Saturday, September 7, 2013

Keeping people safe at work a priority for Holcim Philippines


The first thing that visitors notice when they go to a manufacturing facility of Holcim Philippines is how strictly the company implements its safety policies.

Plant visitors who need to go outside the administrative building are required to use “personal protective equipment” – hard hats, steel-toed boots and reflectorized shirts or vests. If they go to the manufacturing areas, they will also be asked to put on dust masks, goggles, gloves and something that looks like marshmallow candies but are actually ear plugs.

At the gate, all non-plant employees are given a safety manual and briefed on how to conduct themselves inside the facility. The reminders continue inside the plant, as signage after signage prompt them to stay alert.

Holcim Philippines exercises all these precautions because it is aware that like all heavy manufacturing operations, cement production necessarily involves safety risks. As such, it exerts tremendous effort to ensure that no one is harmed within its sites or even when its products and raw materials are transported to and from its facilities. Passion for Safety is how the company describes this organizational mindset.

“All companies say that people are their most important resource and they translate this through competitive compensation and benefits. We do this as well at Holcim Philippines but, more importantly, we believe that taking care of our people begins by creating a safe working environment for them. Everyone who enters our facilities must leave in the same healthy condition as they arrived,” said Carla Calimbas, vice-president for Occupational Health and Safety at Holcim Philippines.

Since 2007, the company has spent tens of millions to support its safety program – putting in the necessary infrastructure, systems and processes, organizational and training support necessary to ensure compliance to stringent Holcim global standards.

From a two-man operation, Holcim’s Occupational Health and Safety team has grown to a team of 35 dedicated safety professionals. Apart from in-site safety managers, the team also employs technical experts such as Safety Application Specialists who undergo intensive training in managing high-risk operations such as working at heights, demolition, excavation, and work in confined spaces. Each major facility has an emergency response team (ERT), whose members are trained in basic firefighting and medical rescue. As the plants also have their own fire truck and ambulance, it is not uncommon for the ERT to be the first to arrive in cases of emergencies or relief efforts in their surrounding communities.

But OH&S is the first to remind that workplace safety is not just the responsibility of their department, or even of management. “Safety has two critical components: a safety environment, and safety behavior,” reminds Calimbas. “Management works to ensure a safe environment, but each one is expected to look out for each other’s safety.”

Safety is always the first topic to be discussed in every management meeting – whether in the Board Meeting, Management Committee meeting, or plant operations meeting. Every month, the company’s top executives and plant managers set aside half a day to discuss nothing but safety, including updates on the programs being done at the various sites to monitor and improve safety. Safety indicators are likewise incorporated in assessing the performance of all of the company’s more than 1,600 employees.

Personal health and wellness is an important element of OH&S and employees are encouraged to take this seriously. Annual physical exams are not just encouraged, but required as an integral part of the performance metrics. Employees are also required to discuss their physical exam results with the company doctor. Those with health issues must submit a plan for improvement.

Holcim Philippines counts on its people to help track safety incidents in its facilities by encouraging them to report these. Employees are also taught to report potential hazards or “near misses” – that is, incidents that could have resulted to an accident. When a major incident occurs, the Safety department sends out a company-wide bulletin that provides details along with steps on how to prevent it from happening again.

“It is very important that safety incidents are reported to help us better understand risks and hazards and, in the process, come up with appropriate solutions,” Calimbas said.

The safety efforts not only cover employees, but also extend to contractors and customers. Safety is an important element of the Company’s contractor management program, and is integrated in its accreditation and performance monitoring processes. Suppliers who wish to be accredited must meet the same stringent safety standards that are followed by employees, and any breach will be cause for termination.

As vehicle-related incidents account for most safety incidents – in the company and possibly in the country – the Company especially focuses on its haulers. Among other requirements, truck operators must provide  personal protective equipment for their drivers and helpers, submit reports on the preventive maintenance of their fleets, follow specific rules on tarping and lashing, and ensure that their drivers complete a one-day Holcim-hosted training seminar along with a defensive driving course from an accredited trainer. Such requirements may seem excessive but in a country where road accidents are the fourth leading cause of death, these are certainly called for. At the very least, it is the Company’s way of helping professionalize the hauling industry and keeping our roads safe. 

“Our haulers are our business partners; we extend the same safe environment that we give to our employees and, at the same time, demand the same compliance. We may not able to exert control on them especially when they are outside our facilities, but we hope that our constant reminders and efforts to raise safety awareness will influence behavior. When they comply with simple safety guidelines such as following the speed limit, wearing seatbelts, taking breaks to prevent fatigue – these add up to help them stay away from harm,” she said.

Calimbas said Holcim Philippines continues to make headway in developing a Safety Culture, but knows there is still a lot to be done in continuously ensuring the company’s goal of Zero Harm.

“We cannot let up in our safety efforts because people’s lives are at stake,” says Calimbas. “But I think we are succeeding in driving home the point to our employees and business partners -- that all these safety regulations and policies are for their own benefit, as these are meant to keep them safe so they can go home to their families. “

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