Safety is our top priority
On 30 July 2018, a worker for Slovenské elektrárne tried to lift a manhole cover. Unfortunately, he threw his back out and was off work sick for several weeks.
Why do accidents like this happen? Is it possible to prevent them?
„“No business can succeed if it does not take care of its employees, protect their safety and health at work and provide a suitable working environment and working conditions,” explains Martin Mada from the Labour Inspectorate in Nitra. This is why safety is a priority for Slovenské elektrárne (SE), where occupational safety and health (OS&H) is regulated not just by Slovak law but also by international standards.
Mum – the first safety officer
When we think about OS&H, we often imagine the strict “safety officer” who is always pestering us to do things and getting on our nerves. Put on your protective gloves, wear googles, use a helmet… In fact, occupational safety and health should be at the forefront of every worker’s attention, so that they come back to their loved ones safe and sound.
As Ivan Pekár, the safety and environment manager for the completion of Mochovce Units 3 and 4 (MO34), reminds us, “Not many people think about this, but the first “safety officer” in a person’s life is their mum.” “Your mum shows you how to do things the right way and stops you doing things that could get you hurt. Parents give us our first lessons about safety and how to take care of ourselves.”
Mochovce vs the Slovak construction industry
The project to add two units of the Mochovce Nuclear Power Plant is one of the largest construction jobs in Central Europe. OS&H is even more important when thousands of workers are on site every day.
As Martin Mada emphasises, construction workers have an extraordinarily high risk of occupational accidents or illnesses compared to other jobs. With more than a thousand fatal accidents per year in the European Union, construction is the highest risk occupation. On the global scale, there is threefold greater risk of a fatal accident and twice the risk of other work-related accidents compared to other sectors,” says Mada. The most common causes of injuries are falls from heights and being smothered by earth in excavation work.
The labour inspectorates therefore look closely at construction firms and find the largest deficiencies in OS&H. What specifically? For example"
- the scaffolding in temporary structures was not equipped with at least 1 metre-high two-bar railings;
- openings and holes on the site were not secured to prevent falls;
- sites in built-up areas were not surrounded by fences at least 1.8 m tall;
- a building was not secured against access by unauthorised persons;
- workers did not receive the required personal protective helmets or the necessary personal and collective protective equipment for work at heights;
- another common deficiency was failure to acquaint new staff with legislation or safe working rules.
“Although construction has long been the industry with the most accidents, the completion of Mochovce Units 3 and 4 has kept the accident rate very low despite being one of the largest construction projects in Europe. The evidence for this is that in the last three years, there hasn’t been one serious work-related accident,” claims Martin Mada. Why? According to the inspector, the contributing factors were the implementation of an integrated safety coordination and management system that establishes continuous monitoring of the effectiveness of safety management processes on the site to identify weaknesses in the system.
Ivan Pekár, the safety manager for the MO34 project, believes the goods results at Mochovce are also the result of a proactive approach by managers. He adds that “training that increases safety-consciousness in workers participating in the MO34 project is an equally important factor.”
Accidents also happen in the office
Of course, accidents and hazardous events do not happen only on building sites. There is a risk in just walking around on roads, where people often slip, trip or fall – especially in winter.
Car drivers also need to pay attention to safety. Since SE’s fleet of over 500 service vehicles is in operation every day, clocking up an annual kilometrage of over 8 million kilometres, it is important to drive safely, to make sure that the vehicle’s speed matches road conditions and to take care when reversing or overtaking. It will surprise a lot of people, but safety is also a consideration when working in offices. An accident can happen when using the stairs or opening a window.
According to OS&H specialist Peter Štálnik, it is a question of responsibility to yourself and your environment: your family, your colleagues and even strangers whose fate could be affected by careless action. None of us wants to become a burden for those around us by seriously damaging our health at work, not to mention the financial costs. Likewise, none of us would want to go through life carrying the responsibility for having caused suffering to others. Unfortunately, we do not always think about the consequences of our actions in our daily work,” Štálnik warns.
Did you know that…
- under Article 36 of the Constitution of the Slovak Republic, every employee has the right to fair and satisfactory working conditions?
- a person dies for work-related reasons every four minutes in Europe?
- every year, around 8,900 people die as a result of work-related accidents and more than 7 million people suffer a work-related injury that makes them incapable for work for at least three days?
- the Labour Inspectorate in Nitra is responsible for supervising compliance with OS&H legislation in all nuclear installations in Slovakia?
(Source: Labour Inspectorate in Nitra)
Still little interest in safety
Slovenské elektrárne has made safety its priority. Not only have we implemented strict rules that we demand compliance with, but we organise many events to highlight the importance of health and safety. The most recent was the organisation of a company-wide Safety Day with each plant organising its own Safety Week at the same time.
Despite these efforts, Mada notes that sadly Slovakia as a whole lacks interest in occupational safety and health. A horrifying statistic is that labour inspectors have to investigate over 40 fatal accidents every year. They were most often caused by the use of unsafe working procedures or methods, including unauthorised actions. When work-related accidents involved a severe injury, the main cause was a deficiency in the personal requirements for performing work at the time of the accident (various indispositions, inattention etc.). Therefore, it is necessary to increase interest in the protection of health and safety at work, not only among employees but also in the public at large.
Work-related accidents need to be seen not just in terms of their adverse effects on a company’s wealth or large financial losses, but in many cases, unfortunately, also human misfortune, pain and suffering. “If occupational safety becomes something natural that always comes first for us, we are guaranteed to get home safely. We should think about this every day,” Mada emphasises. “Occupational safety is an integral part of work and the right to the protection of life and health is a fundamental right of every person.