Making the right decisions

To avoid maintenance-related accidents and injuries in the workplace, start by sharing the right information.

BY SIMON FRIDLYAND

Plant maintenance and engineering people are faced with decision-making every day. Every day something needs to be fixed, installed, relocated or purchased. Many plant professionals wonder if there is some kind of standardized process that will allow them to make the right choice regarding these daily decisions.
This decision process begins with the gathering of applicable information. It’s a well-known axiom that if everyone had all of the available information right at their fingertips, it would be easy for everyone to make the right decisions all the time. Gathering and assessing the right information, however, is the hard part of the process.
First of all, we need to know what questions to ask when we are gathering information. If we ask either an incorrect question or ask the wrong person, we may get an inaccurate or just plain wrong answer.
It is also essential that the lines of communication are kept open. You may have seen this sign on an office wall that relates to communication: “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” Exactly.

The right information equals the right decision
Understanding incorrectly may lead to people making bad decisions. Let me illustrate my point by providing you with an example. I was called by one of my clients recently to provide a PSR (Pre-Start Health and Safety Review) for a machine. The supplier had sold similar machines to my client in the past, so purchasing went ahead and my client bought the machine. When I came in for a visit, the machine was already at my client’s facility, but he had realized that it might not have sufficient guarding. The client decided to fix the guarding on site because of the urgent need to have the machine operational. But I realized that the machine had to be put in a classified environment as far as the electrical code was concerned.
No provisions had been made by the client to comply with the electrical code’s requirements. Fixing the machine at the job site became an impossible task. The Occupational Health and Safety Act in Ontario requires owners or lessees of industrial machines, equipment and processes to make sure that the machine, device or process is in compliance with the Act. This compliance process is called a PSR. It requires that a professional engineer provide a report identifying compliance with the Act. PSR considerations always must be included in the decision-making process regarding new equipment.
In this example, a wrong decision cost the company the price of a new machine. People also realize that in order to ask proper questions related to compliance, one needs to understand various code requirements. Understanding multi-disciplinary issues is not an easy task. An engineer who can conduct a PSR should be consulted before a purchase decision for machinery or equipment is made. As far as the legal requirements are concerned, the responsibility for compliance lies with the owner of the equipment -- and not the supplier. The expression, ‘buyer beware,’ is very much applicable to this situation.

Look before you leap into purchasing
Another way of insuring compliance is through a purchasing process. When purchasing documents are prepared, it is easy to specify that it is the supplier’s responsibility (not the future owner’s) to provide PSR documents with the machine. A number of companies have successfully used this approach. They specify that the service of an engineer specializing in PSRs will be provided by the supplier.
Similar decisions must be made when machines or processes are altered or relocated. In the example cited, similar machines installed previously at this facility were not required to be used in a classified environment. As in this case, although using previous experience can be helpful, it may not necessarily lead to the right decision. Once information related to a project has been verified, you must establish a fixed set of criteria that must be met by all alternatives.
This may limit your choices to, say, the best three. If this is the case, you can use an alternative-reducing technique to narrow your choices. A potential alternate is rejected on the basis of a single flaw, such as price or delivery time, with this technique.
If a wrong decision leads to a failure to comply with the requirements of the Industrial Establishments Regulation in Ontario or other provincial rules, penalties may result for officers, directors, owners, lessees and engineers of the equipment owner. A corporation that is convicted of non-compliance in Ontario could face a maximum fine of $500,000 per count. The maximum fine for an individual is $25,000 per count or a year in jail -- plus a 20% victim surcharge is levied on all fines imposed by the courts. The penalties are even higher under the Federal Bill C-45 amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada.
Wrong decisions can be very costly in both human and monetary terms.
Simon Fridlyand, P.Eng., of SAFE Engineering Inc., specializes in industrial health and safety issues and PSR compliance. For more information, visit www.safeengineering.ca.
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