Komatsu instils safety culture and mindset among employees

Putting the team’s invention into application. Image: Komatsu Rutherford

Komatsu Rutherford HSE manager Campbell Saunders tells Vanessa Zhou how the company motivates individual employees to strive for safety at its Rutherford underground repair facility.

It is not a simple task to inspire around 100 workers to make continuous improvement toward safety.

The Rutherford facility is made up of boilermakers, electricians, mechanical fitters and electrical fitters.

Daily, the team deals with underground mining equipment, electric motors, and loaders.

Together, Rutherford supports these components, servicing the mining industry from the Hunter Valley in New South Wales and beyond.

And it is the same team of people who have won an icare Aware Award for their work in keeping the people safe at Komatsu.

When a potential safety risk was found when overhauling mechanical transmissions and heavy machinery parts, the workers came up with an idea to improve the process.

“They highlighted some safety hazard to their direct manager and gave him the ideas of what they wanted to do,” Rutherford HSE manager Campbell Saunders says.

Previously, the workers had to stand on a temporary safety step and manually rotate a tension wrench for four hours, bearing risks of repetitive strain injuries, slips and falls. But the team had an idea of building a motorised jig to support the driver that can perform the same function electronically. 

“With the solution, they no longer have to do any of that manual work and they no longer have to stand on a safety step,” Saunders says. “Simply press a button, and the motor will be electrically driven.”

Indeed, icare NSW injury prevention manager Jennifer Cameron praises the team’s ability to use an engineering solution to reduce injury risk.

She says, “The link between safety and productivity is strong. And I think the Komatsu initiative is a good example of good innovation not having to be complex or involving digital technology.”

In fact, the team came up with a process change that reduces the risk of injury and boosts productivity by 75 per cent.

STW 5_icare photo

The team improved just one – but essential – step in a whole range of processes involved in overhauling drivers and loader products.

They transformed a step that used to take four to five hours into something that is now completed in 45 minutes.

When asked about how the idea came into fruition, Saunders says, “It’s just that collaboration piece, between them feeling comfortable enough to go to their manager and say, ‘hey, we’ve got this idea.’”

According to Cameron, the senior leaders at Komatsu are particularly good at engaging with workers.

“They are genuinely committed to the safety and wellbeing of their people. By engaging with workers, being approachable to them and having honest conversations with them about safety, you can understand what the challenges are and work toward finding solutions,” Cameron says.

The rest was only about getting the site manager to approve order purchases, and external vendors to recommend the appropriate motor to use to perform the desired function.

The motor arrived, and the jig got fabricated in-house.

“The whole idea was born and away they went,” Saunders says.

Prevention, not reaction

No worker has ever been injured when performing the tedious process. But workers were finding it difficult to overhaul the loaders using the previous method, Saunders says.

“The great thing about it was they identified the safety hazard before an injury ever happened. And this is what we encourage across Komatsu.” Saunders explains.

Saunders claims that Komatsu is in the business of incident prevention. The company encourages employees to be proactive rather than reactive to an event that has already happened.

Indeed, the HSE manager takes pride in his employees’ proactive attitude – the team identifies the hazards, comes up with ideas and solutions and turns them into a working device.

STW 5_Loader Driver Photo 2

Now, since workers no longer need to manually tighten up bolts and turn the driver on top of a safety step, the risk of falling off a safety step has also been virtually eliminated.

“We’ve got rid of the potential for someone to be injured, which is our main priority, so obviously that enhances our safety record. To our customers, that’s very important,” Saunders says.

“Customers may not be able to see a tangible or direct benefit from initiatives such as this, but considering the heightened focus that many of our customers place on safety these days, such improvements only enhance our reputation as an organisation that continually moves forward toward our goal of zero harm.”

Evaluating safety initiative

When evaluating a safety initiative, the Komatsu management is putting safety first and foremost.

“When we assess the potential of a worker’s initiative, we check whether that improvement will bring any other safety hazards. You don’t want to make an improvement on something, only for that improvement to introduce another safety hazard,” Saunders says.

“However, if a by-product of a safety initiative is an improvement on our production time or output, then that’s an additional bonus to the business.

“The real bonus and the real focus is safety – that safety has been improved.”

There are multitudes of other examples where the Rutherford team have come up with safety improvements. The workers took the initiative to make platform ladders, for example, thus eliminating the need to overstep – and the risk of getting injured – when trying to get to an area of height.

In fact, there is an experienced and dedicated safety team in Komatsu that works tirelessly to improve the safety and wellbeing of its workforce, Cameron claims.

While it was the first time that the Rutherford facility participated in the icare Aware Award, Saunders considers Komatsu’s win fantastic for his workers, as it gives them some well-deserved recognition for their initiative and inventiveness.

“Our people are getting recognised for some really, really good work that they do. Winning this award recognises this facility and the individuals responsible for the initiative, but there are many more examples of employees across the Komatsu organisation implementing innovative ideas like this that improve workplace safety for themselves and their fellow work colleagues,” Saunders concludes.

The article also appears in the Oct–Dec edition of Safe to Work