OSH Matters

Growing interest in Occupational Safety and Health

OSH Challenges At The Classic Porsche Plant

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CARS – what’s not to love about them, the architecture, versatility, the revving of the engine just makes car lovers everywhere come alive! Though some may abhor to watch a documentary such as “Porsche 356- made by hand,” especially if soothing voices put you to sleep, but there is just something incredible about the very first Porsche that Mr. Ferdinand Porsche himself designed. The documentary shows the tools, precision, manpower and the art the technicians used to scrupulously hand build this special vehicle between the Reuter’s and Porsche neighbouring facilities. However, apart from the insightful knowledge about the rich and remarkable history of the first Porsche in history, we as agents of safety and health identified numerous OSH challenges throughout in the putting together of the Porsche 356.porsche-356_wallpaper_s07 (1)

Pictured is a Porsche 356 Super Speedster

Along with our love for 4 rolling wheels is our love for health and safety. Our main focal point to choosing this documentary is section IV 23(1) of the OSH act that states, all persons entering an area in an industrial establishment where they are likely to be exposed to the risk of head, eye, ear, hand or foot injury, injury from air contaminant or any other bodily injury, shall be provided with suitable protective clothing or devices of an approved standard and adequate instructions in the use of such protective clothing or devices, and no person shall be permitted to be in any such area unless he is wearing such protective clothing or device.

There was substantial evidence showing the breach of this regulation. At the beginning of the documentary, a very brief tour is given of the Porsche factory followed by a scene where we can see that as employees were cutting the steel sheets to form the body panels, they were only wearing a pair of gloves and moving their bodies around a very sharp blade that slices the sheets of steel like butter. After this, two more employees use a metal press to shape the cut sheets of steel into body panels.

The problem is, these employees were at great potential risk for injury. The employee cutting the sheets of steel should have been wearing long sleeve clothing as well so that if in the event his grip slips for some reason, there would have been reduced risk that he will suffer with a tear or cut to his skin but wait, there’s an even greater risk in that exact scene. By moving his hands with such a large piece of metal, he had reduced control over the sheet due to having to spread his hands out far to maintain a grip over the shape of the panel. Should he manage to lose control of the piece being cut, his wrist or arm could have been at risk for being sliced out cleanly! Porsche should have supplied this man performing such an important task with a hand held electric shears or a rotating base to reduce the severity and likelihood of the risk of him losing a limb.

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Two workers pressing a piece of sheet metal to form the curved deck lid with their hands in the path of the press.

Further, the employees operating the metal press should not have placed their hands beneath the press. By doing so, they were at great exposure for a crush injury whereby if the top of the press managed to drop, it would have crushed their thus flattening it along with the piece of steel sheet.  For the very least, they should have been supplied with tools to maneuver the panels without getting their hands in the way of the press.

After creating the panels, there was a scene where an employee is welding. He was not equipped with protective gloves, a protective body suit, welder’s jacket or coverall. The welder was also seen wearing a shirt with his sleeves rolled to his elbows. Here the welder was greatly exposing himself to burns from the sparks. Props to him for the full face mask too!

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                               Welder’s shirt sleeves are rolled till his elbow. No welder’s jacket. No gloves.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, two employees were seen with their safety goggles resting on their foreheads above their eyes, leaving their eyes unprotected and at risk of being injured or irritated whilst welding. Additionally, these workers appeared to be welding in the movie without the use of a full face mask.

Workers also experienced ergonomic hazards as they had to physically pick up and transport the frame of the car by hand in order for the floor pan to be completed. In so doing, there was also a fall hazard whereby if a floor pan slipped out from their grip and fell onto their toes, it could have crushed their toes. Transporting the frame by hand classifies as both an ergonomic hazard and a fall hazard. Why? Just think about how heavy one of those welded steel pans weighed in those days. It surely would have put a lot of pressure on those workers’ joints and muscles. For the very least, Reuter’s should have provided flat bed trolleys to move around the floor pans. Not only would it have removed the fall hazard completely but it would have also given the factory an advantage since only one worker would be needed to transport the chassis. It is worth mentioning that steel tipped boots would have been a great deterrent against damage to their toes.

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                                  Two workers grasping a 356 floor pan in their hands at the welding stations.

When a young person says they’re in the latest fashion and they call it ‘swag’, they are actually just following a very old fashion. Workers in the production line who performed the final bodywork before painting, wore no protective gear. Just like those who say they have ‘swag’ and wear there glasses atop their heads, so too did these employees wearing protective eye wear above the eyes promoting exposure to physical hazards – again (we digress these young people today are not the true inventors of what one calls ‘swag’ or what some see as failure). Due to the impact of using drills, hammers and files continuously during this process, employees were once again exposed to ergonomic hazards which may have led to ergonomic problems later on in their lives as a result of incessant pressure on their wrists, hands and back. Also, these employees were not comfortably resting on the body of the car which could have led to further possible muscular-skeletal disorders. Who knows what these men probably felt like after a day at work?

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Worker filing body by hand. No protective equipment or comfort.

Here are our solutions:

  • To alleviate this painful problem, 6a rotisserie which hoists the entire car at a suitable position above the ground can be utilized. The employee could then rotate the entire car three hundred and sixty degrees to achieve the same perfect finish in the metal structure but not suffer with as many ergonomic issues, if any at all.
  • Employees should have also been provided with comfortable seating stools which allowed them to continue their work on the car’s body without obstruction.

Typically, when we purchase a car or get into one we never really give any thought to the workers. After completing the assembly of the chassis, rubber seam sealant was applied to all welded seams to prevent premature rusting. No protective gear was observed to have been worn by employees which could have resulted in some form of chemical hazard. While spraying the tar based undercoating to the metal chassis, employees were not wearing any respirators, masks or eye goggles. The undercoating was sprayed out of an air gun and minute particles of tar in the air (overspray) could have entered the employees’ lungs. An acid wash was performed afterwards and the employee doing so exposed himself to very severe chemical burning of the skin as he was not seen wearing any personal protection equipment. All of the workers who did these jobs should have been provided by Porsche and Reuter’s  with full face masks to prevent any risk of chemical poisoning, burning or respiratory illnesses.

Furthermore, workers who applied two coats of lacquer based primer, which would have been lead based in the 1950s, did not wear any respiratory gear. They did wear coveralls which was a good practice (kudos).  Unfortunately, again, once the primer was applied, it was wet sanded by hand. The workers doing this were wearing short sleeved shirts or armless t-shirts and no gloves. This means that lead would have been absorbed into their skin which could have led to long term lead poisoning.

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             Wet sanding of primer coat by hand. Absolutely no PPE to protect against lead poisoning.

Based on lengthy discussions (this may be a bit exaggerated) among fellow agents we came up with some sound solutions. While we acknowledge that lead based paint has long been phased out of the automotive industry, it would have been very simple for the Porsche factory to supply workers with non-absorbent gloves and coveralls.

You would think that that is all, but wait there is more – more chemical hazards. Prevalent during the engine specification and inspection process, gasoline, also known as, petrol, was used as the liquid to measure the displacement of each cylinder chamber. One employee would pour gasoline into cylinder chambers in order to measure the overall displacement of the engine to determine whether it was in line with production specifications. It seems that the Porsche production facility did not value the safety against chemical hazards as this employee also did not wear any protection.

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                                                                Gasoline within the cylinder heads

As agents of health and safety we would have kindly recommended the provision of fire retardant gear or the use of another substance such as water or a light velocity oil to eliminate the risk of the employee or surroundings catching on fire.

What is more, they have fanned the flame of disaster in waiting. Along the engine assembly line, workers appeared to be sweating as their skin seemed to be extraordinarily shiny as if coated with sweat. This raises many concerns about ventilation and whether the design of the plant was providing suitable ventilation for employees – not enough fresh air. Once more, a direct violation of the OSH Act since there was inadequate amounts of fresh air in the building. Our simple solution would have been to install more fans, create more ventilation passage ways or simply, as is what actually happened – installing air conditioning as time passed and the technology developed.

 

Also, it may seem that the employees of the company did not really like to be able to hear or maybe they loved the unique sound that only a Porsche engine can make. To a car enthusiast, engines are the music that make their hairs stand on edge.  Once the engines were assembled, they were tested on the bench and given horsepower ratings. No ear protection devices were worn – yes you read right, no ear plugs or ear muffs worn. What was not made obvious in the video is that the Super90 is a very loud 4 cylinder, 4 stroke gasoline engine.  Employees who were exposed to this noise for the long term may have suffered with noise induced hearing loss. According to the National Institute for Safety and Health in North America, the safest noise level that is tolerable with minimal hearing damage to human hearing is a level below eighty five decibels per eight hours of work.

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                 Employee testing the ever famous Super90 racing engine on the bench.
                Where is his safety gear? Where is the sound isolated testing boot?

There is no problem in life that does not have a solution, so here is ours, as a first line of defense, Porsche could have attempted to eliminate the noise by connecting the engines to a full exhaust system that would imitate the one placed on the cars which would have included a silencer to quiet the engine down significantly. Added to that, ear muffs would have further helped to bring the noise level to an acceptable standard.

There is an end to every problem – so here’s the end of the list of problems in this video. Towards the end of the documentary we observed high shelves stacked with material and tools within a very close proximity to the workers which can fall and cause injury. On the final assembly line, each 356 was moved on dollies which hoisted the car in the air so that workers were able to work underneath the car. These dollies were not structurally sound and were seen shaking in the final moments of assembly during the video.  Lastly during the installation of drive train,  the transmission was manually fitted by an employee hoisting the transmission into place with one leg and his arms while two workers stood beside the car supporting the assembly by gripping the spindles from beneath.  Not only was this practice one of the most ridiculous in the entire video, it was also a lifting hazard since transmissions are made of cast iron and are extremely heavy. There was the opportunity for a lot to go wrong during this phase of assembly.

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Transmission is being mated and bolted into place by one employee supporting it with his knee and two others                                                at the side of the car holding the spindles. Are they insane?

What is the best solution for this heroic act?

  • The most cost effectively and safe solution to such a problem would be to use a transmission hoist.

Finally we have crossed the finish line, the chequered flag has been waved.  It is worth mentioning that we have assessed and looked at the rich history of the assembly of the Porsche 356. There are many revisions of this popular car with most people saying that it is a car that creates emotions. We were happy to see their spotless attention to fine details whilst saddened by the lack of mitigating risks to health and safety (by the way we are not pregnant for those who think pregnant women have mixed emotions). Lastly, health and safety is not something to take for granted, the damage and loss of human life for bad practices at the workplace can never truly be repaid.

Our Sources:

Discovery of Documentary: http://www.trinimotors.com

Porsche 356 – Made By Hand Documentary:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbFu1r_erw0

Picture of 356 Super Speedster: https://porschemania.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/porsche-356_wallpaper_s07.jpg

Picture of Classic Car On Rotisserie: http://www.rhphoto.com/rotisserie/rotisserie_straight2.jpg

Occupational Noise Exposure Level: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/noisehearingconservation/

The OSH Act of Trinidad & Tobago as Amended 2006

All other pictures courtesy the documentary

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2 thoughts on “OSH Challenges At The Classic Porsche Plant

  1. This was quite an interesting article. Early car manufacturing processes would have been riddled with OSH hazards, many of which you would have pointed out. Car manufacturers, employees, and regulators alike would have become aware of hazards as accident and incident rates began to climb, and these would have become change drivers encouraging change. Over the years adaptations would have been made to manufacturing and testing processes, personal protective equipment and devices, health practices, and OSH standards and legislation. In fact standards have changed so much that we, who are not in the industry, can look at some of the accepted best-practices of the time as shown in this video and comment about how “insane” they appear!
    Here are a couple of examples to illustrate how far safety practices have come in today’s world. (1) Bulletproof glass was once tested by having one person hold the pane of glass out in front of their unprotected body while another shot repeatedly at the glass! just google “early bulletproof glass testing” to see it yourself. Similar approaches were used to test bulletproof vests (they shot at the wearer!) (2) In the 1930s, one way Londoners ensured that babies got fresh air was to let the baby play inside a baby cage suspended outside your house’s window, possible several stories up in the air! (google “baby cage”).
    One additional hazard that would have arisen from spraying coatings and filing metal surfaces would have been aerosols and fine dusts that would be breathed into the lungs. These could have been chemical hazards (toxic, mutagenic, carcingenic, etc.) or simply physical hazards. Another ergonomic hazard that is inherent in what you described would be unnatural body positions sustained over extended periods of time. These would have caused stress injuries; imagine staying bent forward and leaning down 30 degrees from the waist for just thirty minutes and how stiff you would be afterward. What would someone who did this for most of an 8 or 12 hour shift suffer from in terms of circulation, muscle strain, stress, and pain?

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    • Hi mnbalkission. In response to your question,someone who performed this job for 8 or 12 hour shifts would suffer from occupational cervicobrachial disorders. Which includes:

      -muscles strain. This is a twist, pull or tear of a muscle or tendon. The muscle strain can range from mild to severe. Mild is a first degree strain which is a tear of a few muscle fibers with little swelling. Secondly, moderate or second degree strain could arise causing more damage to the muscle or tendon. Also severe or third degree strains which is a tear that goes along the length of the muscle rendering the person unable to use the muscle at all. This would be particularly common for lower back and leg muscles due to the bending over pose.

      -arthralgia, which is a pain in the joints can happen as well. Again, this would be localized to knee joints, ankles, wrist joints and possibly elbow joints from incessant back and forth motion where it would create a lot of strain and pressure on these joints.

      -decreased blood supply. Standing in such positions for such long hours reduces the supply of blood to the loaded muscles doing the work. It can cause fatigue and pain to leg, back and neck muscles. Additionally anyone working in that position for the given time would experience severe muscle cramps, possibly numbness, throbbing and sharp pains in their limbs. Blurry vision, dizziness, mental confusion and nausea may also result due to a lack of blood supply.

      -varicose veins may develop in which the veins become enlarged and twisted causing swelling of the legs and discomfort. Although not a serious medical condition, varicose veins may become worse over time and cause skin ulcers. Symptoms include sores on the leg, colour changes, rashes and a burning or aching sensation in the leg. Treatment for this disorder includes the use of compression stockings which squeezes the veins thereby aiding the movement of the blood. Also, elevation of the legs for 15 minutes 3-4 times a day can help reduce swelling.

      -sciatica can occur. This refers to a pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve which branches from the lower back through the hips and buttocks. It is caused by the compression of lumbar nerves and usually affects one side of the lower body and can sometimes extend to the foot or toes. Sciatica can also be caused by trauma to the spine which can result from accidents at the workplace. Sciatica pain can be alleviated by pain relievers such as aspirin and antidepressants for chronic lower back pain.

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