‘We cannot eliminate risk completely, but we can manage it’

Safety starts here

Lagging indicators such as Lost Time Accident figures to benchmark ‘what has happened’ are insufficient when it comes to safety. These figures must be seen in the context of risk management, ‘what could happen’, says the safety team at our St Helens site in the UK.

For 16 months there were no Lost Time Accidents (LTAs) at Knauf Insulation’s St Helens plant in the UK. Then in May 2021, there was an incident. Six weeks later, another.

A long period of time without accidents is often a source of great pride among the company’s sites. So, what can we learn from St Helens? Is this simply a story of never taking safety for granted?

“Of course, safety should never be taken for granted at any plant, but accidents can happen despite our best endeavours,” says Kevin West, HSE Lead – Glass Mineral Wool Technology EMEA & APAC.

“That is why the focus must always be to ensure that the risk of an accident — its likelihood and its severity — is minimised as much as possible. We cannot eliminate risk completely, but we can manage it to a tolerable level.”

Lagging indicators are not enough

At St Helens, the incidents occurred in low-risk areas and the operators suffered minor injuries. However, the operators were still signed off work for a day by a medical practitioner, a situation that is common in the UK.

For Darren Holt, St Helens’ Plant Manager, and Philip Burke, the plant’s HSE Manager, the incidents raise issues about reporting, the role of safety metrics, different cultural approaches to safety and the essential role of managing risk.

According to the UK team, it is not enough to use lagging indicators — such as LTA figures alone — to benchmark “what has happened”. These figures must be seen in the context of risk management, “what could happen”.

“If the level of risk is high and the accident rate is high at a plant, you have a serious problem,” says Kevin.

If the risk level is low and the accident rate is low then we need to continue doing the things that lead to the risk being low, as is the case at St Helens.”

Darren Holt, St Helens’ Plant Manager, UK

Engage and empower people

“You need to continue to engage and empower people to highlight hazards and control risk, so mistakes are unlikely to happen in the first place, they are easy to spot and easy to recover from if they happen. Reduce the risk of failure but ensure we fail safe if failures happen”

HSE manager Philip Burke says there are daily morning safety hazard review meetings at St Helens, an embedded culture of Continuous Improvement and the number of hazard spotting tours have increased significantly. “These tours keep everyone engaged because each one results in a concrete action

“At the end of 2020 there were 360 hazards reported and by July 2021 the number had increased to over 500 with a very high closure rate” says Philip.

“Unfortunately, LTAs are not an accurate reflection of what is happening here. The incidents were in low-risk areas, completing low risk tasks with low severity consequences to me this shows we are at a tolerable level of risk at St Helens.”

Kevin West, HSE Lead

Importance of using risk assessments

What about the impact of reporting an incident after a long period without an accident? Does it have a demoralizing effect at the plant? “If we pay too much attention to the statistics it can have a demoralising effect, but in St Helens, no. It shows we are not afraid to report these accidents”, says Kevin.

A better way to measure safety is by risk assessment, he says. Give every area and task a risk rating. Go through all the areas, determine what needs to be done — and what is being done — to control risk.

“Prioritise higher risks, and then go to lower risks and so on until you have a tolerable level of risk. But don’t stop there, always keep things under review as things change over time.

“If a low incident rate tallies with a low-risk rating, then the plant may be considered a “safer plant”. One of our Safety Principles is that managing risk keeps us safe. We measure safety by the absence of unmanaged risk and not by the absence of reported incidents alone.”

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Enjoy our Annual Review 2021