Climbing skills under control

When Christian Stolberg goes to work, it’s time to climb. He climbs 60 meters high on a steel lattice mast. After each step, he must re-hook his safety rope. Only then will he proceed. Whilst the power line he must work on is switched off, 380,000 volts crackle through the wires on the other side, a mere ten meters away. He hears the humming of the highest voltage running through German power grids and feels its vibrations.

When working at extreme heights, all safety rules must be observed.

Thus it’s no surprise that the overhead line installers of Cteam Consulting & Anlagenbau from Ummendorf in Baden-Wuerttemberg are extremely meticulous about their safety. The theme is always present and an important part of the briefing of the 26-man squad. Briefing at the construction site and Cteam’s construction depot In Biblis, route construction manager Ernst Lueger describes the work required and the hazards involved: falling parts, damaged tools and live components. All safety rules when working at heights must be observed. There is a translation for the Croatian team members.

This is standard operating procedure. Not quite today though. Andreas Geiger from DEKRA’s Organizational Reliability and his colleague Thomas Fischer did not just attend an introductory meeting and instruction. They will accompany Cteam’s crew throughout the day at the construction site and look at the safety precautions taken in practice. This is followed by an assessment of the safety and mindset of the building site’s personnel, along with cultural aspects.

Certified Safety Culture

The background to the audit is the five-level Safety Culture Ladder (SCL), a certifiable standard for corporate safety culture. One of the four German transmission system operators, TenneT, uses SCL as a measure to increase the safety awareness of its workforce and that of contractors such as Cteam, and ultimately achieve the highest safety rating. Cteam is based in the Upper Swabian district of Biberach and employs a total of 455 people, 269 of which are involved in overhead line construction. Both DEKRA safety experts support the company in optimizing the structures and also to improve its ranking position. “TenneT is the driving force. The company wants to come in at level four, the second best category. To do this, suppliers must reach level three”, explains Benjamin Gick, project manager at DEKRA Assurance Services. Suppliers who control their safety structures are not just line builders. The entire business spectrum is required. Consultants also observe work on wind turbines or on cable railways. “We are not engaged because we really seek to uncover something,” says DEKRA’s Andreas Geiger. Instead, he sees his task as figuring out how safety is experienced inside the company, and how it can be further developed together.

Experiencing safety in the company and developing structures together.

Whatever the Weather

The same as it was on this day. Cteam’s project task is to upgrade two 380-kilovolt six-kilometer circuits with new conductors. The gigantic insulators must also be replaced. Light-blue plastic elements replace the brown ceramic insulators. The masts on which the overhead line engineers work reaches 50 to 70 meters high, i.e. two church towers on top of each other. Men carry heavy tools and bear safety equipment on their bodies, which alone weigh about 30 kilograms. It does not seem to bother them that it’s freezing down on the ground that day. Several layers of clothing, windproof jackets and goggles make up for that. The climbers – many come from Austria – are in a good mood, and everyone agrees. This job is fun. Work is done whatever the weather. They will only stay on the ground when there is ice and strong wind gusts.

Paying attention to each other is paramount

Auditor and client: On-site inspections provide safety experts with key insights. Safety training is mandatory.

Whether upward up or downward: The heavy safety equipment – weighing up to 30 kilograms – is always on hand.

Vital safety check: All work equipment is tested before use.

Mindful Cooperation

SCL experts conduct the first round of inspections in the construction warehouse. Any damaged tools are locked away here in boxes. Heavy cable drums are secured with wedges to prevent them rolling away. And Thomas Fischer likes that. But what about the Croatian staff, do they really pick up all the hints? No problem: Some speak good German and pass on the information to their colleagues. What is more, the company offers German language courses. Route Construction Manager Ernst Lueger: “If I’m not sure if a colleague has got that right – I’ll drive out and have a look.”

Bringing major potential hazards under control: But small things may also lead to accidents.

Michael Schürle is Head of Integrated Management System at Cteam, responsible for quality and EHS. He points out that the entry training for new employees has been extended from three days to one week. Respecting each other mutually was a matter of course for the men and also a task of their managers. The team also receives a bonus if it remains work accident-free for half a year. And: The biggest potential dangerslike electricity and height are not the problem. They have that under control. For example, unsecured climbing is a reason for dismissal at Cteam. It’s rather the little things that lead to accidents: One stumbles over a tool, the other engages without a glove in a wire reel.

A few minutes later, it becomes clear which details can be decisive. The fitter on mast 14 has roped off material, including a carrying sling. This has too much “slippage” and can no longer be used. To ensure this is the case, an employee makes that part unusable with a knife. Actually, all actions of an exemplary nature. But he does so with a knife of which the safety expert disapproves. Is there no other option, a bolt cutter, or maybe a pair of scissors? Everyone gives it a thought.

Practice-Based Approach

At the closing meeting conclusion, Andreas Geiger’s and Thomas Fischer’s conclusions are entirely positive: “People here know what they are doing, they feel safe, and there is no nervous hustle and bustle on the job site.” Needless to say, Cteam’s management is glad to hear such assessment and also draw a positive balance. Finally, a close-to-reality observation on site proves far more effective than theoretical standardization rules.

3 Questions for Lothar Weihofen

Lothar Weihofen

Executive Vice President DEKRA Group, Service Division Consulting

How can companies reduce the number of accidents even further? Lothar Weihofen, Executive Vice President DEKRA Group, Service Division Consulting, comments: Corporate culture is the key to greater safety.

Why do workplace accidents still occur?

For many companies, the actual drivers behind health and safety are the desire for compliance and customer requirements. But in the minds and hearts of management and employees, the understanding of safe and healthy working is probably insufficient. Safety is a guarantor for reliable work processes and satisfied employees.

How can corporate culture improve safety?

Systematically developing a business further through behavior and understanding about the context of trust and responsibility preparedness of all management and employees has a measurable effect on performance.

Where can we make improvements?

Experienced safety shows in dropping accident rates and absence rates. We have measured success with many customers also with concrete values. Improvements in safety, behavior-based quality or accident rates of 25 to 50 percent are generally realistic targets.