Presentation 7: Workplace design for better health, safety, wellness and productivity at NOJA Power - a case study

Jay ManneRabiul Alam

Presented by: Jay Manne and Rabiul Alam (NOJA Power)

Run time: 35:01

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Presentation 7: Workplace design for better health, safety, wellness and productivity at NOJA Power - a case study

Presented by: Jay Manne and Rabiul Alam (NOJA Power) 

[Start of transcript]

Jane Stevens:

Okay. Welcome everyone to our third session in the back to basics stream, stream one, Workplace Design for Better Health, Safety, Wellness and Productivity at NOJA Power. I’d like to introduce Jay Manne and Rabiul Alam. My name is Jane Stevens and I’m from WorkCover Queensland.

Jay is the Director of Engineering and one of the founders of NOJA Power. He has been intimately involved in the design of the production lines and processes since the inception of NOJA Power. Rabiul is the Quality and Safety Manager at NOJA Power, having been there for seven years. Rabiul has a PhD in mechanical engineering.

Today Jay and Rabiul will discuss how NOJA Power uses production engineering to reduce the risk of injury on a high-voltage electrical switchgear production line. Please join me in welcoming Jay and Rabiul to the stage.


Jay Manne:

Thank you Jane. Okay, well to get right on to it, so the company name is NOJA Power. We’ve been around since 2002. We manufacture medium voltage switchgear and have a factory here at Murarrie. We’re sort of in that small to medium going on large size. We have about 200 employees and our factory has expanded quite a bit since 2002 when it was just the four of us. And there’s been a growing awareness of injuries and downtime and what you need to do to prevent them, sort of starting from training people better, which as we just heard doesn’t always work, and then focusing on actually making the task more suited to repetition. That seems to be the main issue.

We can have tasks that if you do it once or twice it’s no problem, but at the moment takt times on our production line – that is production line, pieces move from one station to the next, and in general we try and have them move every 30 minutes. So whatever you’re doing now you’re doing again in 30 minutes’ time, and that progresses throughout the entire factory.

So our vision, which was the previous slide, is to be the world leader in pole manufacture of switchgear. It’s a bit of a niche thing, but it’s something we work towards, where our mission is to offer our customers integrated solutions using innovative products combined with unrivalled service and reliability worldwide.

So this was actually one of the very first things we came up with when we were designing our company, and we sort of built everything around that. So when you consider our customers to also involve the people that work for us, our workers, then it sort of becomes part of that as well. We need to design their work so that it’s easier to do and so that they can do it comfortably and they can continue to do it productively, as also mentioned next door.

So one of the things that has helped enormously is that concept of management buy-in. So that’s the five people that make up the board of directors at NOJA Power. Neil O’Sullivan, the second from the right, is the Managing Director, and every single workplace incident goes past him. Certainly he will look at what happened. He will look at the analysis of why it happened, and also he will look at what’s being done to prevent it happening again. And he can be quite critical about these. He takes his responsibilities, his legal responsibilities as Director quite seriously. So certainly I would agree very much that management buy-in is very necessary to be able to effect the changes that sometimes are required.

So a bit about us. So we’re electrical switchgear engineers and contractors. That product that you see up there on the top left hand screen, that goes up on power poles from 11,000 to 33,000 volts, and that is pretty much what we do. We’re one of a dozen manufacturers worldwide. As I say it’s a niche market. There is an enormous amount of intellectual property associated with the electronics and the software that goes into it, but fundamentally it’s that device which we manufacture in various different shades and colours, but as long as they’re all grey.

And the point I’m making here is that we’re reasonably successful. Our turnover is around the $50 million mark, and it’s designed around this one product. So the manufacture of this has been the focus, and I’m particularly interested in lean manufacture. For those of you not familiar with the term, it’s just about making it as efficient as possible. You strip out all the waste, and whether that be wasted time or wasted components or wasted complexity of design, all of that comes under investigation.

A very simple example. The first production line that I developed, we had the situation where we had stuff being built along one wall and stuff being built over here. So we worked out that in the course of a month the guys were walking hundreds of kilometres backwards and forwards between here and where they were working. So that was a very straightforward thing to fix, but not always that easy.

But lean manufacture is generally about making things as efficient as possible, and that includes not breaking your workforce.

So since we started making these things, we’ve made about 40,000 to date, and we keep making them at the rate of about 500 a month all the time. We export to 85 countries, and as I keep saying, it’s the niche nature of this particular product is that it’s utilised when a country is starting up an electricity grid. Reclosers are an integral part of that. And it’s used when you’ve got a first world country wanting to automate and bring more efficiencies into their grid. So from that point of view we’re very well placed to export.

So it goes up on power poles. This is what they look like. For those of us like me in the industry, that tends to be my holiday snaps. So I take pictures of different power poles. Sometimes I get the kids in them, but not always.


But the idea of these two photos is the juxtaposition of the conditions. So you have -40 degrees on one side and you have +40 degrees on the other side. So the engineering associated with getting that same product to work in those harsh environments relies on good engineering, good quality and repetition of exactly the same method of building.

So you can use them in substations. It’s always that same box. And we have various innovative aspects to it. There’s a hell of a lot that goes into the software and the control. We have remote apps that allow you to operate it remotely. The danger is that when you close that device you go from one side being unenergised to being energised. If there’s a fault in it, it is possible that you can get a surge down the earth and that can affect the operator of the control. So closing these things remotely is the safest way to do it, so we have apps to do that as well.

So this is a shot of our factory at Murarrie. We manufacture there in the left hand side building and we warehouse in the right hand side building, and they’re joined by a forklift path. We’re currently investigating ways to automate that to increase efficiencies but to reduce the repetitive nature of that particular task.

We also have a manufacturing facility in Brazil where they do final stage assembly and local customisation for these products.

So look at what we do. So it’s a production line layout, and it’s designed very much that product flows from one end where it starts as basic parts all the way down through where it ends up as finished product. And this concept of takt time is very important for us. We look at what manufacture rate we want out of the production line and we break it down into those 30 minute in this case slots, and we work out what has to be done on each workstation to do that.

So we also have fairly significant testing facilities. Because our kit is subjected to lightning strikes, we’ll test up to 600kV impulse. We’ll do 200kV power frequency. We do all sorts of fairly fancy testing that can be very dangerous. So part of the integral culture that we have and we’ve developed from day one is this aspect of safety, mainly because electricity will kill you, so dealing with it safely is quite important. And we haven’t had any electrocutions. So we’ve made 40,000 of these things. We’ve been working on this site for 15 years and we’ve not had an electrocution. We’ve had musculoskeletal injuries, but we’ve had nothing associated with the electrical side of things. And that’s sort of reflective of the fact that we were very well aware of those dangers when we started. The dangers of the repetitive type work is something that really only dawned on us as we started getting exposed to those sort of injuries.

We also take – again at a management level we take health and wellbeing of our staff quite seriously in that we encourage exercise and we encourage good eating and nutrition. We have annual talks from nutritionists and the like to provide input to people as to how they can improve their health, and we do things like we provide free food for all our people, all our workers, and we do regular Bridge to Brisbane and the odd dragon boat race and all that sort of thing. In general the idea being that a healthier workforce is a happier workforce, and certainly in our experience that is the case. And it also affects the bottom line. So it can be argued that a little bit of investment to ensure that doesn’t hurt. Our fruit program costs us somewhere up at $30,000 a year, but there’s no particular cost cutting desire. So we don’t want to cut everybody back down to half an apple day for instance. We’re quite happy for them to continue having that apple a day or a banana or whatever it is that they prefer. But the idea is that you can actually justify expenditure into this area if you have upper management that aren’t so sure.

So we’ve won a fair few awards along the way, and we are recognised as having a product that is reliable and innovative and sort of world class in what it does.

So we have staff from 30 different countries. So apart from having things like the physical differences in size – so we have people ranging from 1.5 metres to 2 metres tall – we also have a lot of cultural variations. So a cultural appreciation of safety can be quite different in Australia to what it is in Vietnam or in Bangladesh or in Brazil for that matter. So that’s something that also has to be taken into account when looking at how to improve layouts. So as I said we do a continuous flow. We do lean and ergonomics as much as we can in the design, and we apply these various tools. And the idea is to make them quicker, more efficient and with less waste.

So things like keeping everything in order is very important. So having a clean factory means that you can generally see if there’s something that’s going to be a problem or is presenting a problem. And there are various tools that do that. You have things like – traditionally known as 5S. So you have sort, shine, set in order, standardise and sustain. So we’ve included safety in that as an integral part of what we do, so as when we’re analysing a particular task or designing a new one, safety joins the other five S’s as being as important.

We also run a system called Kanban. Again for those of you not in the manufacturing industry, Kanban is a Japanese philosophy that started with Toyota, and it basically means visual signal. So the idea that we take from Kanban is that we have – see those blue bins? Each one is labelled with a part number. There’s actually two of those, one in the front and one at the back. When the one at the front is depleted of parts, the guy takes the empty bin and puts it into a container on the floor and starts using from the bin at the back. The storeman comes through once a day, picks up anything in that container, takes it over, fills it and brings it back. And that just means that they constantly have parts. And the way that we do it, the storeman goes behind the workstation so there’s no interruption to fill it.

So this to me is one of the crucial aspects of lean manufacture. There’s nothing to this idea. It’s so simple but it’s so effective. We can handle something like 1,860 parts, never running out, just by using this two bin process. Bins at $3 a pop start to be very expensive when you rack it up in terms of dollar value, but the efficiencies you get from that simple idea is most certainly well worth the expense. And that’s again this concept of having something effective against the pushback of, ‘This is too expensive. We can’t implement this. This will cost too much’. That’s a very common thing to work with.

So this is an example of a hoist.

So this bit of kit weighs 18 kilos. So 18 kilos isn’t a particularly heavy lift. It’s sort of borderline as to what would be considered a heavy lift. But there’s three of these in every device, so that means that you’re actually doing this lift every 10 minutes throughout the day. And it just becomes one of those things that because it’s also a little bit difficult to pick up, you can’t sort of get your arms around it properly, you end up carrying it out here and it just gets difficult. So Pia’s one of our 1.56 size workers, and so she is able to lift it quite easily.

And from an engineering point of view, the clever things about that is associated with that little kick at the top where the lifting ring actually goes at the end of that lever arm, and that makes the whole thing lift vertical, and the fact that it’s held on just by that bit of plastic ring that just hooks around that. So from an engineering point of view, this is a lovely design in that it’s so simple and it does what you want and it does it safely and it does it quickly.

It was actually quite difficult to come up with a concept that would lift that nicely. Easy in retrospect. Everybody can see that that’s the way to do it. But it was one of those things that was a little bit harder to come up with.

More straightforward is using the hoist for this lift. So this is only 17 kilos this bit of kit, but it’s an awkward thing to lift because it’s big and it’s bulky. Wayne has a bit of a history of musculoskeletal problems. He’s an ex-smoker from way back, and has had a life working manual type jobs. And so again repetitive task of doing the same thing every half hour, whilst not a bad lift by any sense of the word, it is awkward.

So these are things that we’ve implemented. Unfortunately it would be really nice to say that we implemented them so that we wouldn’t have workers hurting themselves, but the reality is that each one of these was implemented as a result of somebody having some difficulty. And part of that is associated with our history. So when we started there was four of us, and that was four of those directors you saw earlier that did this job for the entire line. We sort of started by utilising technology from another company, and so we were doing these same sort of jobs so we’re all aware of what’s involved. But as you expand you sort of forget that a little bit, and you start making 10 of these a month and then 20 a month and 100 a month, and by the time you’re making 100 a month that repetition is such that you do need to implement these things.

So generally wherever we’ve implemented one of these changes we have had some issues that have prompted it. And this is now the third generation of production line that we’ve done. The first one was the one I mentioned before that had the very obvious mistakes. This is now the third iteration of production line, and some of the things like this rotation allows you to work on the underside of the device at a particular height and then roll it up to a nice ergonomic height to work on the top as well. It’s not 100 per cent, because when we’re varying between a 1.5 and 1.9 height person the height changes. So in our next iteration we have some vertical variation as well. It all takes a bit of time.

But the other aspect of this is hanging it by the central post. We used to hang it from above, and that has problems with what you do with your work surface. So by hanging it from this central area we can actually use the benches as workstations rather than having it impeded by the hanging mechanism. So there’s another thing that we learn as we go along. And transfer it with a hoist. So we use hoists quite nicely to lift things, and we have the fine motor control which means that they can be raised and lowered very neatly.

Now these are all fairly simple additions, but as I mentioned before they sort of did require a bit of an injury of somebody before we implemented them. So it is something that still catches us by surprise even though we do have a fairly good understanding of how these things happen. But it’s just that repetition rate. This lifting 15 kilos or 13 kilos or 20 kilos when we first started, seemed to be fine. We mandated this, the two person lift for instance, but then what happened is that there wouldn’t be a second person around, they’d be in a hurry and somebody would do it by themselves. They’d do it a few too many times and then there would be an injury. So mandating a two person lift or making sure that somebody lifts with their back straight is doing something, but it’s not particularly effective. You really need to put a mechanical control in place so it just forces people to do something that they can do time and time again without trouble.

And of interest in this as well is the ergonomics associated with where it ends up. So when she picks that up – so there’s issues to consider when you’re designing this. The fact that it’s now sliding on the row beneath, so what will it do to the painted surface? So the cardboard needs to go in there and she neatly keeps her knee there so the cardboard doesn’t get scraped off, and when it goes into this workstation this is a conveyor slider. So it hooks on to that there. It will now slide all the way down the bottom and around the corner. But when she’s working on it, which she has to do four times between here and the end of the line here, she racks it into this position here so that it goes back and sits hard up against the – so it doesn’t wobble or move when she’s working on it. So each one of those workstations has the ability to do that, and again that just means that your job gets that little bit easier because you’re not trying to juggle your tools and everything isn’t moving, and it is just another aspect of the lean design.

This is one that we’re struggling with at the moment. These ball tables are quite pretty and they should work because you’ve got lots of balls to take the weight. So you’ve got about – let’s call it 200 kilos to make the map easier – and you’ve got all these balls meet. But what happened was that over time the metal plate that they’re on warped, so you end up with that entire 200 kilos suspended on only two of three of these … underneath it. So our next design will have larger balls capable of handling the entire 200 kilo weight on its own, and that way we’ll have less wear. It will cost a lot more to implement, but it will reduce the difficulty. If you look at Jye when he’s doing that, these positions just where he’s having to reach and put strength in, and the last one where he was having to push with a bit of an extension, they’re the dangerous ones. When you’re working close to here it’s fine, but as soon as you’ve got that bit of extension in there it gets difficult to manage this. And we do have issues with this particular line that we changed.

We have this adjustable gantry crane and pallet jack so that we get an ergonomic height for the packing. And this for instance, we put a sleeve over the vacuum interrupter so that we can hit it with a 200,000 volt impulse, and that sleeve is to be pushed on manually. It’s about a 40 kilo push, and again if you do it once it’s fine, but throughout the day when you do it three times in 30 minutes you’re getting wrist injuries. And from my own experience it’s those ones that devolve from muscle to ligament injuries. They become the long-term niggly ones. You’ve sort of got a wrist problem, and then you keep doing this job and it’s just always there.

So again it was a little bit of a difficult task to come up with. It looks simple in the implementation, which to me is good engineering, but having developed that, it just made such a big difference. And again because of the takt times and the volumes that we currently have, without it we would certainly see problems.

And then the fundamental things like being able to see what you’re working on, and having – we’ve got exhaust fume extractors on all the solder stations. Even lead-free solder is not the nicest thing to breathe. We have a series of standing workstations for people that prefer to stand or stand and sit. So that’s a fairly basic thing that can be done.

And then just the idea of having it – we air-conditioned the entire working space. It’s very difficult to do fine, clean work when you’re sweating on to your work objects, so we keep it air-conditioned. It also helps us a little bit with dust. And we use noise control. For instance this particular operation, they’re doing bedding operations in the vacuum interrupter, so you basically have to hit this thing 200 times to bed in the contacts. We measured it at about 90db. It takes seven minutes to do this test, so 90db for seven minutes is actually within the recommended standards, but it just is uncomfortable. It’s a very sharp ping when it hits, so it’s got a soundproof enclosure on it that brings it down to 63 decibels over seven minutes. So it’s an improvement that is definitely worth doing, and in this case it was just a soundproof box so fairly straightforward.

So I went a little bit over time there. We’ll come back to questions. I’ll hand you over to my colleague Dr Rabiul Alam for a moment just to talk about measuring these.

Rabiul Alam:

Good afternoon. So in the morning we listened about the total worker health. So NOJA Power is a perfect example of total worker health. We have integrated a health, safety and wellbeing system in place. So we basically use a holistic approach for our wellbeing. So NOJA Power is one of the pioneers in health and wellbeing among the private industries, and we basically received a healthier, happier gold recognition in the organisation in Queensland.

So there is basically a relationship between injury-free workplace and a happy workforce. So NOJA Power is a perfect example on this particular case. So the evidence shows that the health and wellbeing program actually works fine for the business.

So a couple of things, why this company is so successful. One is the leadership of the top management and the commitment. So this is the number one component for the health and wellbeing program. And at NOJA Power the top management, the five directors, they’re actively involved in this process. Everybody participates in all the health and wellbeing programs. So in the slides you’ll see a number of programs which we are running right now.

So one of these is we do regular health checks and we focus on the health issues for Australian citizens. And every staff gets a health report at the end of the day. And also we proactively involve a number of physical activities. So we do the stretching, we do the group walking, a number of sports activities. We participate in the – for the last three years we have been participating in the Queensland Premier League for the Futsal. We play cricket, basketball in the league. So we have a number of different physical activities, and all the staff are happy. So that is the main thing.

And data shows that this is why this company is so successful. So we had last year 255 … in the workplace, and also the employees are satisfied. So this type of data is not easy to achieve. So 97 per cent of staff are satisfied with the safe and healthy environment of the business. Also the data shows that from the last five years – we started the health and wellbeing program as part of the health and safety system, and data shows that we have a reduction of injuries, around 68 per cent reduction of lost time injuries, around 73 per cent decrease in employee absenteeism based on the sick leave numbers, 53 per cent reduction of staff turnover. So all this data shows that the health and wellbeing program is necessary for any business to be successful.

So I’d like to say that there’s two things for total worker health. So our workplace is one of the best, and also the health and wellbeing program is integrated in the health and safety management system. Thank you. Any questions?


Jane Stevens:

I think we have a microphone at the back, so if you’ve got a question put up your hand and we’ll come to you.

I’ve got a question of my own I’ll ask. Jay you were talking about the redesign of some of those tasks, and saying that it was a result of injuries that had occurred. Do you look at new tasks or tasks that may result in injuries, and look at those and think about how you might redesign those tasks as well?

Jay Manne:

We certainly do. That comment was more historical in that probably around the time that Rabiul joined us and started putting a more focused approach to these things, we started doing formal risk assessments associated with any new activity, and part of that risk assessment is to look at the ergonomics associated with it and the repetition and all of those things that are being discussed in this particular event. So yes, it is less common these days to have us put in a new activity and then to discover that yes we’re getting injuries from it. More we put in a new activity and discover over time that we can make changes to improve efficiency. We tend to get the ergonomics reasonably right these days.

Jane Stevens:

Great. Thank you. Question over here?

Audience member:

Thank you. That was really interesting. Just wondering do you ever accept site visits? So for example the HFESA, the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia, does site visits to really interesting workplaces such as yours where there’s been some great redesign innovations.

Jay Manne:

Yes. We do. It’s something that is sort of – Rabiul is the appropriate person to coordinate these things. And we do to engineering groups. We have all of Energex’s apprentices come through on a particular day and we do some training and some discussion about manufacturing. So we haven’t so far had a great deal of interest from this side of things, but certainly yes, it would be no problem to take a group through, and we do have a bit of a standard program that we do for tours and that sort of thing.

Audience member:

With your outside activities, does it impact on your injuries for work, like people get injured?

Jay Manne:

Well we have the occasional sporting injury that gets brought back to work. Look I think I’d say no. On balance the enthusiasm people have for these activities outweighs any sore legs and such. Certainly the Monday after the Bridge to Brisbane there’s a lot of slow walks up stairs. But certainly if there was an impact I’d have to say it’s positive. We don’t have any particular incidences of having sporting injuries that are an issue. I mean we’re significantly aware of it that we will sign waivers saying that if you have a sporting injury it’s unfortunate but it’s not our fault as a company. But we don’t see that as a reason to reduce the activities. Far from it.

Audience member:

Do you have any resistance to participating in the extra-curricular programs?

Jay Manne:

Well we don’t have everybody participate in them. So we don’t have any – we have higher and lower participation, depending on what the activities are. I’d say where we most commonly see resistance is when we’re trying to implement some good idea that some engineer’s dreamed up that actually isn’t a good idea. So certainly the concept of participation is very important, and we have implemented probably over the last three years this idea that we call RPM, which is rapid process monitoring or whatever the acronym stands for. It involves getting the people on the coal face together with the process engineer, discussing the issues that they have, and then it’s his job to go away, find a solution, and come back and trial that.

So in that the benefit is that buy back that was mentioned next door. So I wouldn’t say we’ve had any pushback to any of our activities. Some of them are better attended than others.

Sorry, a longwinded answer. No. Not really.

Audience member:

Do you find that your workforce want to participate or not participate?

Jay Manne:

There is certainly a sub-group that are more inclined to participate, but there is no – certainly not that I perceive at a director level. There may be lower down. There is no particular us and them. It’s just more that you’ve got time to do that, I don’t sort of thing.

Rabiul Alam:

Yeah. I’d like to highlight this thing. So basically sometimes different opinions arise. So we do a lot of surveys. It’s like a selection of any activity. So we do the surveys. So based on the survey we take the decision. So someone, maybe they’re negative about this particular activity, but survey results shows this and so transparent as well. So based on that we take the decision. And also the engagement is important. So basically we try to engage the people, especially the shop floor and all different people – so younger or older people, everybody – try to engage, otherwise it is difficult if you do not engage. And one of the positive aspects is the communication between the top level and bottom floor. Everybody is very positive in this organisation. That is the reason they are successful for this.

Jane Stevens:

Any other last questions?

Audience member:

Have you got any jobs going?


Jay Manne:

Yeah. We actually have factory staff being put on at the moment, but we tend to start our people on a fairly low wage, so.


At least until they’re trained.

Jane Stevens:

Okay. Please join me in thanking Jay and Rabiul.


It is afternoon tea time. If you haven’t had enough to eat already, feel free to help yourself to some more. Please visit the sponsors and exhibitors. It’s the last time that they’ll be out showing their wares. And 3:30 in the main room for the next session. Thank you very much.

[End of transcript]

Last updated
10 December 2019