'Our goal is zero harm'. There can only be one goal when it comes to Health and Safety - zero harm. Our report shows how, with Volvo's help, the embedded safety culture of construction products giant Lafarge is helping make accidents a thing of the past.

"As a responsible and caring employer you cannot tolerate people getting harmed or injured while they are working for you," says Geraint Morris, global vice president of health and safety at Lafarge's Aggregates & Concrete division. "Anything less is simply unacceptable."

Effective communication of the zero harm goal is crucial in order to motivate and mobilize everyone in the organisation to believe in it as a common goal, and become committed to ensuring that it is achieved. "If communicated correctly then everyone realizes that pursuing such a goal will result in mutual benefit," believes Geraint. "Employees value a safe work environment and the organization becomes more effective."

Lafarge is an important customer of Volvo, and like Volvo it has a culture of caring for its employees, wanting to look after its people in all respects. Driven by the management's strong commitment, the reduction of risk is a priority for all. The company's motto is 'Our goal is zero harm', and its chief executive Bruno Lafont has placed safety as Lafarge's No.1 priority. "We set ourselves the objective of halving lost time accidents at work between 2006 and 2008. We have achieved this and in the longer term, the Lafarge Group is aiming for zero accidents."

This is quite a challenge, as the €17.6 billion turnover cement, concrete and aggregates giant has over 90,000 employees - in 76 countries and over 2,000 production sites. And not only that - the group is active in countries in the developing world where risk control and regulation is less mature.

Lafarge's approach to safety is to refuse to accept that accidents are inevitable. "For every fatality on site it is estimated that there are at least 30 'lost time' injuries - and 300 lucky escapes," says Geraint. "But added to this there are probably 30,000 unsafe acts and conditions - and these are the root causes of all the other injuries and fatalities. Consequently, we must focus our efforts on eliminating unsafe acts and conditions - thereby reducing the potential for harm."

This spotlight on unsafe actions and conditions is impressive. Every employee has a notepad in which to write down anything potentially risky they see, ranging from a 'near miss' to an unsafe act or condition. In the UK alone Lafarge expects to receive over 600 of these reports each month. "This shows an open culture," believes Geraint. "One where people feel they can report issues and know that corrective action will be taken."

Taking action is important, as a lack of management response undermines the approach. If people report something and nothing is done, they won't report things again. "But it is a two-way contract," says Geraint. "If we take action and everyone agrees on a safer way of doing things - then it must be done that way thereafter. Improving safety requires a two-way agreement and a team effort. Telling people what to do only works when the boss is around. But by being inclusive then when the boss isn't around things continue to be done safely."

These measures are working. Taking the UK as an example, in 2003 on average there was a lost time injury to a Lafarge employee every week. Today there has been over an eight month period without any reportable injuries happening. Central to this is the commitment of senior management. Under a programme called 'Visible Felt Leadership, managers are encouraged to visit production sites and talk to operators about doing the right thing and building a safety culture.

An annual Safety Month is run in every country that Lafarge operates. Drawing in suppliers, local communities and workers' families, events range from children's drawing competitions to barbeques and safety awards. "The family days are especially effective," says Geraint, "as there is no more powerful encouragement to parents to come home safely at night than their own children telling them to take care."

It's hard not to be impressed by the lengths to which Lafarge will go to maintain safety. Routine wearing of Personal Protective Equipment presents the correct image but this is not seen as the primary safety measure. A Safety Management System needs to be established which includes: compulsory induction training, site traffic plans, extensive signage, regular risk assessments, safety audits - and of course modern equipment fitted with extensive safety features.

"Mobile equipment still equates to a disproportionately high number of injuries," says Miles Dobson, Head of Manufacturing for Lafarge Aggregates UK, who is responsible for specifying machine requirements in Britain. With a worldwide fleet of circa 6,000 machines, the company is leading the field when it comes to developing machine-related safety features.

Over 70% of the UK's articulated hauler and wheeled loader fleets are made up of Volvos, the latter ranging from Volvo's L90F to the L220F. "To eliminate blind spots each loader is specified with convex mirrors, reversing alarms, and rear cameras," says Miles. "F-Series wheel loaders are also now being specified with Care track GPS monitoring - and from 2009 they will also be fitted with rear passive radar systems. We want our people to be safe wherever in the world they are."

Mobile equipment presents a significant risk, operators need to have all round visibility and be able to gain access to their machines safely." says Geraint. "But the additional expense is minimal in relation to the overall cost of a machine. Operators appreciate the investment in their safety and take greater care of machines that they are proud to operate.

"Volvo has a lot of expertise in this area and understands what Lafarge demands when it comes to safety," continues Geraint. "We have become partners over time, such that we can develop new technical ideas together that reduce our potential to do harm. Our safety relationship is a two-way process - we need to challenge each other for the benefit of the industry and the safety of our people."

This teamwork has lead to innovations such as the development of powered access and walkway systems for small excavators in the 20 tonne class. But providing safe machines is not going to stop accidents on its own. "The majority of incidents are caused by people's behaviour - not the machines," states Miles. "So we need to convince our people to modify their behaviour to adapt to the situation they are in. You can fit mirrors, but for them to be effective you have to convince operators of the need to use them."

"It's mostly about changing patterns of behaviour," continues Geraint. "A lot of incidents are down to momentary lapses of concentration or rushing to get things done. We need to create a culture that leaves sufficient time to complete the job properly while maintaining focus and being efficient. It's our job to make it easier to do the Right Thing."

With lost time rates tumbling, Lafarge is leading the field when it comes to improving safety. There is a clear message that while you are in its care, Lafarge will do everything possible to take care of you - irrespective of where you are in the world.

"We must make every effort to eliminate incidents and prevent harm, this industry can and must operate safely if it is to be sustainable," states Geraint. "That doesn't mean we are inefficient, quite the opposite. The safest sites are nearly always the most efficient, well managed and profitable.

"Many of our sites are incident free, some going in excess of 15 years without a reportable incident," concludes Geraint.

"The safest way is the best way for everyone.

"Zero harm is achievable.

There is no alternative."

TEXT: Brian O'Sullivan