The top priority at Kuhn Special Steel: health and safety in the workplace

Patrick Edlinger: successful extreme mountaineer. As a freeclimber, he was first in his class to conquer the 700-metre Gorges du Verdon; the deepest canyon in the French Alps. “How can a barefoot man without climbing gear tackle such smooth walls … Continue reading

Patrick Edlinger: successful extreme mountaineer. As a freeclimber, he was first in his class to conquer the 700-metre Gorges du Verdon; the deepest canyon in the French Alps.

“How can a barefoot man without climbing gear tackle such smooth walls of rock?” was the big question banded around by the media. When he was at home one day in La Palud-sur-Verdon, he tripped on the stairs and fell to his death.

“It couldn’t happen to me.” is a widespread article of faith among industrial workers. Accidents only ever happen to workmates who are more careless, more inexperienced or clumsier than you are – or think you are. But before you know it, it is your own fingers that have been hit by a hammer, or your own skin that has been scorched by a stray spark. Thomas Weber, our safety officer, has analysed thousands of the company’s personnel statistics and health records going back over many months and years; placing them all under the magnifying glass as part of his efforts to minimise the risk of accidents.

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We have managed to follow the right path in this respect, with a five-year record of not only fewer serious accidents, but also of a diminishing number of workplace incidents in general. The key to this has been a consistent approach to management, which gives top priority to health and safety by making it the company’s number one corporate objective. Thomas Weber is rightly convinced that not even members of management (those with seats on the board included) must ever enter the foundry “without the right protective clothing and safety boots”. The parties concerned take their function as role models seriously, thereby helping to foster acceptance among the workforce as a whole. This is where a consistent approach to accident prevention really pays off.

Recent years have seen the development of higher standards designed to increase the awareness of health and safety issues at Kuhn Special Steel. The staff-training sessions conducted by the safety officers of many departments, along with the holding of two-yearly seminars for apprentices on the premises of the corresponding professional association, are just a couple of the initiatives involved. When it comes to prevention, regular voluntary initiatives include hearing-protection and sight testing, training in first aid and sessions in back-injury prevention for employees responsible for the manual handling of heavy loads; along with the (likewise voluntary) provision of annual flu jabs. The free provision of soft drinks, not only in the hotter months of the year, also constitutes part of this approach.

However, one of the most important tools continues to be the precise analysis of workplace accidents. “How can this working procedure be made safer?” – It is the key question. Automation and the deployment of robots have helped to reduce accident figures in various places; sometimes bringing their number right down to zero. Employees and customers alike can see at a glance how a process of continuous improvement has delivered the goods at a local level. Statistics relating to accident-free days and other analytical health and safety data are publicly displayed at various points throughout the company’s premises. The figures confirm that we are as consistent and sustainable in this respect as we are with our products. The key to success here is the awareness among employees that no action should ever be taken without due consideration – even if common sense would appear to dictate otherwise.

Reinhold Messner, another extreme mountaineer, did not come a cropper on some mighty 8,000-metre peak, but on the garden fence around his own country house in Merano in northern Italy. He had to clamber over it one day in June 1995, because he had forgotten the key to the gate. As he tried to get in, he fell and smashed his heel bone.

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