When it comes to lowering health and safety incident levels in quarries across the UK it is pure aggregates suppliers that usually come to mind. But cement firms also have quarries to excavate and as such are working towards Target Zero. MQR talked to Lafarge Cement national minerals manager Jeremy Elvins about how NVQs are aiding him in the pursuit of incident reduction.
A fully trained and competent quarrying workforce is the foundation of any drive to meet Target Zero health and safety incidents by 2015. And the large quarry firms are investing a lot to ensure the target becomes a reality.
The government’s drive to see all workers on site holding NVQs by 2010 is a key route to meet the Target but not all of those saddled with the name of a major player have access to the same resources.
Lafarge Cement is an example. It employs around 120 people at its 11 quarrying operations across the UK. And ensuring they are a competent bunch is the responsibility of Jeremy Elvins.
The quarrying side of cement production at the company is the national minerals manager’s turf. And this means organising the training to ensure quarry managers are at least SHE NVQ level 4 qualified, that supervisors reach SHE NVQ level 3 and operatives at a relevant NVQ level 2 – although those at a higher level may also take level 2 qualifications depending on responsibilities.
But, as Elvins says, Lafarge Cement is not a typical quarrying company. “We have the demands of Target Zero but we can’t access funding to support our work and I do not have time to chase down all the options,” he says.
He continues: “We can get Train to Gain funding for those without NVQs but not for our other work. It is really very disappointing. People think because we have the Lafarge name we have people to track funding but this is not the case.”
Elvins is not the only manager to be left disappointed over funding. Some are even convinced the colleges that hold the funding streams regard quarrying related training and assessment as too hard unless it is justified by a firm with 100s of employees.
“They are scared they might get their feet wet,” one told MQR.
But the lack of resources to chase funds hasn’t hindered Elvins in pushing ahead with raising staff competence levels. The result, however, is that his cement quarry staff, who make up 10% of the overall workforce, take up 20% of the training budget.
And for Elvins it is a matter of investing to save. Although quantifying the results financially would be problematic, he says, in terms of H&S incident reduction there have been five lost time injuries (LTIs) so far this year. In 2006 the figure was 28.
He enlisted the help of external trainers and NVQ assessors such as Philip Brain Associates, Blasting Services, Barry Robinson Consulting. Eight in ten quarry managers are currently trained to SHE NVQ level 4 and three are trained to level 5.
Along with these, half the supervisors at his sites have reached SHE NVQ level 3, while operators and other staff are 60% through training to a specific level 2 qualification, such as mobile plant or shotfirer competence.
Elvins himself is trained to level 4 and is looking to remap the collated evidence to reach level 5 under the new Qualifications and Credits Framework. “Hopefully the evidence is 80% relevant,” he says, “so it won’t be too onerous.”
His job is to take the bigger picture in terms of meeting Target Zero. While quarry managers may be prone to focusing on their individual operations, Elvins has to get them all working together and to the same standard.
Investing in NVQs has helped bring that about, he says. It has also helped staff working at the quarries to gain a greater insight into the role they play in lowering H&S incidents on site. This is in a large part down to Barry Robinson MBE – the former Finning man was put forward for an MBE by the HSE for his work on operator all-round vision in plant.
Adam Wells is deputy quarry manager at Cauldon Quarry. He says collating evidence for the NVQ brought a range of issues to the fore in terms of H&S.
Wells: “It brought to our attention the need for convex mirrors, all-round visibility requirements and pre-start checks.
“As a result of the NVQs the operators are reporting more faults with plant and issues with unstable faces that require scaling because they are more alert to such issues now.”
And the Robinson plant effect is being felt even wider. Archie Jeffrey is deputy quarry manager at the company’s Dunbar Quarry. He has completed a blasting operations NVQ level 3 and SHE NVQ level 4. He says the focus on plant NVQs has led to 80% of operators using their machines better.
“It’s been a reminder as much as anything, particularly for those who have operated plant for up to 25 years,” he says.
The training is even leading to lower fuel use and wear and tear on the machines, says Elvin. “They start cynically as they have driven for years but they are really surprised to find out how much they pick up.
Robinson, who is also chief examiner for the plant research centre OPERC, told MQR bringing about improvement is all often simply a matter of meeting recommended operating standards.
[img_assist|nid=12673|title=|desc=Fixed and mobile plant SNVQ staff show off their certificates with deputy quarry manager Archie Jeffrey (centre) at Lafarge Cement’s Dunbar site.|link=none|align=middle|width=530|height=623]
Robinson: “For example, when moving from reverse to forward in a dump truck I instill a three second pause in operators, reducing strain on the vehicle.”
Elvin says this focus on attention to detail means operators can pass the critical eye of even the strictest of NVQ assessors as well as help towards cutting down on costs and aiding the quarrying side of Lafarge’s cement operations meet Target Zero. So, a win-win then.