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Pedalling to the summit: part 1

World Cement,

Lafarge Spain recently reached the impressive milestone of more than 5 million hours without any Lost Time Injuries (LTIs). World Cement spoke to Rafael Menéndez-Abascal, Health & Safety Manager at Lafarge Spain, to learn more about the Group’s commitment to health and safety.

Please can you tell us a little bit about your background prior to your role as Health & Safety Manager for Lafarge?

Prior to being Health & Safety Manager for Lafarge I was cement plant manager in two different plants, in Sagunto Spain and US-SC Harleyville, and held several operational and functional positions always related to operations.

Has safety always been a passion of yours, or has it grown in importance over the years?

It has definitely grown over the years, and most specially since I had the leadership operational role as plant manager. It was in such a position that I realised that safety is a great motivational tool that nobody argues about. It is also a great tool for fostering organisational rigour and discipline in execution.

Can you outline your/Lafarge’s philosophy on health and safety? How do you shape your message, and how do you drive it home?

That is a great question. The first thing is that health and safety (H&S) is no one’s specific business or goal. H&S must be a core human value, like friendship, fraternity, respect, loyalty… it is about everyone’s individual behaviour. It is about everyone’s individual commitment, about being open to receiving feedback but also being uncompromising. Keeping H&S at the forefront of any activity – at home or at work. Caring for ourselves but also caring for the rest of your peers, reports and also bosses. Any organisation, be it a business or a society, is based on the interdependence of everyone. We all must contribute to the common benefit of a safe environment. Health and safety has to be integrated into the entire organisation, bottom-up and top-down. Each and every individual has to be a leading actor in H&S and contribute their efforts to achieving the goal of nobody being hurt.

Such a value cannot be turned on and off. A value is something you carry with you at home, at work, at leisure, at sports, etc., but like any other value, it has to be taken care of so it grows over time. Positive recognition and reward is a very powerful tool to keep it growing. On the other hand, discipline in front of blatant disregard is also necessary.

Can you give us a couple of examples of practices Lafarge has implemented in terms of health and safety in its Spanish plants?

There are many good practices implemented that have proven to be very fruitful. I would highlight just two of them that I think are the root cause of our outstanding results.

At the Lafarge Group, health and safety is now embedded in our culture. The Group’s Health and Safety Management System (HSMS) is a comprehensive system that encapsulates all aspects of health and safety for everyone who works for, and with, Lafarge. In Spain, what we first did was develop our HSMS. Rather than an out-of-the-box formula, we have chosen to develop it from the bottom up with the participation of all employees. A project to build such a management system requires time and effort at all levels of the organisation, but has the great benefit of being able to ‘stick’ and become a cultural asset. As the fruit of these efforts, our system is based on behavioural observations made by every employee in the field (11 000 in 2014), with opportunities for improvement clearly identified by observers that have led to the execution of more than 3000 action plans. The organisation and employees are empowered to define these actions and assign resources and deadlines to execute them. This massive task is implemented through multidisciplinary Employee Safety Awareness Teams that rotate over time and they manage the entire workload and liaise with the different departments and operational groups to get it done. Their rotation ensures everyone is exposed and they do not burn out.

The Health and Safety Management System is based on behavioural observations by all employees, and has led to the execution of more than 3000 action plans.

The second good practice I would highlight is a bonus/malus reward system. Based on several parameters (observations, quality of the observations, good practices identified, training successfully passed, actions assigned and executed in time, tool box talks, etc.) each individual receives tokens. Some are positive, some are negative, and each employee builds his own account that will be exchanged against a bonus at the year-end. The system actually works on three different dimensions: individual, team and site. The team and site dimensions bring healthy peer pressure and empowerment to focus on execution and having all actions done on time.

Last but not least, like in any Management System, you need a streamlined tool to keep things simple and manage this huge amount of information. The tool was developed as part of our bottom-up project to define our HSMS. Rather than only focusing on the goal of zero accidents, it truly focuses on the actions that need to be done to get to the goal. The tool is so embedded into the organisation that it has a similar number of transactions as our ERP.

Activities with employees during Health and Safety Month.

What training and development programmes are in place? What do these involve and who takes part?

If you want your employees to do things differently, you need to train and develop them. The Change Management project that led to our HSMS was structured in 14 different streams where every employee was involved in at least one or two of them. Each stream brought changes in the way we were doing things and a massive amount of training took place for everyone to understand the new way of getting things done. Actually, one of the streams was dedicated to defining how and what we wanted to give to all our employees in terms of training and how to manage it successfully. The goal of the project was to have H&S become a true value. Such a change is only possible by implementing behavioural and leadership training around health and safety, and defining what the behaviours were that the organisation would expect from each and every one of us. More than 20 000 hours of training were delivered in 2013, for example.

Have there been any investments in equipment/technology or personal protective equipment that have helped to increase H&S onsite?

From the very beginning we have intentionally avoided allocating any specific investment or budget for H&S. If it is a true value and it is embedded in all areas of the organisation, it should just be part of the operating budget. Rigor in execution was extended to all operational areas and improvements in productivity largely compensated for the new efforts and resources dedicated to H&S.

Is making health and safety part of business culture an easy thing to do, or is it hard to get people to prioritise it? What have you found are the most effective methods to encourage employees to keep H&S in mind at all times?

Unluckily it is anything but easy. I keep on saying to our teams that health and safety is like a bicycle; if you stop pedalling, chances are that you will fall to the ground. So the most effective way is to fight complacency and leniency, keeping health and safety awareness campaigns alive, mobilising people to make sure there is discipline in execution, and keep our HSMS alive by feeding it continuously with the observations of each and every person. I would say that creating a health and safety culture is simple, the difficulty is more in maintaining it.

Read part 2 here.

This is an abridged version of the full article, which appeared in the April 2015 issue of World Cement. Subscribers can read the full article by logging in. They can also read the magazine on smart phones and tablets by downloading World Cement’s app.

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