Safety Inspections & Parking Lot

April 2016, Safety inspections on the 37 most frequently used hoists in the plant. As a result of our discussions with the company, pointing out to them the reasons these hoists require a monthly inspection as recommended by the manufacturer, the company has agreed and will resume inspecting them on a monthly basis. In addition, the TIS’s have been rewritten to reflect the manufacturer’s recommendations for daily inspections of all hoists that are used in the plant. We must now determine the level of training individuals require, and who will perform these daily checks. This issue is still being discussed, and we will report the outcome in our next report.

We’ve had a rash of lock out violations resulting in discipline recently that has everyone concerned. While it is true that a certain manager has seen the majority of these safety violations, he is not the cause of the infractions, he is the one noticing them. The one good thing to come from this is everyone is now asking questions; asking about ASA’s and task creep, CAP’s and Energy Controls procedures. If you don’t know, ask. Ask your G/L, T/L or Co-workers; ask you’re Health and Safety Reps. If you’re not satisfied with their answer, escalate your concern; use your Business Team’s SPQRC board. Our plant safety policies are all available on-line. It should be relatively easy for your managers to get you the correct information.

One example of asking questions happened in GF6 gears, when 2 employees were given the task of adjusting a pressure switch inside a machine with power on. When they looked at the ASA affixed to the machine, there were 3 tasks listed on the placard but adjusting this pressure switch was not one of them. They escalated their concern to their G/L, who contacted engineering. Engineering wrote a TIS for adjusting the pressure switch, then added this to a new ASA. The employees then went ahead and did the job. The TIS was added to the production TIS binder in the team room, and a Permanent Change Notice was generated so everyone was made aware of the change, including maintenance employees. The concern was escalated all the way to the Business Team Manager and generated a lot of fuss, but this is what the employees felt was necessary to keep them from being caught in a lock-out violation for task creeping an ASA, and costing them three days’ pay.

Our parking lot has become a dangerous place to park our vehicles. As we are all aware, professional car thieves have targeted the Niagara and Hamilton areas, and in particular our parking lot, for stealing trucks and other valuable parts, such as rims and tires, because the risk of being caught by police is low. They often enter our lot during shift changes, in stolen vehicles and can steal a truck as quick as if they had the key. Our security guards are not equipped, trained or tasked to confront and apprehend these thieves, because they may possibly be armed and dangerous. They are quick, clever and ruthless, and the NRP has had difficulty catching them. The risks are evident and it must be acknowledged our members feel unsafe walking to their vehicles at night in between shifts, for example if they have worked an extension of shift and are leaving the plant alone at 2:30am. Therefore we are requesting that Security personnel be made available to walk our members to their vehicles if requested, as a temporary solution to this concern until a more permanent one can be found.

This concern was raised by members of Team 1 on Gen 5 Assembly, when they expressed their fear for their safety if they encounter these criminals on their way to their vehicles. The team was successful getting this officially submitted as a safety concern on their SPQRC board. They also called George Moses, who escalated the concern to the Plant Manager. Other business teams have tried, and were told there is no place on the SPQRC board for this concern, because it does not relate to production. GM’s position for years has been, that they are not responsible for damage or theft of our property on their property. However, the company’s own policy, Supervisor’s Guide to Bill 168 – Workplace Violence and Harassment states, “Employers must take every precaution reasonable in every circumstance to protect workers. This includes protecting workers from the hazard of workplace violence [OSHA 25(2)(h)].” Whether it relates to production or not, the parking lot is an extension of our workplace. The Union has met with the company and the NRP and discussion is ongoing. We are waiting for the company’s response on this issue, and will discuss that response in our next report.

Prismatics gantries have been a big area of concern for GF6 maintenance since the Dec. work refusal, when some Urane machines in Prismatics were reprogrammed to allow a parallel process. The employees felt unsafe working inside the machines while the gantry was working overhead and they didn’t trust that program changes wouldn’t send the gantry in to pick up a part, piercing the overhead door while they were inside. The Ministry of Labour investigator ordered the workers back to work after concluding that the overhead door locking system was adequate to keep the doors closed, and that there are layers of safety controls wired into the gantry system. The Ministry encouraged the value of the torque limit be discussed with the workers to ensure the value is set at a limit that will not cause the gantry to pierce the overhead cover. However, as the Ministry didn’t order the company to reduce the torque limit, the company is under no legal obligation to comply and address the workers concerns.

There was a lack of communication on many levels of this issue that failed to address or even discuss the workers concerns, and as a result the next time these workers were asked to work inside a machine without locking out the gantry, they again refused to work. Due to the fact the Ministry had already ruled on the issue and declared it not likely to endanger, the workers were disciplined for failing to follow a directive of management.

Since this unfortunate event, the Union has been able to argue the lack of communication contributed to the workers unease, so the company has taken steps to address the concerns we outlined in last month’s report

  1. As encouraged by the Ministry, the torque limit (TL) on all Prismatics gantries has been reduced to 50% or 24 amps of current. The minimum level to operate was found to be 35%, so the level was bumped up to 50% to eliminate nuisance faults. This setting will be effective for controlling the gantry force exerted on the initial travel stroke going down, from just after home position to 6” past the overhead doors. The gantry is in a vertical free fall for 3/4 of the down stroke inside the machine, then to slow its descent until it reaches the pallet, the current is reversed and the gantry is in a negative current condition. If the gantry makes contact, with say a part already in the fixture, the gantry will switch to a positive current condition and try to drive through the part until it faults out. This is why we will see damage to the end of arm tooling when smash-ups occur inside the machines. The TL past the doors to the end of stroke is set at 100% or 48 amps, as this is the current required to slow the gantry going down, and to drive it up to home position.
  2. With the TL value set at 50%, engineering is reluctant to bump up that value if nuisance faults appear at this level, preferring that maintenance deal with the cause of the fault. The value is held in the gantry NC, is difficult to find and is password protected, but with a common password. A note warning not to change the TL value without consulting engineering, has been added to the code line relating to the TL in the PLC.
  3. The most important step taken is the development of a test to provide feedback to the workers and prove the integrity of the safety circuitry. After locking out a Urane machine, the machine gantry will display messages on the gantry “parallel/series process” HMI screen, stating the gantry has lost its ability to communicate with the machine, and won’t be allowed to cycle to it. On this screen, we will then disable the gantry to that machine, which tells the gantry it is OK to load the parallel machine. The layers of safety controls wired into the gantry system will not allow the gantry to go to the locked out machine. We can verify that the gantry is disabled by testing this function. We can try to change the disable parameter by trying to enable the gantry to the machine, proving the integrity of the safety circuit. Also, locking out the gantry will no longer change the disable function back to default; it will stay disabled if it was disabled before lock out.

This test goes beyond what the Ministry encouraged the company to do, and should alleviate the workers concerns. This test is currently only available on Torque 1 gantry 2, but will be rolled out to all Prismatics gantries within a short time. New lockout maps will reflect the change in the test procedure.