Insight on safety: Interview with Atlas Copco’s safety expert

2013 Mar 20

In the hazardous worlds of mining and construction, safety is never taken for granted. M&C talks to Anna Eklind for a status report on the safety challenge.

Q: It is often said that the mining and construction industries are safer now than ever before. Do you agree?
A: Absolutely. Great improvements have been made in many different areas and the statistics suggest that the number of accidents and lost time injuries are in decline. But that doesn?t mean we can relax. Safety is not something to be focused on now and again, or whenever it seems appropriate. It is a never-ending process based on a desire for continuous improvement. At the same time, the rules and regulations governing safety are changing all the time and becoming more and more demanding so the focus on safety is now stronger than ever.

Q: Who is responsible for the progress that has been made so far?
A: A lot of the credit must go to the mining companies. They have been the drivers of the working environment and have made enormous contributions to safety. I think the people who work for these companies have a lot to thank them for. At the same time, many of these companies are international which means they have been able to implement good working practices around the globe. Global equipment suppliers like Atlas Copco have also played an important role through the development of safety-focused product design.

Q: What Atlas Copco products have made a big difference to safety?
A: Remote controlled equipment, rod handling systems that eliminate heavy lifting, drill rig cabins that give all-round visibility… there are just too many to mention. One product which is getting a lot of attention lately is the Scaletec, a mechanized rig which eliminates manual scaling which is one of the most hazardous jobs in underground rock excavation.

Q: What priority does Atlas Copco give to safety today?
A: Safety gets top priority here. It is a way of life, a mindset that permeates everything we do. No meeting involving product design, training or service and maintenance takes place without safety issues being an integral part of the discussion. In this way, safety is part of Atlas Copco?s DNA. Our policies are strict and we constantly strive to achieve the highest standards for our products and for the people who use them and service them.

Q: What?s the biggest issue that needs to be addressed?
A: That?s not an easy question to answer. Health and safety is such a huge subject and there are improvements to be made at every level. Of course, as a manufacturer of equipment that will be used by human beings, our first duty is to ensure that they are as safe as possible. Secondly, we do everything in our power to make sure that they are used correctly, which means emphasizing safety in all our instruction manuals, training courses, and customer seminars… and still it is not enough. We also have to make sure that safety is constantly in the spotlight so that it remains at the forefront of product development.

Q: Atlas Copco celebrates its 140th jubile­e this year. Will the event be marked by highlighting its safety record?
A: Throughout its history, safety and the working environment has been a priority at Atlas Copco. Today, it is stronger than ever and is an ongoing and natural part of the way we work. However, this year we will be intensifying our efforts to emphasize the importance of personal safety in our contacts with our customers. We want to raise the awareness of how personal safety impacts on productivity. Even though the accident statistics seem positive, many incidents are not reported and there are still many countries where safety is still unsatisfactory and where productivity is low.

Q: What obstacles prevent personal safety from being improved?
A: One of the main problems is communication and awareness. If we are to succeed in spreading the safety message across the globe we have to use every technique at our disposal. Languages can be a hurdle because written translations and even verbal instructions can be misunderstood, or wrongly interpreted.

In an attempt to avoid this we are moving more and more towards finding ways of visualizing the messages we need to get across. The airline industry is a typical example where animations and symbols are used for safety instructions. We will see more of this type of communication in our industry in the coming years.

Q: How does service and maintenance fit into this?
A: Our service and maintenance personnel are vitally important because they are the people at the forefront. They visit the customers? sites on a regular basis, they know the operators personally, they see how our equipment is being used and can identify the risk areas. They are perfectly placed to ensure that safety standards in relation to our equipment are maintained. They make sure that our products comply with regulations and they feed information back to our Customer Centers so that our products can be continuously improved.

Epiroc operated under the trademark “Atlas Copco” prior to January 1, 2018.

Anna Eklind is Global Safety, Health, Environment and Quality Manager at Atlas Copco’s service division within Mining and Rock Excavation Technique.