When Mark Ellis, a warehouse operations clerk for Atlas Steels, suffered a serious leg injury that resulted from an incident at its Ingleburn Service Centre, the business vowed it wanted to prevent this type of incident from reoccurring.
"It shook the business," says Regional Director, John Pearson. "It was a terrible thing for Mark, his family and for all of our employees. You could see and feel the devastation."
Ellis was injured when he stepped back and collided with a multi-directional sideloader forklift. Atlas’s quest to enhance safety saw the business introduce a number of measures across its operations. Other businesses working to prevent serious incidents can learn a lot from this example, particularly the important role of employees in coming up with ideas to improve workplace safety.
“The effect of this incident on all was dreadful”, says National SEQ Manager, Maree Mihaljevic. “We are extremely focused on engaging our people and strengthening our safety system and processes.”
A practical response
Atlas’s response to this incident included a series of practical measures. Service Centre Manager, Marc McAllister, says Atlas introduced an improved Traffic Management Plan and controls in consultation with its employees. One of the most important changes has been the introduction of a pedestrian awareness tool (PAT), a base plate that has a pole with a strobe light on top. If a pedestrian stops to work in an aisle they must place PAT in front of the aisle, or at a safe distance from them, and turn the light on. The light is at eye level with the sideloader forklift operator and provides additional visual awareness to the operator who must not enter beyond the point of PAT placement. As PAT is portable it can be used in a variety of locations.
The business has also increased training, particularly around traffic management and sideloader forklift operation, with an online interactive training system being built from the ground up and employees being put through refresher courses.
The way we do things around here
Consultation was conducted across the country resulting in the development of a Safety Charter that depicts a ‘Safety First’ approach and the agreed minimum safety expectations for all employees, supervisors and managers with signed ownership it is prominently displayed at each site.
Ellis has conducted a series of presentations to his workmates and to the wider steel distribution industry that Mihaljevic, says “Demonstrated that this was real, not just an anonymous report or statistic but a worker who has a name and family. It highlighted his journey, the injury impact on others and the importance of working together in implementing and maintaining safety systems and processes with the presentation correlating with Mark’s passion for golf.”
After the incident McAllister gained a forklift licence himself so he would have experience first-hand. “I try and regularly get out there and work with them,” he says. “I get to see the challenges they face, and we work through to improve. It also helps in strengthening our team.”
A continuous quest
After his incident, Mark Ellis has made a successful return to work; but the effects of his incident at Atlas Steels are long lasting. It has driven a quest to elevate safety so that no one suffers a similar incident.
Mihaljevic says Atlas’s efforts to improve safety are ongoing. “It’s relentless,” she says. “The importance of having well risk assessed safety systems and processes in place especially where mobile plant is in use is evident.”
There are learnings for everyone where mobile plant is in use says Pearson, “If you walk or drive into any workplace, follow the signs and directions of the employees and maintain situational awareness to ensure your own safety and the safety of others.”
Pearson adds other businesses can provide ideas that can be trialled and possibly implemented. He says it’s a never-ending search for improved risk management across the board to reduce the potential for injury.
But Mihaljevic says don’t disregard incidents that occur in other businesses. “If you read something that happened in another company, don’t just think ‘that’s horrible’, act on it. Ask yourself if that incident or similar could happen in your business and what do you have to do to control that risk.”
Good safety leadership is paramount and its important to lead by example McAllister says. “Continue to engage and encourage open conversations regarding safety. Some of the best ideas will come from the warehouse floor.”
Atlas Steels acknowledges that this article was produced as a result of a SafeWork NSW Enforceable Undertaking.
This article is featured in Australian Stainless Magazine issue 65, 2019.