Case study of OHSAS 18001 implementation in the heavy engineering industry

The Health and Safety Executive (United Kingdom’s independent health and safety regulator) states that over the last five years an average of 22 people were killed at work per annum, 3100 seriously injured, and 4100 injured to a degree that more than seven working days were lost as a result of accidents in the heavy engineering sector alone. It is to be expected that the ratio in the United States will be similar, and this illustrates perfectly how damaging an effect on your employee well-being and business performance that poor OH&S (operational health and safety) performance can be. As a result of this, compliance with the OHSAS 18001 standard has never been so important to organizations the world over. I researched this data recently when working on a project with a company in the heavy engineering sector, and while working with them it occurred to me that particular clauses of the standard assumed particular importance and needed special actions to ensure effectiveness amongst the workforce in this particular industry. So, why was this true, and what parts of the 18001 standard are we talking about? Let us examine what this case study told us.

OHSAS 18001 in heavy engineering – Where to start

The first realization that you make when entering a heavy engineering plant is that there is danger everywhere for the untrained hand or the careless employee. When an incident clearly can lead to serious injury or even death, this really sharpens the focus on compliance with standards, legislation, and process. The second realization that immediately struck me was the dependence of employee safety on machinery, its accuracy and functionality. The potential for incidents in the event of machinery misuse or malfunction was clear and present, and potential hazards could be identified everywhere if processes were not closely adhered to. This led me to thinking carefully about how to establish an OHSAS 18001-compliant program and the value and importance of employee knowledge. While some potential hazards and dangers were clear to me, intricate knowledge of all the machinery in use was not, and to identify hazards effectively I would obviously require employee cooperation and assistance. Given this, it was clear that I would have to work with the employees and do some prioritization of some key elements of the OHSAS 18001 standard itself. So, what were these key elements, and how did we go about achieving this?

OHSAS 18001 – Key clauses and how we used them

It goes without saying that meeting all clauses of the standard is critical to meeting and complying with OHSAS 18001, but after management reviews and internal audit schedules were agreed, we set up a focus group, and agreed that the following clauses and their subsequent actions were of vital importance to the business, given its area of operation:

  • Leadership: This is the one element that sits at the top of the pyramid. It should involve leading by example, communicating efficiently, and ensuring the workforce understands the importance of OH&S issues. Read more about this in the article How to demonstrate leadership according to ISO/DIS 45001.
  • Compliance with legislation: Clause 4.5.2 specifies details of this vital element for all businesses.
  • Roles, responsibility, accountability, and authority: Does everyone know exactly what is expected of them and how to perform those tasks? Have resources and training been provided? If not, risk exists. Find out more in What roles and responsibilities should exist in the OH&SMS according to OHSAS 18001?
  • Communication, participation and consultation: Clause 4.4.3 deals with this element, which proved critical to this company within the heavy engineering sector. Employees generally know a process best, and consultation can help identify and mitigate hazards and risks that exist in such an environment. To find out more, read the article How to meet participation and consultation requirements in ISO/DIS 45001.
  • Incident investigation, corrective and preventive action: Clause 4.5.3 deals with this element. Investigating incidents to root cause and preventing reoccurrence is vital, but even more so is the assessment and prevention of risk and incidents that preventive action brings, which is related to clause 4.3.1 dealing with hazard identification – the foundation of every successful OH&S system.

So, we attached extra importance to these particular clauses; was that all?

OHSAS 18001: More to consider?

The result of consultation and participation threw up two of the most critical elements for the company discussed. Firstly, a preventive machine maintenance program to help safeguard the machinery and prevent malfunction was designed, and secondly, a training program for machine use was established. Given the implications around machine malfunction, training was very stringent and safety oriented. As a result, impact and incidents were prevented through the establishment of these processes. So, what else did we learn? Firstly, the OHSAS 18001 standard is an excellent guide, but you must know your business, its risks and hazards very well to allow you to get the correct emphasis depending on what industry you operate in. Secondly, leadership and accountability are vital, but participation and consultation really make OH&S everyone’s responsibility, and that brings a benefit to everyone.

Why not use our free  OHSAS 18001 Gap Analysis Tool to compare your OH&S system with the OHSAS 18001 standard?

Advisera John Nolan
John Nolan
John Nolan is a Fellow of the Institute of Leaders and Managers in the United Kingdom, and Prince 2 accredited with a background in Engineering and Electronics and Data Storage and Transfer. Having studied and qualified as both a Mechanical and Electronic Engineer, he has spent the last 15 years designing and delivering Quality Systems and projects across many sectors in the UK, including both national and local government.