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Safety must be an outcome of business culture

It is artificial to define a separate ‘safety culture’ within a company, when what is really at stake is its ‘business culture’ as a whole – the way employees are managed, treated and valued.

This is the point made by Trevor Schultz, Risk Executive at Murray & Roberts Cementation, who highlights that safety and employee wellness are far from ‘soft’ issues. In fact, they represent the core strength of every business, especially those engaged in demanding industries such as mining and construction.

“Safety is not supposed to be a division within a company, where we delegate that responsibility away from others and into the domain of a few,” says Schultz. “Instead, safety is an outcome of our business culture – the result of all the related strategies and policies that we adopt.”

In the case of Murray & Roberts Cementation, for instance, the Minerals Council principles of Zero Harm are embraced and applied. Within the company, there are long-held policies and values that drive an established culture of conducting work right the first time, with no short cuts.

“Our system of values within the organisation is robust, but it is regularly tested through annual reviews and feedback from across the company,” he says. “What is vital is that the principles we subscribe to are practiced every day – not rolled out for a special occasion or to tick a box in a survey.”

Safety standards

Visible Felt Leadership, for instance, shows its value to employees only when it is genuinely and continuously applied by managers, and its results within the company have been significant. He comments on the trust, openness and communication that is fostered among staff by this culture of respect and concern. It is as much part of Murray & Roberts Cementation’s business culture as the ISO standards and other important programmes / initiatives to which it commits.

“We regard these formal safety standards as a minimum in how we perform,” he says. “It is now a foundation from which we strive to achieve more.” Staying at the leading edge of safety also means learning and sharing best practice from a variety of partners, from company clients and other mining businesses in the global Murray & Roberts Group, to the learning hub of the Minerals Council.

“Our rewards and recognition programme, while successful, has traditionally been based on lagging indicators – rewarding results after they have been achieved over a period of time,” he says. “We are now working on a proactive awards programme, which rewards employees for reporting meaningful leading indicators.”

The aim here, he points out, is to prevent or eliminate unwanted events from materialising in the first place. This could include reporting all incidents immediately, or warning co-workers about hazards or dangerous situations. It also encourages employees to submit safety suggestions, and to participate actively on safety committees or teams.

Schultz notes the important advances being made by technology that generates and distributes real time information that can enhance operational safety. This enables supervisors and managers to be proactive rather than reactive. Among the most exciting current developments are proximity detection systems, which have extended their capability to the automated retardation of trackless mining machinery. He returns to his central point about culture and behaviour, however, as the central pillars of safety.

“All players in the mining industry need to focus constantly not only on systems and technological innovations, but also on the employee behaviours, attitudes and motivation needed to create a strong safety culture. This kind of change – which positively alters employee attitudes and actions one by one – requires a substantial investment of time and effort,” he says.

The results are certainly there to see, with Murray & Roberts Cementation recently earning recognition from the Association of Mine Managers of South Africa for achieving six million fatality- free shifts over the past seven years. At the in-house safety awards, the Murray & Roberts Group honoured the company with three prizes for outstanding performance in the Zero Harm category.

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