05 October 2020

Putting safety first

Written by: Scott Puddy Head of Safety

Data centres continue to increase in size, complexity and importance as digital transformation accelerates. They draw enormous amounts of power to run the computers located within them and the cooling systems that ensure the optimal running of operations of the equipment that is driving businesses.

With all this change surrounding the important role that data centres play in business and society, comes the need for a shift in thinking, a culture shift in adopting safety excellence as another imperative to maximising business uptime and reducing operational risk.

Safety for humans and hardware

Data centres are hives of human activity, operating 24/7/365. The data halls and service corridors are buzzing with customers accessing their equipment, and data centre specialists carrying out frequent patrols and operational checks to ensure the mechanical, electrical, and cooling plants maintain uninterrupted operations.

Next generation facilities are bursting with innovative technology, using high-voltage electricity and massive diesel UPS systems. And as equipment has grown in complexity, and data centres evolve with technical sophistication and innovation, the risks to humans grow with it.

With all this human activity happening, it emphasises the critical need for safer working conditions for the engineers, facility specialists, consultants, technicians, and network engineers that frequent the halls every day.

It’s for this reason, we take a fresh view of what safety excellence looks like right across our business.

People first, always

It’s the people that make a business great, and our people are the heart and soul of ours. Our culture embodies an unerring focus on excellence, collaborative team unity and innovation. With an innate passion to help people; we’re always looking for ways to improve and being 100% focused on achieving our goal of zero injuries across the business.

Workplace safety (WHS) is something every business is obligated to comply with. But with the worrying amount of workplace injuries and deaths that occur each year, we see WHS and people as a priority, less of an obligation.

Operating 24/7/365, data centres are not your typical workplace. They’re full of high voltage electrical loads, fuel storage and handling, UPS battery charging, chemical exposure, noise, heat, not to mention working at heights risks. In a much higher risk environment than a typical workplace, specialised staff that are trained and able to work competently and safely in these environments are an increasingly difficult resource to find and retain.

Safety is everyone’s responsibility

We strongly believe in the concept that safety is everyone’s responsibility.

In our business, it’s a two-pronged concept: we educate and empower every single person entering a NEXTDC facility to not only act in a safe manner themselves, but act as an advocate for others by looking out for the safety of their work colleagues and reporting any incidents, near misses or hazards they encounter. It’s for this reason we make a point to encourage every person entering our facilities to contribute to where they think safety could be improved. This is a critical part of our continuous improvement strategy upon which sees us continually strengthen our approach to safety.

Every resolution to an identified hazard is applied across our entire footprint. In addition, we take the lessons learnt from existing facilities as well as opportunities for improvement identified by our customers and suppliers, and incorporate them into the design and engineering of the next generation of facilities built, to further enhance the safety of our staff and customers.

Renewed focus on safety and wellbeing

It’s the people that make a real difference to business, therefore we place considerable emphasis on maintaining a safety-first culture. Maintaining a healthy and safe work environment faced some lofty challenges during 2020, from toxic smoke that blanketed the major cities from the bushfires over summer, to a global pandemic. Extreme examples they may be, but they served to amplify the priority we place on protecting all people that enter any NEXTDC premises.

In fact, these extreme scenarios provided us an opportunity to explore new ways of doing things right across the business, that would further enhance the health and happiness of our customers, suppliers, and our own team.

In response to COVID-19, we’ve implemented strategies to renew and enhance our workplace safety management across both our operational and capital works portfolios. We continuously review and improve our systems and work closely with our stakeholders, including customers and suppliers, to align ourselves with industry best practice, to ensure we achieve our goal of zero injuries.

Walk the talk

The use of ladders is responsible for about 20,000 workplace injuries every year*. We have always been proactive in identifying and managing working at heights as a key risk, but in listening to one of our global customers (whom suffered a fatality in another country as a result of a ladder fall) we introduced enhanced safety protocols that would further complement our safe working at heights policy.

Ladders should be the last choice for working at heights, and our Ladders Last policy ensures we reduce the use wherever possible, in favour of height aids.

Whenever there is a need to use a ladder, it poses the questions. Can we move the system trying to be accessed lower to the ground? Can we redesign the system in the next facility to be lower to the ground? What measures can we do to make this more accessible in a safe way?

There is another major risk when it comes to data centres: Electricity. Accidental electrocution is a leading cause of death or serious injury in the workplace. The briefest contact with electricity can have serious consequences and electric shocks from faulty electrical equipment also leads to a number of related injuries.

Equally, faulty electrical equipment and poor electrical installations can lead to fires that may also cause death or injury to others. As a critical piece of our electrical safety system and putting safety at the forefront of everybody's minds, we ensure our operational teams including Facilities, Central Ops, Engineering and Capital works are inducted and undergo compulsory training on electrical safety.

Targeting zero injuries

The health and safety of our customers, suppliers and team are of the highest priority. We foster a culture of active management, placing safety at the centre of everything we do.

Promoting a safety-first culture where everyone is encouraged to speak up, and continuously improving our WHS processes is a proud cultural cornerstone, and the key to us successfully maintaining the health and safety of everyone in our care.

If you would like to understand how NEXTDC can support your critical IT operations, and ensure you and your teams' safety is continually top of mind, reach out and speak with a specialist.