This BS will kill you
Hazards issue 115, July-September 2011
“So, it works like this, fresh in from the US,” the company safety chief said. “We set really questionable ‘golden’ safety rules, and fire you if you don’t follow them. That role the union had, drop it. And accident reports… not so important.”
STOP THIS US chemical giant DuPont sells its STOP behavioural safety system worldwide. But the company’s BS system didn’t stop it killing worker Carl Fish at this West Virginia plant (pictured above). A July 2011 report concluded DuPont had known since the 1980s how to remove the risk, but decided not enough lives might be saved to justify the expenditure. Full story.
You think that’s far-fetched? Well, consider the experience of workers at this Vermont, USA, tool maker. Kennametal Inc decided workplace health and safety was not an area where it needed involve the union anymore. Instead it introduced without negotiation a system of ‘Management Based Safety.’
Out went the union’s participation in accident investigation, something enshrined in the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the steelworkers’ union USW. In came a ‘Procedure for Corrective Actions for Safety Violations and Work Instructions for Corrective Actions’ where a first-time serious safety violation resulted in a three-day suspension and a second got the worker fired.
In April 2011 a US labour judge ruled the company-imposed behavioural safety scheme and associated disciplinary system were illegal, adding that in sidelining the union Kennametal diminished the possibility that factors such as production quotas would be considered in assessing the cause of an accident [See: Court tells US firm to ditch BS].
USW has similar concerns about a scheme at the Clearwater Paper Corp in Lewistown, Idaho, which uses a king cobra to symbolise the programme. “A cobra. One of the deadliest snakes on the planet,” commented USW president Leo Gerard in a 28 April 2011 blog posting.
The company’s behaviour-based safety programme – Changing Our Behaviour Reduces Accidents – COBRA – didn’t save employee John Bergen III [right], who every day drove past a billboard in the company parking lot sporting a picture of a king cobra promoting the scheme. He fell to his death through and unguarded hole in the paper mill’s floor.
“Clearwater, and employers across America, must stop trying to cover their culpability with ‘blame the worker’ programmes and, instead, cover dangerous floor openings — which means pursuing life-saving and worker-respecting workplace hazard elimination and control,” said Gerard [See: Don’t blame the workers].
UK union Unite is so alarmed by these US behavioural safety (BS) imports, it has teamed up with its US sister union USW to run a transatlantic campaign. Initially in the paper sector, but intended for roll out everywhere the unions have members, the ‘Fix the hazards’ campaign says it “is important that workers and unions achieve the fundamental goals of the union – achieving safer, healthier and more hazard-free jobs. Fix the hazards, don’t blame the victims.”
Peter Ellis, Unite national officer for the paper and corrugating industries, commented: “Too many employers are introducing behavioural safety schemes thinking they are the answer to everything on health and safety. They cost a lot of money and they don’t work.”
The union warns that BS systems are not just anti-worker. As at Kennametal, the union is in the crosshairs too. Unite’s campaign guide notes “many behavioural safety programmes are designed to undermine trade union activity on health and safety, reduce the role of joint health and safety committees and shift the blame for accidents and poor health and safety from management to workers.”
Injury reporting is another casualty. If wages and bonuses are related to reported accident levels, or if injury reports invite disciplinary action, injuries are less likely to be reported and problem jobs identified.
Breaking safety rules might sound like genuine grounds for disciplinary action. But frequently it is a diversionary tactic, deflecting attention from management shortcuts and shortcomings, and blaming the worker when things go wrong (Hazards 79). Took off the protective suit because you were fainting from the heat? You’re fired. Ditched the safety specs too scratched to see through? Get your coat.
There are a lot of reasons workers might find themselves in danger, and most come back to the management system in which unsafe acts occur – a living wage dependent on a breakneck work pace or overtime, conflicting advice, lack of training and supervision.
BS in the UK
TUC says behavioural safety programmes “vary considerably.” Its 2010 briefing for workplace reps notes: “Some have the behavioural element as just one component of a wider safety management framework, others see changing behaviour as the prime focus.”
The TUC guide adds: “What is central to all behavioural safety systems is the belief that injuries and illnesses are a result of 'unsafe acts' by workers and to prevent these unsafe acts management should target specific behaviours and aim to change these based on observing and monitoring workers. Many behavioural safety programmes also are linked to punishing 'bad' behaviour, such as if a worker has an injury or rewarding 'good behaviour' such as an 'accident free' period.”
TUC, in a May 2010 union guide to behavioural safety problems, concludes: “As behavioural safety focuses on the end point of a chain of events that lead to a worker doing something, it does not address the question of who makes the decisions about work speeds, productivity levels, shift patterns and how they relate to safety.
“For unions, the decisions made at boardroom level can have much more effect on injury rates than what individual workers do... It is not worker behaviour that should be the focus of action to improve safety but management behaviour, because management are in control of work and the workplace.”
But behavioural safety systems replace responsible management of safety with ‘it’s your accident, it’s your injury and it’s your fault’.
While the dangers can quickly become painfully obvious to the workforce, off-the-shelf behavioural safety schemes can offer an apparent magic bullet to firms, imposing a management safety system while removing management culpability. It was precisely the recipe proposed in a May 2011 government-commissioned report on Britain’s accident prone rail system.
The McNulty ‘Rail value for money’ review made a number of explicit safety recommendations, including the creation of a National Safety Task Force (NSTF) to provide “clear and credible leadership” for safety and risk management, but added: “The industry should also decide how to increase attention to behavioural safety where the focus is on observing the actions of employees, identifying unsafe behaviours, and taking corrective action.”
FALLING DOWN A government-commissioned report on the UK rail system has recommended using behavioural safety systems “where the focus is on observing the actions of employees…” If more attention has been paid to the behaviour of the rail system’s managers, a long sequence of criminal acts leading to multiple deaths may have been avoided.
Only the problem isn’t worker behaviour. Network Rail was fined £3 million in May 2011 for the criminal safety failings of its privatised predecessor, Railtrack, that were linked to seven fatalities at Potters Bar in May 2002. The company was fined £4 million in March 2007 – again for the criminal safety failings of those running its privatised predecessor – on charges relating to the 31 deaths in the Paddington rail smash in October 1999. Network Rail again picked up a £3.5 million fine for Railtrack’s safety crimes, on charges linked to the four deaths in the Hatfield rail crash in October 2000. Balfour Beatty received a £7.5 million for its part in the disaster.
Is this BS?
When management proposes a bright new idea for revolutionising safety management, unions should subject it to a rigorous BS test. There may not be an explicit mention of behavioural safety, but if it shifts responsibility from management to individual workers, be worried.
Management may opt for an off the shelf programme like DuPont’s STOP system, probably the most widely used behavioural safety programme in the world and the model for most of the rest. The DuPont ‘Safety Training Observation Program’ is also the model that failed DuPont employee Carl Fish at one of the firm’s plants in West Virginia. He died after phosgene sprayed from old and unsuitable chemical tubes.
HUMAN EVIDENCE Father of seven Robert Broome, 48, was one of four victims of the June 2011 explosion at BS convert Chevron’s south Wales refinery.
A July 2011 US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) investigation uncovered documents showing DuPont considered making improvements in the 1980s that would have removed the risk, but calculated the relative benefits of potential lives saved compared to the cost and decided to pocket the cash instead [See: Death highlights behavioural safety dangers].
Chevron, which on 29 July 2011 reported second quarter earnings of £4.6bn, is also a BS convert. Its website notes: “Chevron's efforts to create and maintain a safety culture include starting meetings with safety lessons, tracking and awarding business units for strong safety performance, sharing best practices and lessons learned, and using behaviour-based safety evaluations.”
But the oil giant’s BS-inspired safety systems didn’t stop four lives being lost on 2 June 2011 in a huge explosion at its refinery at Pembroke Dock, Wales [See: Chevron refinery blast kills four workers].
Some firms might not go the whole hog and buy into an off-the-shelf package like the DuPont system or some copycat package, instead opting to cherry pick some of the bad bits just for you.
Arcelor Mittal, the world’s largest steel producer, recently set about trying to introduce a BS-style safety discipline system worldwide. A worker breaching any of the 10 explicit ‘golden rules’ for safety – ‘I will never stand under a suspended load’, ‘I will respect all traffic rules’, ‘I will…’ – is the subject of automatic disciplinary action.
UK multinational INEOS is another case in point. The chemicals giant doesn’t formally employ a BS system, but it does use discipline to enforce sometimes seriously ill-advised safety rules. The firm was fined £12,000 plus £6,607 costs in July 2011, after a 58-year-old worker lost his ring finger and suffered damage to his middle and little finger after his gloved hand was pulled into a lathe.
FIRM FINGERED Chemicals giant INEOS used discipline to force lathe operatives at its Runcorn factory to wear safety gloves. But official guidance says gloves and lathes are a dangerous combination, and a worker lost a finger in this machine as a result.
INEOS, which has an annual turnover of £811m, was prosecuted for failing to follow health and safety guidance, which advises against wearing gloves when using metalworking lathes. Instead, the firm introduced a policy making wearing protective gloves mandatory for most workers. Several employees were reprimanded for not wearing gloves. The injured worker was reminded to wear his gloves by his line manager on the morning of the incident [See: Chemical giant enforced dangerous practices].
What you can do
Unite is urging its members to be alert to the dangers of behavioural safety systems. The union notes: “In the US, the United Steel Workers Union (USW) has been critical about DuPont’s approach to safety for many years. In 2005 the union published a report illustrating that DuPont’s many violations and accidents are not just isolated incidents of worker failure, but establish a clear pattern of denial of corporate responsibility.”
It added: “In conjunction with the USW, Unite has also been very critical of behaviour based safety and has warned its members about the potential dangers of behaviour based safety programmes of the type promoted by DuPont.”
UNITE BS CHECKLISTS
BS danger signs
• Reward schemes – vouchers, prizes, ‘safety bingo’ or bonus payments - for no lost time accidents
• Disciplinary action for involvement in an accident
• Workers observation schemes
• Reps encouraged to be involved with worker observations but not safety rep inspections
• Non-reporting of accidents
• An increased focus on the use of protective equipment (PPE)
What is the answer?
• Full recognition of TU safety reps and full involvement with safety management systems
• Robust risk assessment process that identifies and corrects workplace hazards and unsafe conditions.
• Correct use of the hierarchy of controls to address hazards
• Accident investigation that looks for the root causes of accidents
• Workers’ rights to identify hazards without fear of retaliation
• Right to refuse unsafe work
• Full reporting and recording of all injuries, illnesses and near misses
Unite’s Peter Ellis commented: “We know from our experience, dealing with safety in thousands of workplaces, that hazards and unsafe conditions cause injury and illness. When the hazards are properly identified and fixed, injury and illness decrease. In the meantime, it is our members who face the workplace risks, and under behavioural safety tend to get the blame as well. Involving Unite safety reps, identifying hazards and fixing them is the real route to safer workplaces.
“Safety reps need to be involved in all decision making processes around health and safety so that they can bring their expertise to any discussions on what is needed to improve workplace health and safety.”
The TUC’s guide sums it up like this: “You prevent someone who is operating a guillotine from cutting off their hands by ensuring the machine is properly guarded and the blade cannot operate if there is any obstruction, not by teaching the operator to keep their hands out of the way.”
Court tells US firm to ditch BS
A labour rights court in the US has ruled that a manufacturing company that tried to impose a behavioural safety system broke the law and should have negotiated with the union USW.
After the ruling, USW commented: “This win by our union is timely in that some paper companies are trying to go to health and safety programmes that focus on worker behaviour. In this case a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administrative law judge ruled a tool maker must bargain with its union over a new safety programme.” The union said the company programme “resulted in workers getting disciplined for safety violations and injuries.” USW Local 5518 filed NLRB charges in 2010 when Kennametal Inc failed to bargain over implementation of its Management Based Safety (MBS) programme at its Lydonville, Vermont plant.
The company’s unilateral implementation of a new discipline policy for safety violations was also an integral part of the NLRB case. The company had rejected a union request to negotiate, claiming it was not a mandatory subject of bargaining. It also asserted that its discipline policy for safety violations - called ‘Procedure for Corrective Actions for Safety Violations and Work Instructions for Corrective Actions’ - had no relationship to MBS. The change in discipline policy meant that a first-time serious safety violation resulted in a three-day suspension and a second serious violation would result in the worker being fired.
NLRB Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Arthur J Amchan rejected the company’s contention that its disciplinary policies had nothing to do with MBS. He noted that MBS eliminated the union’s participation in accident investigation, contrary to the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement. By changing the investigation process, Kennametal diminished the possibility that factors such as production quotas would be considered in assessing the cause of an accident, he ruled.
The judge wrote that MBS, in making it more likely an injured worker would be found at fault for an accident, had a “clear relationship to disciplinary measures taken as the result of an accident.” The company was told to “cease and desist” from imposing the MBS programme.
Death highlights behavioural safety dangers
Serious safety failings at a DuPont factory in the US which led to a workplace death highlight the dangers of a ‘blame the worker’ system of safety management. The July 2011 report of a US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) investigation criticised behavioural safety champion DuPont after Carl Fish, 58, died at the company's Belle facility in West Virginia, in January 2010. He was sprayed with the deadly chemical phosgene.
CSB said DuPont had used old chemical tubes and relied too much on automated software. The incident happened a day after two other highly dangerous chemicals - methyl chloride and oleum, a type of sulphuric acid - leaked at the same DuPont facility. Rafael Moure-Eraso, CSB chair, said: “We at the Chemical Safety Board were quite surprised and alarmed to learn that DuPont had not one, but three preventable accidents that occurred over a 33-hour period.”
Internal DuPont documents released with the CSB draft report indicate that in the 1980s, company officials considered increasing the safety of the area of the plant where phosgene is handled by enclosing the area and venting the enclosure through a scrubber system to destroy any toxic phosgene gas before it entered the atmosphere. However, the documents show the company calculated the benefit ratio of potential lives saved compared to the cost and decided not to make the safety improvements.
DuPont promotes behavioural safety methods throughout the world, principally through its “STOP” behavioural safety system. Most behavioural safety systems in use are variants of the STOP Programme. UK union Unite this year launched a campaign warning members of the dangers of behavioural safety system.
It commented: “In the US, the United Steel Workers Union (USW) has been critical about DuPont’s approach to safety for many years. In 2005 the union published a report illustrating that DuPont’s many violations and accidents are not just isolated incidents of worker failure, but establish a clear pattern of denial of corporate responsibility.” It added: “In conjunction with the USW, Unite has also been very critical of behaviour based safety and has warned its members about the potential dangers of behaviour based safety programmes of the type promoted by DuPont.”
Chevron refinery blast kills four workers
Three male painting contractors and a female fire-watch officer died in June 2011 in a huge explosion at the Chevron refinery at Pembroke Dock, south west Wales. The Health and Safety Executive launched a joint investigation with Dyfed Powys Police and other agencies after a large storage tank blew up late on Thursday 2 June during routine maintenance, rocking houses and sending a plume of black smoke into the sky. A fifth worker is critically ill with severe burns.
The complex is one of the largest in western Europe and was the site of a 1994 explosion and fire in which 26 workers were injured. Chevron, which operates a behavioural safety sytem, is carrying out its own inquiry. The explosion occurred while a storage tank was being taken out of service for maintenance, the company said. “From across Chevron worldwide, all the major Milford Haven industrial sites and our local community in Pembroke we have received a huge number of messages of condolence and offers of support, for which we are extremely grateful and touched,” said the Chevron statement.
The dead have been named as Julie Jones, aged 54, a mother of one and a grandmother from Pembroke, and Dennis (Denny) Riley, 52, a father of two and a grandfather, Robert Broome, 48, a father of seven and Andrew Jenkins, 33, a father of young twins, all from Milford Haven.
The company’s ‘The Chevron Way’ safety system is “managed through our Operational Excellence Management System, and reinforced at all levels of the corporation,” the company’s website notes. It adds: “Chevron's efforts to create and maintain a safety culture include starting meetings with safety lessons, tracking and awarding business units for strong safety performance, sharing best practices and lessons learned, and using behaviour-based safety evaluations.”
Don’t blame the workers
“The Clearwater Paper Corp in Lewistown, Idaho, chose the king cobra to symbolise its workplace safety programme,” writes Leo Gerard, leader of the United Steelworkers union (USW). “A cobra. One of the deadliest snakes on the planet.”
In a blog commentary, the US union president says every day on his way to and from work at Clearwater, John Bergen III (above) drove past a billboard in the company parking lot sporting a picture of a king cobra and the explanation that it represented the company’s behaviour-based safety programme – Changing Our Behaviour Reduces Accidents – COBRA.
“Bergen, a devoted father, a gifted artist and a conscientious worker who urged everyone to observe safety rules, died last summer after inadvertently stepping through a gaping opening in the floor of the Clearwater Paper mill,” the commentary says. “Behaviour-based workplace safety programmes like COBRA are attempts by corporations to shirk responsibility to eliminate hazards by blaming workers instead. When workers die, behaviour-based programs disrespect the deceased by blaming them for their own deaths.”
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited and fined Clearwater for not covering the hole or providing a railing. “Clearwater’s COBRA did not work because the philosophy behind blame-the-worker programmes is fatally flawed,” concludes Gerard.
Chemical giant enforced dangerous practices
Global chemical firm INEOS was fined on 4 July 2011 after using disciplinary measures to enforce unsafe practices, leading to a worker suffering a serious injury. The 58-year-old worker, who has asked not to be named, lost his ring finger and suffered damage to his middle and little finger after his gloved hand was pulled into machinery.
Multinational INEOS Enterprises Ltd, which has an annual turnover of €900 million (£811m) and whose facilities include the Grangemouth oil refinery, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following an investigation into the incident on 21 September 2010. Runcorn Magistrates' Court was told INEOS had failed to follow health and safety guidance, which advises against wearing gloves when using metalworking lathes. Instead, it introduced a new policy on 1 May 2010 making wearing protective gloves mandatory for most workers on the site.
Several employees were reprimanded for not wearing gloves following the policy's introduction, and the injured worker was reminded to wear his gloves by his line manager on the morning of the incident. He was removing the rust off a hitch pin, used to connect a trailer to a vehicle, when his glove got caught in the rotating mechanism, dragging in his hand.
INEOS Enterprises Ltd was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £6,607 costs. Mhairi Duffy, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: “The company ordered its staff to wear protective gloves on the factory floor, even though some workers tried to explain that there were often specific reasons for not wearing them. New guidance was introduced nearly six years ago on not wearing gloves while using metalworking machines, but INEOS failed to keep up to date with the latest health and safety advice.”
A day later, on 5 July 2011, INEOS Manufacturing Scotland Limited was fined £100,000 following an uncontrolled release of crude oil at its Grangemouth refinery in May 2008. The incident happened when a pipeline containing crude oil became over pressurised as a result of a process known as thermal expansion. The failure of the pipeline caused extremely flammable crude oil to spray out across a nearby pumphouse and adjacent pipelines containing other dangerous substances.
This BS will kill you
Court tells US firm to ditch BS more
Don’t blame the workers more
Chemical giant enforced dangerous practices more