Top 7 challenges of Fit For Nuclear

By 11 January 2021 Comment

The Nuclear AMRC’s team of industrial advisors have helped hundreds of manufacturers to improve their operations and meet the requirements of nuclear customers. Many companies encounter very similar challenges on the journey to Fit For Nuclear status – here’s the top seven areas that the team keep seeing.

In summer 2021, our Fit for Nuclear supply chain programme will mark 10 years since the very first on-site verification assessment.

A lot has happened since then. As a team of industrial advisors, we have completed a total of 675 F4N assessments and re-assessments, as well as 39 for the Fit 4 Offshore Renewables programme, with companies ranging from blue chips with established nuclear sector pedigree to aspirational new entrants.

Between us, we have more than 200 years of experience in manufacturing, and 25 years of F4N assessments. There’s certain pieces of advice that we find ourselves giving most frequently after visiting a company for an on-site assessment. No names, nothing attributable – just the stuff we find themselves repeating.

We’ve identified seven areas which most often need attention, as listed below in order of how frequently they crop up.

Each area includes the advice that we find ourselves giving to companies. These point towards what “best in class” looks like from those businesses that have been granted Fit for Nuclear.

We reckon that a business ticking most of these boxes would assess strongly against the F4N model of business excellence.

We do appreciate that driving this kind of cultural change is especially difficult at this time when you’re dealing with the additional stresses of Covid and Brexit. But many F4N companies such as Fan Systems and Arrowsmith Engineering have told us that the improvements they made through the programme have helped them weather the challenges of the past year. Even if you’re not actively targeting the nuclear sector, this can all benefit your business.

How does your business measure up?

– Nigel Goodrich, Paul Hayes, Stuart Hughes, Huw Jenkins, John Olver, Kevin Ross, Kevin Shepherd

1: Safety culture & leading by example

Most companies entering the F4N programme need to raise their employees’ awareness of and competence in nuclear safety culture. We usually recommend NSAN’s Triple Bar Manufacturing course for a solid grounding. For a primer, see section 4 of NIA’s excellent Essential Guide, or our own potted summary of safety culture.

You will need to ensure that your business values include a focus on nuclear safety culture. Involve all employees in agreeing behavioural standards and setting benchmarks, then communicate what’s been agreed and ensure those standards are adhered to by all.

It’s particularly important that senior managers demonstrate these values and lead by example. There’s no scope for compromise – if you walk past something, you condone it.

You will need to establish benchmark measures for your safety culture. Near miss reporting is vital for minimising the risk of serious accidents and should be carefully logged and monitored (see point 7).

You should also consider getting audited by a customer or certifying body, and carrying out perception surveys among your employees. Are your people comfortable challenging or reporting unsafe behaviours or near misses, and do they perceive their workplace to be a safety-conscious environment that is free from fear of retaliation, intimidation, harassment or discrimination?

2: Continuous improvement & learning from experience

Adopt a strategic approach to continuous improvement, owned by the leadership team, and properly trained, resources and communicated.

Individual projects should be led by employees with the sponsorship and support of nominated leaders, but the overall programme should cover the whole company and involve all staff.

Create a central register of processes and activities, to ensure that all improvement opportunities are regularly prioritised, recorded, reviewed, resourced and communicated.

You should also introduce a formal process to capture “lessons learned” within your quality management system. This will help ensure consistent delivery and effective communication of good practice, maximising the benefits of your hard-won experience, and allow it to be audited.

We recommend forming continuous improvement groups with regular scheduled meetings to identify opportunities for improvement, capture actions, and report on progress. This can help embed the mindset that continuous improvement is the norm, and ensure that improvement opportunities are progressed and closed in a timely fashion.

Taking before and after photos of improvement projects is a great way to demonstrate progress to potential customers, and more interesting than the usual boardroom pictures of waterfalls and trees. If a customer does tell you that you need to improve further, you’ll be able to show that you are able to do so.

3: Effective communication of business performance

You should ensure that your business performance measures are actually providing the data you need to monitor performance at all relevant levels, and are regularly reviewed and acted on.

To communicate these measures throughout your organisation, we recommend visual tracking techniques which all employees – in the workshop or office – can easily understand, manage and update. These can be simple graphs or trend lines, or regularly updated SQDCP boards summarising a range of safety, quality, delivery, cost and performance measures.

Your visual tracking boards should be a focus for information flow. Keep them fresh, interesting and up to date. Avoid swathes of empty space, or old, tatty or irrelevant sheets of paper.

You could also consider regular tier group meetings, for employees to present and review this information with colleagues, and prioritise suitable corrective actions which can then be taken at the appropriate level of the business,

As well as lag indicators of what you’ve already achieved, make sure that your performance measures include lead indictors to encourage people to focus on preventative actions. These could include near miss reports, internal audit findings, and measures of work loading versus capacity forecasts.

4: Written business strategy, shared with all employees

Have your senior leadership team draft a written business plan or strategy document. This should set a future business journey (for example, a five-year plan), with quantified timelined top-level business objectives which demonstrably flow down from a SWOT analysis. For F4N, this should specifically include development within the nuclear sector.

You should develop a plan to effectively communicate this strategy to all of your employees. Make sure that communication goes both ways, with employee contributions encouraged.

For each top-level business objective, deploy responsibility through the business reporting hierarchies by identifying the roles that contribute to its delivery, and breaking each into agreed objectives at each level of your business.

These objectives need to be demonstrably linked to the relevant top-level objective, and be smart (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-related).

They can apply to individuals or teams, but should communicated, discussed, agreed, set and recorded as part of your employee performance appraisal and training plan process. These objectives should then be subject to ongoing review, at least annually.

5: Visible leaders

All the leaders within your business, including the senior leadership team, need to be visible and accessible to employees at all levels of the organisation. All communication should be two-way, with leaders welcoming and answering relevant questions.

Your senior leadership team should conduct regular updates on business operational performance and progress against your strategic objectives. They should also conduct regular Gemba walks to understand what is going on on the shopfloor, and take responsibility for what they see.

6: Active 5S programme

Make sure that you operate a high-profile 5S workplace organisation programme across all areas of your organisation, including the offices. To be effective, this needs to be resourced, tracked and enforced by the senior leadership team, with regular audits and weekly progress reports.

Focus on the links between 5S and safety. Just telling employees to tidy up is rarely sustainable – activities which clearly make their workplace better organised and safer will get a more positive reaction.

7: Near miss reporting

Make sure that all employees understand the importance of near miss reporting in reducing the risk of more serious incidents.

You will need to foster an environment where any incidents with the potential for adverse consequences are reported, analysed, followed up, and closed in a timely manner. To prevent a recurrence, you should communicate any lessons learned or messages as widely and effectively as possible.

We look at the reporting of near misses is an indicator of a business’s safety culture. If you’re only reporting minimal near misses, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have a healthy safety culture.

  • To find out more about becoming F4N, contact your regional F4N industrial advisor by emailing f4n@namrc.co.uk