Dec '12/Jan '13

The might of the round table

EMESRT provides one voice to accelerate safer equipment designs

By Herb Mathisen

Caterpillar added powered access systems to its large mining trucks, large wheel loaders and large tractors in recent years due, in part, to its engagement in EMESRT | Courtesy of Caterpillar

Until recently, modifying earth-moving equipment was accepted as a cost of doing business for miners, says Tony Egan, Xstrata Coal’s business development and special projects manager.

“In Australia, we got pretty good at actually modifying equipment locally with the dealers,” he says, although this process often delayed the delivery of their multi-million-dollar equipment by up to eight weeks and increased costs. Egan wondered why the safety features he was waiting for were not available on all factory-made equipment to begin with, and he was not alone.

Companies like his had been asking equipment designing departments for safety features that went beyond ISO standards, but with splintered voices from industry, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) could not justify the cost of making changes.

This drove Egan to come up with a novel strategy. If many companies, backed by their combined purchasing power, could come together to speak with one voice to manufacturers’ marketing departments – the holders of the research and development purse strings – then OEMs would be compelled to listen.

That was the beginning of the Earth Moving Equipment Safety Round Table (EMESRT), which has grown over the last six years into a global conglomerate of 15 of the world’s largest mining companies.

It would seem OEMs got the message: Egan points out that “local assembly times and costs have been reduced significantly” – as much as 80 per cent – by the efforts of EMESRT.

ISO standards not up to snuff

Equipment accidents make up a large percentage of workplace fatalities. According to an Australian study published in the Journal of Safety Research, 36.7 per cent of workplace fatalities bet­ween 2000 and 2002 “definitely or probably had design-related issues involved” with machinery and equipment. In mining, over 57 per cent of all fatalities were design-related, the study showed.

Jim Joy, risk management services manager with JKTech Pty Ltd. and EMESRT facilitator, says OEMs historically designed equipment to meet ISO safety codes. But while these standards address baseline safety requirements, Joy believes that they do not identify the unique risks or the human factors that arise.

“What we are trying to do at EMESRT is say ‘you need to go beyond standards,’” notes Joy.

EMESRT established eight different hazard categories – ranging from working at heights to dealing with rims and tires – called design philosophies. The round table developed a task-based risk assessment technique in each of the design philosophies. Each task associated with operating or maintaining a piece of equipment – and each risk posed to a worker – is now evaluated. By determining how often a task is performed and the severity of the task’s unwanted consequences, EMESRT quantifies risks and identifies areas that pose significant danger to workers. Armed with this information, OEMs can work on solutions to eliminate or to reduce key high-risk areas when designing equipment.

For example, Egan says, Caterpillar recently redesigned equipment so that routine maintenance tasks like oil filter changes are conducted from ground level, instead of having the work done at heights. “If you’re not up in the air, you can’t fall, can you?” he points out.

Before EMESRT, Egan recalls, manufacturers only got feedback from customers when they experienced problems. “The design weakness would never be discovered until somebody was eventually injured in a major accident.”

But if designers receive proactive, consistent feedback from experienced equipment users, they can make changes early on in the design phase.

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