that were carried out ultimately cost more than a million euros.”
The investment, new equipment and improved safety areas had a far-reaching impact. First, the improvements demonstrated to everyone at the plant that safety was being taken seriously — actions were speaking louder than words.
Secondly, plant efficiency was improved, processes were safer, more streamlined and output increased significantly.
Positive culture change
However, new machinery was not enough. It was equally important for Herbert to focus on a culture change. “A lot of people had been at the plant for a long time and their approach to safety needed to be upgraded. How did we do this? Training, training, training. Talking, talking, talking.
“I was on the production floor constantly talking and carrying out safety checks. Sometimes I was too blunt, but when you talk about safety, you must be honest. I want my employees to go home safe and they must take responsibility for themselves.”
The results have been positive. For example, safety issues are no longer ‘last-minute’ at the end of shifts; mechanics are called immediately to fix machinery problems and there is an improved approach to highlighting risks if an employee sees a colleague working in a way that is unsafe.
“Safety was stuck in the mud at Simbach in 2019,” says Herbert. “Now the plant is a safer place, and a great deal has been achieved, but accidents still happen.
“Until summer 2021 the plant had recorded 325 days without a Lost Time Accident and then on July 15, an employee broke his leg loading a truck.
This incident demonstrates that safety is always a process of continuous improvement, you can never be complacent, and you can never give up.”