At a time when Covid-19 fears have disquieted corporates across sectors, Tata Steel BSL has put in a place a novel system to keep its workers safe from the deadly contagion.
The company has partnered global consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to implement ‘Tata Steel BSL Kavach’. Over 60 days into its initiation and roll out, the Corona proof system has proven to be fool proof to this date. More so at a time when peers like public sector Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) and JSW Steel are trying hard to scale up in a ‘new normal’ with Covid-19 positive cases rising within their workforce.
“BCG worked with us during the phase of acquisition of BSL by Tata Steel. We engaged them as part of the improvement process as to what we could do to operate in a new normal amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Every day, we had discussions with the BCG team which worked from home. They have helped us design the whole thing," said Subodh Pandey, chief operating officer, Tata Steel BSL.
‘Tata Steel BSL Kavach’ is a six-layered system, catering to government, supplies and operations protocols. The company’s intent was to modularise the whole workforce into small, self-contained units called ‘pods’. Each pod can have from two to a maximum of 10 workers. The workers are skilled enough to manage the operations within a pod without depending on their counterparts in other pods. This helps curb inter-pod movement. A pod can be a control room or a Hot Strip Mill (HSM). The latest system to ring fence the workers from Covid-19 is operational across Tata Steel BSL facilities- Sahibabad in NCR, Meramandali (Odisha), Khopoli (Maharashtra) and other units.
People within a pod have very limited cross movement and interaction. To reduce the risk of contamination across shifts, a 30-minute air gap is maintained between two shifts. Fifteen minutes before the shift ends, employees rigorously sanitize their work areas and tools and exit through designated gates. The next shift enters 15 minutes later through a separate gate, wherever possible and once again cleans the work area and tools before use. If any worker within a pod is infected, the entire pod is quarantined but functions at other pods continue uninterrupted.
However, certain functions of a steel complex entail cross movement of workers, which runs the risk of pod breaches.
“Maintenance is one classic example where a pod breach is unavoidable. In that case, we have defined a set of Rules. We documented the pod breaches. Then, full sanitisation of the pod was taken up before it resumed activity”, he said.
For Tata Steel BSL, one of the critical challenges was to avoid paper work as paper is a potential mode of virus transmission. The company decided that no pod breaches should surface due to work permits issued manually. The work permits are now completely digitised. The company also stopped punching by employees when they exited the plant premises. Moreover, drones are engaged to oversee if workers conform to ‘social distancing’ norms.
Also, Tata Steel BSL is phasing out RFID based punching system at the plant entry gates. This will be replaced by an infra-red scanner equipped with Face Recognition System.
“The new system to be installed at the entry gate will be contactless. If any worker tries to enter the gate without a face mask, he can be detected,” Pandey said.
The entire employee strength of around 28,000 at Tata Steel BSL has been split into 2000 pods across locations. The initiative was launched on April 20 this year by Rajiv Singhal, managing director, Tata Steel BSL.
At the time of roll out, it was tough to get the system running and getting the large pool of workers attuned to it. The face masks were sourced from SHGs (Self Help Groups) in villages.
“Initially, there was a lot of communication. There was a safety supervisor chosen from the contractual workforce. He started coaching the people on Rules to operate the pod and audited their performance. We also have a pod leader who is responsible for the behaviour of the people,” Pandey said.