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Right mindset: At Evonik, technical safety alone isn’t enough.
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The Group-wide accident figures at Evonik Industries speak for themselves. Statistically speaking, in 2000 there were eight accidents involving lost work time per million working hours, but in 2014 there were only 1.2 accidents in this category. That represents a decrease of 85 percent. Nonetheless, Evonik doesn't intend to rest on these laurels. "If we were to slacken our efforts, there's a high probability that our accident figures would rise again very quickly," says Dr. Rainer Kohlen, the Head of Occupational and Plant Safety at Evonik.
That's because this success has not been a coincidence. In recent decades, Evonik has energetically promoted safety precautions in its employees' daily work worldwide, first in the area of technology and then at the organizational level. "We've now reached the point where we have to influence the employees’ behavior in order to prevent future accidents," explains Kohlen. After all, he points out, today between 70 and 80 percent of all accidents are ultimately due to human error. Accordingly, it will be difficult to make further progress without strengthening the safety consciousness of employees and managers alike.
This is why Evonik developed a new set of Group-wide guiding principles for safety and introduced them in 2014. Practical principles for all employees' behavior in the workplace were derived from these guidelines. The team of occupational safety experts proceeded systematically and included the workforce in their activities from the very start. In workshops organized all over the world, employees from all units met in groups representing all functions and positions in order to describe and analyze their personal experiences with safe and unsafe behavior.
"We compiled their ideas into a set of principles of behavior, which now form the basis of an active culture of safety at our Group," says Kohlen. "These principles are expressed in a list of things that absolutely must be done and a list of things to avoid. These lists apply to all of our employees." A vivid presentation format is helping to firmly establish these basic principles in daily work and in the employees' minds. "A culture of safety is all about having the right mindset," Kohlen explains. Special campaigns and events are helping to foster this culture. The Group strongly urges employees to copy safe behavior. Successful campaigns and improvements are collected and passed on. A monthly newsletter focuses on current safety measures and derives lessons from any accidents that may have recently occurred.
Employees are also encouraged to report and investigate near-misses. The lessons learned from them help to prevent actual accidents. The Group also wants all of its employees to be aware of the risks harbored by their work environment and to deal responsibly with them. Employees who find potential accident sources are obligated to actively deal with them before their colleagues are exposed to danger. The same applies to anyone who sees a supervisor acting in an unsafe manner.
"It’s important for employees to honestly examine their own behavior and to actively include their management Teams," says Kohlen. Evonik is putting special emphasis on the latter requirement. After all, it’s the managers who are responsible for creating a culture in which safety, and not key business performance indicators, is clearly the paramount issue at every meeting and in every project.