December 2016 | Sanghamitra Bhowmik

A passion for safety

Tata Power has gone beyond compliance to excel in its pursuit of 'zero harm' in its everyday operations

There are some 60,000 families across Mumbai living in the shanties that sprawl beneath Tata Power’s high-voltage distribution lines. Keeping these people safe, especially when they are in celebration mode during festival time, is but one part of Tata Power’s all-encompassing safety, health and environment (SHE) agenda.

Given the risk factors in the industry it operates in, Tata Power has to be prepared for all manner of emergencies

Safety is both philosophy and passion for Tata Power. From statutory government requirements to structured safety induction training, equipment maintenance to toolbox talk, contractor safety code to biomedical waste management, renewable energy to community awareness programmes — the company’s SHE commitment is crafted to go way beyond compliance.

‘Zero harm’, the universally accepted industry standard, is what Tata Power is in pursuit of, and there is a corporate safety, health and environment (C-SHE) department to realise the company’s objectives. C-SHE is a collaborative effort, linked to other departments and integrated with Tata Power’s processes and targets. It is a critical component in the design of the organisation’s everyday operations and overall progress.

“C-SHE underlines our operating philosophy, where the entire ambit of environment and safety comes into play much before a project is approved,” explains Prashant Kokil, head, corporate environment and climate change, corporate sustainability, Tata Power. “C-SHE is involved with our processes, compliance requirements, due diligence, statutory requirements, construction and operations.”

Stickler for rules
Having a prominent presence in an industry where safety issues are ubiquitous has made Tata Power a stickler for rules and meticulous about compliance. But the company has gone beyond what is mandated by law as it strives to excel on the varied performance parameters of safety, health and the environment.

On the environmental front, Tata Power has voluntarily reduced its sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide and suspended particulate matter emissions. This has become part of the company’s strategy, enabling it to secure the Confederation of Indian Industry’s highest sustainability rating, ‘sustainable plus platinum’, for the financial year 2014-15.

Among the projects taken up to go “beyond compliance”, says Mr Kokil, are the monitoring of water usage, mercury emissions and radiation from ash. Tata Power has invested more than Rs1 billion in pollution control equipment at its Trombay thermal power facility in Mumbai. The plant’s chimneys limit the ground-level concentration of contaminants and its nitrogen oxide burner lowers pollution. The company’s power stations continuously monitor emissions and ambient air quality.

As the world moves aggressively towards renewable energy, Tata Power is further exploring environment-friendly energy sources. “The technology available is limited as of now, but we have introduced a few renewable energy projects and value-added products,” says Mr Kokil.

Its power plants and distribution infrastructure continue to be Tata Power’s biggest challenges. Add to those the high-risk nature of the jobs that the company’s people do, shift timings, work categorisation — permanent as well as contractual — and the less-than-easy task of supplying power to a city like Mumbai.

“The fact that one of our largest plants and our high-voltage lines pass through the city’s boroughs is a big challenge,” says Vijay Chourey, the company’s chief of corporate safety. “We have demarcated process safety and people safety. The first is taken care of right at the design stage; the second is an ongoing task.”

Training all the way
At the heart of Tata Power’s safety agenda is the safety induction training. Every employee, permanent or on contract, goes through a safety training programme before joining the workforce. Employees are given site- and job-specific safety training, not least on what to do in case of emergencies. Equipment reviews are regular, as are the medical evaluation that employees undergo. Further, contract workers are trained at the Tata Power Skill Development Institute (TPSDI).

Every Tata Power employee has to undergo a safety training programme

Job safety analyses illustrates possible hazards, ways to mitigate them and procedures to be followed. Tata Power has benchmarked its reporting and managing of incidents with Tata Steel Europe’s ‘red stripe’ procedure. If and when a safety incident occurs, a ‘red stripe’ notice with details of the incident is generated and relayed down the line.

“This helps warn others who could be in a similar situation,” says Mr Chourey, the person behind the new safety policies at Tata Power. “Our safety strategy is clearly divided, with supervisors, safety officers and the head of the plant all working together to maintain the highest safety standards.”

Among the new policies, the ‘contractor safety code of conduct’, designed in consultation with the company’s senior management, is attracting the most attention. Adding a bit of layering to how contracts will be awarded, the new code requires aspiring contractors to have Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series and other necessary certifications. Contractors are evaluated on a safety index; there’s a ‘retention of part of the bill’ clause as a safety performance guarantee, and there are incentives on offer for high performances on safety.

Tata Power also conducts safety campaigns for the wider community — particularly in the slums that have mushroomed below its transmission lines — through its ‘janjagriti abhiyan’ (mass awareness) programme. “Line engineers, line staff and local community workers come together to educate people about the precautions they must take due to their close proximity to power lines,” says Mr Chourey. “We focus attention on safety during festivals and the monsoon months since many accidents are reported during such periods.”

Much like safety, health too is a key driver at Tata Power. The company has trained medical attendants at all its sites and it has clinics at every power plant to deal with possible health hazards. “Health levels are monitored regularly and many among our staff are trained in first aid,” says Dr Utpal Chakroborty, the chief medical officer at Tata Power. “Leaders are often roped in to drive home the message of safety and health.”

This article was first published in the October - December 2016 issue of Tata Review. Read the ebook here