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Masterclass in managing plant safety

Making better use of equipment is the cornerstone of overall site safety. By Paul Howard

When you’ve started going to classrooms as a parent rather than as a pupil, spending a day back at school can be a bit intimidating.

This impression is only reinforced if your teacher for the day has filled almost the entire classroom floor with the legislation, regulations and sundry guidebooks that form the basis of the course you are about to do.

This is the scene that greeted those attending the last, week-long pilot project of the new Plant Management Safety Training Scheme at the National Construction College East.

But, rather than an attempt at intimidation, this is simply course tutor - and course designer - Barry Rands’ preferred method of revealing the amount of information that underpins the safe fulfilment of a plant manager’s responsibilities.

There’s obvious material such as PUWER and LOLER, the subject of that day’s study, and then there’s everything else from European Directives to manufacturer’s manuals.

Another reason for this very visible pile of information, intimidating as it might appear, is in fact to reassure most of those attending the course that they will already be complying with the best practice outlined in all the assorted documents.

They may need some help in understanding why they do what they do. They may also need some help explaining to others why they have to do certain things in certain ways, and that just because a shortcut has been used without accident before it’s no guarantee it will be safe again next time.

According to Mr Rands, a significant part of being a good and safe plant manager is knowing when to resist the siren calls from contractors: “Could you just?” and “While you’re here”

Avoiding accidents

The message is brought home during our day in the classroom by pictures of the aftermath of an accident in which a 21-tonne excavator toppled over after carrying a 300 kg load incorrectly.

“You wouldn’t think that such a small load could topple such a big machine, but it did. And it came about through a series of little errors, not one big mistake,” Mr Rands explains.

But part of the rationale behind the presentation is to assert the importance of the under-valued role of a plant manager.

This is one of the reasons for the existence of the course.

“The aim of this scheme is to raise the profile of plant in the whole construction industry,” explains Neil England, programme development manager at ConstructionSkills.

“The idea was to take the Site Management Safety Training Scheme into plant, to complement and enhance the existing course rather than replace it.

“It recognises the fact that plant is a specific and large enough sector for the course to be adjusted to fit its needs.”

Implicit in this is an acceptance that the management part, in spite of the size and unique characteristics of the industry, is not always fully appreciated.

“You need to be a manager as much as a plant man,” Mr Rands continues.

“This is a safety course for plant managers, not a plant course, and safety is about management.”

Of course, the plant industry is not the only sector of the wider construction market that requires effective management, and plant is not the first sector to have an SMSTS course designed specifically for it. Shopfitters, for example, have their own course.

According to Mr England, the course is designed to show that issues covered by PMSTS are not just limited to plant.

“It helps develop good systems for health and safety that could be applied widely in the rest of construction.”

Yet there is a crucial difference between the new PMSTS and existing SMSTS courses, and that difference is that the PMSTS is designed to relate closely to a company’s own health and safety policy whereas the SMSTS course is more closely related to the CDM regulations. “Safety in plant isn’t just limited to it being on site,” points out Mr Rands.

Practical examples

For this reason the course is based on general principles, but also involves the use of six case studies to help tailor the course to real-life environments the attendees are likely to recognise, a move that has proved popular.

“Those on the course have been pleased, the representatives from the various trade bodies have been satisfied. In fact the reaction has been so good that, although the plan was to run pilots through well into the year, this is the last one. The course will soon be up and running and available for people to attend.”

Currently it is available at the NCC site, but all the course details have also now been distributed to the rest of ConstructionSkills’ network of training providers.

“They would then apply to run the course, show they can meet the necessary criteria, and then they can offer the course,” he explains. “In terms of capacity it’s safe to say there are enough people out there capable of being trained to provide the required quality of delivery.”

This is no mean feat given that some market assessments suggest there could be a potential pool of up to 20,000 students: Plant managers, plant instructors, workshop managers, crane companies etc.

Was the course useful? Students give their verdict

The six students attending the five-day course at Bircham Newton revealed the diversity of jobs and backgrounds the course was designed to cater for.

There were plant hirers and groundworks companies, an operator turned training instructor, a director of his own company and the plant manager of a division of a major national contractor. Their reaction to the course was universally favourable, and confirmed the desire identified by those involved in setting up the course for plant management to be taken seriously.

“There haven’t been any courses for us before,” points out Andrew Green, assistant plant manager at Doncaster-based Westmoreland Plant Hire.

“It’s been good and has been an eye-opener with regards to the law and how it all fits together.
Coming on this course has shown me that I do most things right already, just now we know why and have had best practice confirmed. It tidies up the grey areas.”

PMSTS is part of the site safety plus suite of courses For more info click here

Down load the PDF in the resource box to find out about all the schemes in detail.