Friday, May 8, 2009


Atlas Steel is located along the road to Motukea just past Baruni village. It takes ten minutes driving from the Central Business District along scenic views of Port Moresby Harbor.

This premier waterfront property of about 9 hectares and has a perimeter fence with one entry and exit point. There is a rusted blue shipping container converted into a Cop Shop and strategically placed to deter criminals from the property. There are seven (7) buildings located on site. On entry visitors drive to the landscaped reception and administrative building where all enquiries are sorted. Opposite the newly refurbished Office is a latest model of prefabricated homes produced by the Company.

From there a footpath leads to the production site which consists of five large silvery-grey warehouses. Looking east, on the far left is the Mesh production warehouse, adjacent to it is the Steel Framing warehouse followed by the Reinforced Steel warehouse. The next two buildings are the Storage warehouse and Roofing warehouse.


1.1 Company profile

Atlas Steel is a light manufacturing business that was founded in 1980 by a Filipino Billionaire Lusio Tan. He is married to one of the relatives of former Philippines ruler Ferdinand Marcos. Atlas steel is a subsidiary of the Kenmore Group and is not listed on the Port Moresby Stock Exchange.

There are currently 98 Nationals employed by the company mostly as supervisors, factory workers and sales personnel. None of the Nationals hold senior management positions. The company provides employment for unskilled workers from neighboring villages and supports training of Technical School students.

Over the recent years the company has experienced growth and has invested in major Capital Works Projects (currently being undertaken). This comprises of installation of modern computerized fabricating machinery with wireless network capability as well as refurbishment of the warehouses. Its product diversification strategy includes recent introduction to the PNG market of affordable prefabricated houses.

1.2 Environment

Atlas steel is surrounded by sea and hilly topography. Outside the perimeter fence is savanna woodland punctuated by human settlement and/or activity. The salty sea breeze that blows across the harbor has corroded the aging metallic structures. This contrasts with the freshness of the newly refurbished administrative office. This office complex is segregated from the factory by a grassy lawn. At the edge of the lawn is a bitumen tarmac lined with various paraphernalia destined for someone somewhere. One has to negotiate this obstacle course to enter production complexes. Even under such circumstances there is a sense of some order within the chaos, a counter intuitive orderly chaos.

The most obvious irritation of the senses is that of the high level of noise. Even with the introduction of new machinery, the noise level is relatively high. This is compounded by the fact that there are no warning signs or flashing lights warning of the activity of machinery within and around the work area. This is crucial especially when the fabricators are processing steel and when the winch is on the move.

The skylight roofing illuminates the interior of the warehouses heating up the atmosphere and warming the interior.

1.3 Ergonomics

The major issue identified was that workers had working benches that were too low. This was the case in the House fabrication shed and in the roofing warehouse, where workers were bent upon low benches while packing finished products.

In any case, a lot of the work could have been performed while the workers were sitting, instead of standing. For example the operators of the molding machines did not have to be standing as they pushed buttons or sent instruction via the computer. Even those bending steel rods could have done so while sitting.

Not only is sitting much more comfortable than standing, there is indeed less energy used while sitting. Thus workers are not only comfortable to work but have the energy to do more work - increasing productivity and profits.

It is worth noting on the other hand that the company had made the workers job easier by placing rollers which made it easier to move raw material and finished products.

1.4 Safety

The workers regard for safety and first aid is totally unimpressive. Perhaps it is the culture of the workplace that workers do not use some equipment such a goggles and gloves or face masks. My impression was that it was the corporate culture due to the fact that none the students who visited the sites was given hard hats or safety vests. [I am further concerned as to who was liable for any damages suffered by the students during the visit, since no attempts was made by both parties to address safety issues related to the visit]

The other important point is that first aid kits were not available at the workplace and the staff were not trained on first aid. First aid kits were instead kept at the storage warehouse. This clearly demonstrates that lack of safety consciousness may indeed be the corporate culture as opposed to individual choice.

Other systemic failures include the lack of warning signs, lights or alarms on or around moving equipment such as the winch.

One could argue therefore based on the above that the company is complacent with regards to safety.

There are also security risks from criminal elements who wish to steal from the factory.

1.5 Health risk/ Occupational risks

There are obvious risks of amputations by the moving machinery parts as well as penetrating eye injuries from missiles. The workers also risk going deaf due to the high level of noise.

There have already been cases of amputations and eye injuries. This year alone one worker has had his pinkie amputated by the bending machine.

Eye injuries are the most common yet it was noticed that none of the workers wore protective gear.

1.6 Workers entitlements & Compensation

Workers are entitled to sick-leave and annual leave. It was not certain if paternity leave was granted or not. Workers have to find their own accommodation. Workers described their pay as being above the minimum wage [which was about K100].

The company covers medical expenses for job related injuries and also pays workers compensation.

1.7 Job satisfaction/security & Industrial relations

Most of the workers seemed content with their jobs although they did give the impression of wanting better conditions. Much of the work seemed monotonous.

In the past there have been strikes where the management simply sacked the striking workers. Currently there is no union representing the staff.


Industrial accidents are tragic human experiences which remain despite increasingly systemic efforts to minimize them. Solving this dilemma involves understanding the modifiable and non-modiafiable risk factors that lead to such accidents and to create means of eradication or reduction of the probability of it occurring.

The human and industrial costs due to reduced productivity through employee absenteeism, sick leave, compensable injuries, accidents and fatalities, higher health care costs, increased claims for workers compensation and lowered efficiency can thus be addressed by risk identification and risk reduction.

Much of the occupational health issues at Atlas Steel may indeed be due to lax attitudes towards safety and the prevailing corporate culture. In fact, this suggests that the issues faced by workers may be due to social factors such as level of education, the current economic situation where demand is high, working conditions such as the hours and work tempo and the occupational hazards which they may perceive to be minimal.

Also, with the introduction of more efficient production machinery there is an increased potential for packaging workers to developing health problems due to increased tempo and the stressful working posture.

It is also important to identify the threshold limit values of airborne particulate matter, sound and other pollutants.

All workers need to have knowledge about first aid. This is crucial as any help during industrial accidents will have to be from the staff themselves, as they wait for external assistance. During major accidents such as fire there need to be proper procedures for evacuation of workers, accounting of the workers, coordination between water supplier and firefighters, or ambulances and traffic police, telephone and mobile companies, social welfare organizations Medical personnel.

Having highlighted some to the issues I believe that solutions can be and should be proposed by the workers and company management. It is very important that they take ownership or responsibility towards addressing some of the deficiencies. Any external solutions may be perceived as imposition of ones will and may not be adhered to.


Many thanks to Bridget and the staff at Atlas Steel, for their support

Also, big thank you to Roger for tagging along