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A proven SHIFT change in attitude reaps rewards for the foundry industry

Many of you will have heard of the SHIFT Initiative and indeed many foundries are SHIFT members but, of the wider industry, it may be time to explain about the objectives and how SHIFT operates to achieve them. Here Richard Heath, the Cast Metals Federation’s health and safety officer and SHIFT administrator, explains more about the work of the initiative and how it is working to help foundries and make a real difference.

The SFIFT initiative has been at the forefront of reducing accident rates across the castings industry in the UK, specifically decreasing RIDDOR accident rates by 75 per cent since its inception 14 years ago.

The foundry industry by its very nature is a traditional one and, as with all heavy engineering, has many more hazards than for example working in an office or as a florist. For a very long period of time, little changed with how processes and working practices were undertaken and accidents and injuries were accepted as part of the working life of a foundry man.

However, for well over 30 years the Health and Safety Executive along with trade associations, trade unions and a number of forward-thinking foundries have worked to help increase understanding of the hazards faced by industry workers to improve safety records and keep people at work safe. In 2003 this culminated in the creation by FIAC (Foundry Industry Advisory Committee, now branded CHASAC) of the Safety and Health in Foundries Target Initiative (SHIFT). Its goal at the time being to reduce accidents in foundries by 30 per cent by 2008.

It was agreed that the Cast Metals Federation (CMF), as the UK trade association for foundries and therefore an independent body, would administer SHIFT. The first task was to collect and collate accident information from member foundries for the year 2002 to serve as the baseline data.

A targeted focus

A launch event and series of seminars took place with foundries signing up and making a commitment to share good practices, to listen to expert speakers, including the HSE, on a wide variety of topics and, importantly, to anonymously report accident information. This information has enabled a focus on the categories of accidents with highest reported incident levels. A series of safety events have since been undertaken on ‘how to make a difference’ with the focus on providing updated and fresh practical information and improved ways of working so that skills and company knowledge could be improved. 

A key feature of SHIFT is that it is a programme designed for the whole of the UK industry. Uniquely amongst many organisations, a foundry does not have to be a member of the trade association to take part. SHIFT is driven by CHASAC directly, rather than the CMF, so for many small foundries where trade association membership is not something they have taken advantage of, membership of SHIFT is not precluded. 

Open to All

Any UK foundry or business casting metal, including secondary smelters, can be a member of SHIFT and all are welcome to get involved. It does not matter if the foundry is part of a global group or employs only one or two staff, a jobbing or high volume producer or if the foundry casts parts for in-house use only, there is something in the initiative for everyone. The initiative is careful not to focus on any one area to the exclusion of others, no casting process is ignored, or less popular alloy excluded. If there is metal cast by any casting process in the UK, then SHIFT is able to assist.

Alongside this, the CMF has maintained a dedicated health, safety and environment officer, a role that I have been privileged to occupy since mid-2012. Having a dedicated person in place offers additional benefits, as members are able to ask questions anonymously to the membership to enable best practice and again knowledge to be shared. This also extends beyond the members themselves as from my position within the federation, I am able to contact a large number of experts from specialist companies beyond the castings industry, not least and probably of greatest importance, a number of HSE specialists, inspectors and sector personnel. Over the years a great deal of support and advice for members has been forthcoming, with the enquirers and members knowing that they have the ‘firewall’ of SHIFT to hide behind so the immediate fear of a factory inspector visit is removed when a question is asked.

Circulars are routinely sent to members packed with useful information, including details of the latest relevant HSE publications. Including member enquiries, 378 communications have been sent out since 2004.

Working closely with the HSE and the unions, three safety forums are held each year covering a variety of topics, with expert speakers presenting on issues of importance to foundries; a full review and revamp of foundry specific guidance documents is currently underway, updating guidance last published by the HSE over 20 years ago. Via CHASAC meetings, SHIFT members are kept up-to-date with activities to be undertaken by the HSE ahead of time so that foundries can ensure they are fully informed and prepared for the proactive site visits by inspectors. Since 2004, 223 presentations have been made to the Forum, covering a huge range of topics - PPE, RPE, RCS, COSHH, manual handling, overhead cranes, slips and trips, work at height, workplace transport, LEV, occupational health and much more.

Dedicated health activities have included a two-year programme on education and action to reduce occurrences of hand-arm vibration, action on reducing legionella from cooling towers as well as a major focus on hazardous substances such as RCS, continuing today. The HSE’s Long Latency Health Risks Project has been supported by SHIFT with volunteer foundries taking part in this plus a sister project to look for new methods of finding biological markers which may indicate potential health issues for workers.

Behavioural change

SHIFT has not only tackled physical hazards, it is now working to address behaviours in the workplace, and by the end of the first quarter of this year the initiative will have launched its new workplace health topic on occupational stress and mental health.

Besides the HSE working with SHIFT, suppliers are keen to work with us as well. They offer expert speakers at the safety forums where their products and services can be of benefit to the industry. As a result of this, SHIFT has secured a discount for members from one of the leading PPE providers, which offers a significant saving on the purchasing of safety gear that is still often required despite improvements in engineering controls, due to the nature of our business.

SHIFT also has direct links into the European Foundry Association, CAEF, where the UK is now taking a lead on matters of occupational health as well as safety for a dedicated commission which tackles new or revised directives and proposed changes to regulations from the EU Commission, such as the addition of silica to the Carcinogen’s Directive, alongside fighting the proposal to halve the maximum exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica from its current level, something which will have an impact on already proactive foundries, let alone the rest of the industry.

An important part of the initiative has always been, and continues to be, the data and detailed information on accidents, which shows what type of injury has been sustained whether it be manual handling injuries, burns or eye injuries and also the severity of the injury, for instance was it RIDDOR reportable or a first aid-only injury? This data proves crucial to helping track trends and identify topics for the initiative to focus on. An overall report is produced with all data presented anonymously so the identity of those sharing their information is not made public.

Making a difference now and in the future

Membership of the initiative has grown and now totals over 110 individual foundry sites spread around the UK, from the far South West up to Edinburgh, from East Anglia to Mid Wales and Kent to Glasgow.

Most importantly, accident rates amongst SHIFT members have fallen by over 75 per cent compared to the 2002 starting level. The RIDDOR rate for 2015 was 1,105 reportable accidents per 100,000 people working compared with 4,214 in 2002. Now, in phase two of SHIFT, this data is recorded to prove and demonstrate that the current goal of a 25 per cent reduction in accident rates and occurrences of occupational ill health from 2012 levels, are being met. Data at present suggests that this target will not only be met, but will be beaten. 

What does the future hold for SHIFT? 

The HSE has now published its new strategies and sector plans and SHIFT will naturally be covering these, along with any changes to legislation that will come to bear before the end of the ‘Brexit’ negotiations.

Most significantly, we will tackle the issues that continue to affect the industry and the individuals who work within it, covering both occupational health and the physical safety of the workforce. Accidents and ill health can mean lost time, and lost time is lost production. With ever-changing technologies and increasing understanding of the physical and chemical hazards within our proud industry, if we want to see manufacturing continue in the UK, this is of benefit to us all.

For details of how to get involved with SHIFT, and how to become a member, contact Richard Heath at the Cast Metals Federation, Tel: 0121 601 6392, email: richardheath@cmfed.co.uk