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June 1, 2015
It doesn’t matter if it’s about driving a van in the frantic Indian traffic or using helmets and protective gloves in a plant. Lars Eklöf, chairing the safety council at Atlas Copco, explains why a sustainable safety attitude has to be integrated into every part of the company’s operations.
“I climbed with my oldest son the other day, and I made a mistake when I tied myself in. That mistake was discovered when we did the partner check. Processes like that are not there to control you, they are there to support you.”
As President of Atlas Copco’s MVI Tools and Assembly System division, Lars Eklöf has 1 600 co-workers and employees in Tool Management Centers all over the world. Many of them are service staff or sales people constantly on the road traveling to and from customers, on sales visits or performing customer training and services, such as tool calibrations and repairs. Making sure that they, and all the other 15 000 or so Atlas Copco employees whose workplace is in a car or on a motorbike, are as safe as possible is just as important as making sure that helmets, gloves and protective glasses are worn during certain operations in a plant. That’s why Eklöf’s focus is to make safety a top priority in every single part of the company’s operations and for every one of its more than 40 000 employees. Some areas are easier to target than others. Routines for handling certain tools can be the same all over the globe. The same goes for regulations involving protective equipment. But every customer installation or location may provide a different challenge. And everyone knows that driving a service van in Germany can be very different from getting to a customer plant in Malaysia on a motorbike.
“We can’t change that,” Eklöf says. “But as we know that a sales person in Mexico or India takes a bigger risk while going to a customer than while staying in the office, we can make sure the vehicle is safe and that the routine for making every job as safe as possible is a priority in every situation.”
His ambition is that safety will always be a main concern, regardless of location, cultural differences or a person’s position within the company. A sustainable safety program is much more than a certified Safety Management System. And it is much more than scorecards and figures for accident and incident reporting. In the past few years Atlas Copco has invested a lot of time and energy to build a culture of safety and create awareness of the importance of both the physical environment and changes in behavior. In spite of this safety focus campaign, the accident charts are no longer decreasing at the same rate as previously. Current statistics show an accident rate of five for every one million hours worked.
“That certainly leaves room for improvement,” Eklöf says. “But I would say that there are a number of reasons why the accident charts are leveling out. When we started our campaign we could see the number of accidents and incidents increasing. That didn’t mean we had more accidents. It was the reporting that increased as accidents became more discussable. What we see now is probably the correct number and the new starting point for reaching our zero-accident target. Scorecards and accident charts are important, as they show where the company is getting results. Smaller incidents that people previously didn’t care to report are now noted, and this has led to an overall better safety culture" Eklöf says.
“But to succeed in creating a sustainable change in the approach to safety,” he says, “I believe that safety has to be an attitude, a way of thinking that is deeply rooted in everyone and in everything we do. Scorecards and charts are only one tool in that process.”
The mission for the advisory Safety, Health, Environment and Quality Council, which Eklöf chairs, is to find best practice in the respective areas. Forming the new sustainable safety program is a high priority. The aim of the program is zero work-related accidents in all operations. “We train people when they are brand new, but you are equally at risk when you have worked for 20 years. Most accidents actually happen when you do something you have done many times before.”