Health and safety matters

By Vertik-al.

It’s 10AM, Monday morning and new recruit Kelly McEwan is busy translating a sign for the factory noticeboard.

“I can’t always rely on Google Translate,” she said, as she is joined in the office by factory operative, Aneta, “so, I get the guys to check it for me first.”

Kelly McEwan is HSE officer at Birmingham-based powder coating company Vertik-al.

“We have a culturally diverse workforce and it’s important that we respect that. Crucially, it’s vital that everyone understands our health and safety notices, so I translate them into Arabic, Urdu and Polish. Unfortunately, accidents can happen in any language.”

Kelly joined Vertik-al in June, following 12 years at an anodising firm. After working her way up to QHSA chief inspector, Kelly was ready to embrace a new challenge and take on a bigger company in a different sector. Vertik-al was one of the first companies in the UK to apply powder to aluminium. Today, the business coats around 4.5 million metres of bar length per year and employs 180 people.

“We’re all aware that health and safety practices form part of everyday life, so it’s no surprise that much of my time is dedicated to the daily well-being of our staff, third party contractors and visitors,” Kelly said.

As it’s a Monday, Kelly starts the working week with forklift checks, looking for irregularities or causes for downtime. Any issues are flagged and marked for rapid repair. The company keeps downtime to a minimum, across the entire factory, with planned and preventative maintenance.

“Nothing goes unchecked; welfare facilities, fridges, access routes, pretty much anything. The fridges, for example are now emptied on a Friday to enable the team to clean them. It’s simple but these things matter a great deal – good hygiene and wellness are crucial for a thriving and enthusiastic workforce.”

Kelly has been quick to install additional safe systems of work, with monthly work place inspections, including monitoring the use of PPE.

“We have a risk register with zero tolerance, which highlights any potential issues,” Kelly said. “I’m looking to see if the flammable items are being stored correctly, that the roller shutters are in the correct position, fire escape and de-marcation routes are clear of obstruction, etc.”

Since joining the business, Kelly has completed display screen assessments for relevant personnel, conducted a contractor’s questionnaire to ease and speed up access to the site, sourced dedicated food waste facilities, and installed new smoking shelters.

IOSH qualified, Kelly chaired her first Vertik-al health and safety forum in September.

“There are 18 people on the committee with a representative from each area of the business and shift,” Kelly said. “We discussed action points, accidents and near misses, and we were pleased to pass a unanimous vote for a new smoking policy.”

With Kelly’s arrival, the Vertik-al management team wanted to develop the role to encompass its environmental performance and responsibilities. Kelly has been tasked with boosting the environmental credentials of the entire business, from factory floor to company vehicles.

“There were several initiatives in place before I joined but it has been an interesting few months, looking at areas where we can make improvements and conserve energy,” she said.

“We are migrating company vehicles to hybrid. Our delivery fleet use the latest most fuel-efficient engines available. We recycle all polythene and cardboard packaging and continually monitor water and energy usage. Our electrical motors are currently being changed to variable speed drives which are far more efficient, reducing energy consumption by as much as 60%.”