In an industry where employees face potential hazards regularly, it’s important for utilities companies to provide the right safety equipment. However, it’s possible to do this while still working to an efficient MRO strategy 

“When people are harmed by work it leads to pain and suffering for individuals and their families, disruption and damaged reputations for companies and costs to the whole economy that make businesses, and Britain, less competitive.” These were the words of the UK’s former minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, in the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) recent report ‘Helping Great Britain work well’[1].
 
The report acknowledges the issues that British businesses have surrounding workplace safety and looks to provide a strategy to reduce the cost of work injuries to the country. A comprehensive report by the HSE in 2014 estimated workplace injuries cost £4.9 billion per year, which equates to £1.6 million per fatal injury and £7,500 per non-fatal injury2.
"Companies can ensure the standard of safety equipment by working with trusted suppliers that only stock quality branded products"Chris Cruise, Industry Sector Manager, RS
Protecting workers is absolutely vital in any industry, but it’s particularly pertinent in the utilities sector. There are few industries with as many potentially hazardous working environments – workers at the UK’s major utilities firms regularly deal with high-voltage electricity, gas and large machinery, and work at heights too.
 
Aside from the emotional toll it takes on an organisation, the serious injury or death of an employee is also costly for both the reputation of a company, and the potential fines and competition it might face if mistakes are made leading to an accident. As such, utilities firms need to focus on reducing the risk of accidents.
 
Protecting staff is paramount
When it comes to protecting staff, there are two main areas to concentrate on, says Chris Cruise, Industry sector manager at RS. “Firstly, it’s essential to offer employees appropriate training, which all companies should be providing and constantly reviewing to make sure it’s fit for purpose,” he says. “And secondly, you need to look at the equipment people are using on a daily basis.”
 
Quality safety equipment can range from personal protection equipment (PPE), such as harnesses and boots, to high-tech electrical equipment that is gas-safe – all of which needs to be fully compliant with safety regulations and approved for the work users will be doing. “When it comes to safety equipment, the first priority is clearly the quality of those products,” explains Cruise. “Companies can ensure the standard of this equipment by working with trusted suppliers that only stock quality branded products.”
 
Efficient MRO processes
In addition to quality, however, it is still important that utilities companies achieve good value for money and look at running an efficient MRO procurement process. “Most people involved with procurement are aware that it’s more cost-effective to consolidate suppliers to just a few trusted companies,” says Cruise. “However, when it comes to safety equipment there is often a misconception that you need to go to specialist suppliers outside your normal agreed list, or individual safety purchases are devolved to individuals who purchase from non-approved suppliers.
 
“This is understandable to an extent, because when comes to equipment, the first priority is quality – you want to make sure that the products you buy are from a reputable brand and that the product has all the relevant documentation,” Cruise adds. “Once you know the product you want, the next areas you should consider are price and delivery, and this is where smaller, more specialist suppliers often fall down.”
 
This is an area where larger suppliers such as RS can offer a valuable service that meets safety criteria, while also fitting in with a company’s overall MRO strategy. “We have the breadth of stock (which includes the majority of safety equipment, including ATEX-approved devices) while being able to offer a competitive price and next-day delivery,” says Cruise. “If an engineer has broken a key piece of safety equipment, then they won’t be able to do their job until that has been replaced, so delivery time can be crucial.”
 
For the individuals actually purchasing safety equipment, clarity around the products and a streamlined ordering system are also very important. Cruise says: “Another advantage of a larger supplier such as RS is the quality of our digital purchasing portal, which will contain all the safety information and documentation for the customer to view before making a purchase, while the purchase itself is as straightforward as making a consumer purchase on a website such as Amazon.”