Crisis management as an opportunity for better occupational safety

Your stepping stone for EHS process optimization

When a crisis like the Corona pandemic hits globally active companies, already existing challenges in occupational safety and legal compliance are multiplied exponentially. Locations of various sizes, with differing company cultures and procedural structures face different levels of severity pandemic and are subject to different legal regulations based on their level of risk. The accelerated pace with which changes of all sorts occur must also be taken into account. Under such conditions, many types of work and production suddenly become hard-to-justify legal and safety risks.

This doesn’t have to be the case. Every crisis of this scale a company faces also has a silver lining. You can use the close attention top of management is paying to make the impossible possible for EHS concerns. A crisis is the ideal time to optimize occupational safety processes permanently, ensuring legal conformity and occupational safety in the long run.

How it's done: The crisis as a stepping stone

The Austrian industrial technology company Miba paves the way. With over 30 production and sales locations in Europe, North and South America and Asia, the company was able to set processes in motion during the Corona pandemic that will positively affect the safety culture of the company long after Corona subsides. Read on to find out how Miba’s Corporate EHS & Facility Manager Franz Almhofer-Amering was able to get the ball rolling and how the software solution Quentic was able to support him significantly in his efforts. Using the real-world example of Miba’s crisis management during the Corona pandemic, we can derive a list of helpful tips that could also enhance your company in such crises.

Setting goals for crisis management

Franz Almhofer-Amering does not see EHS as an isolated specialization, but rather as a service to all company processes. To provide the service of safe and legally compliant work during the Corona crisis, he set two important goals as the basis upon which all further actions would be made:

  1. Support all locations and employees in implementing safety regulations

  2. Minimize the risk of liability to company leadership and managers

 

Winning over the employees

Occupational safety is won or lost by how the workforce accepts and implements measures. In keeping with this, “the focus is on the people” emerged as the most prominent safety trend in 2020. For Miba and many other companies, human behavior has been the one of the biggest challenges during the COVID-19 crisis:

As the pandemic began to wind down in Europe, the Corona regulations prescribed by governments, especially those concerning minimum distance, were progressively relaxed in public spaces. However, it was imperative that company heads, managers and EHS resources continued to adhere to these regulations. To make this clear to employees, they could not rely on sending an email with the company-initiated safety regulations.  

To solve this problem, Miba created a location-independent safety inspection. Inspectors and management alike were made aware of the great interest in implementation and results. The underlying assumption was meant to confirm the following: Only when employees see how management was personally involved in implementing the Corona regulations could a corresponding safety culture function.

Tips from Miba:

  • Recognize human concern and obstacles to necessary safety measures
  • Find a solution that aims to place people at the focus of attaining occupational safety
  • Assign management personal responsibility for implementation of safety measures
  • Communicate occupational safety as a priority and make it palpable to employees

Winning over top management

Such a crisis will inevitably attract the interest of top management for occupational safety and the legal compliance associated with it. The desire for rapid and far-reaching change is also usually present and should be seen as an unusual opportunity. In Miba’s case, the initial conditions were already quite favorable for strengthening process standardization across locations:

In 2018, Franz Almhofer-Amering began tactfully rolling out Quentic’s EHS software across multiple locations. At the center of his considerations was the thought: “One only gets one chance to introduce something new well.”

ZuWhen the pandemic broke out and was followed by a worldwide Corona shutdown, over two thirds of Miba employees were working at locations where Quentic was already the established EHS platform. Now they could use the situation as an opportunity to target a complete process standardization of all locations in Quentic: To enable top management to track the Corona measures at every location, they collectively agreed to make the Risks & Audits module a requirement for Corona safety inspections at all locations.

Tips from Miba:

  • Use existing systems (Excel and mailing lists, tickets, and optimally: EHS software)

  • Legal Compliance is a major issue for all management figures. Keep this in mind when pitching new actions.

 

Determining measures for occupational safety

Research

Even though there are plenty of guidelines and checklists for safety measures during the Corona pandemic out there, Franz Almhofer-Amering recommends that you don’t rely solely on these.

Doing your own research using a variety of sources, such as e.g. the legalnewsletter from Enhesa, sharing ideas with other companies, for example using the Quentic Community, are crucial. Only by doing so can you put together a comprehensive catalog of questions and anticipate future necessities on time.

Miba, for example, ordered the procurement of two contactless thermometers for each of their locations. Such methods cannot be found in checklists or previous governmental guidelines. Only by quality prediction of possible official regulations can significant risks be discovered, and appropriate measures taken.

A comprehensive question catalog for offices and production facilities

The 36 questions from Miba’s COVID-19 Safety Audit include general questions as well as ones targeted at the specifics of both manufacturing and office environments.  

The catalog lets you skip unnecessary questions, like whether or not people are kept separate during shift changes when conducting a safety audit for an office. The reverse also applies to the restricted number of people allowed in meeting rooms.

When dealing with guests, the safety audit makes no difference between third parties that consist of delivery people bringing in raw materials for manufacture or someone arriving to do maintenance on the printer.  

Tips from Miba:

  • Do your own research using diverse sources

  • Avoid using copy-and-paste to build your catalog

  • Anticipate possible changes in official regulations

  • Find a community to share ideas and information

  • Make sure your solutions work for everyone

 

A site-wide obligatory safety inspection

The ability to win over management, key users and the workforce often depends on how user-friendly a software is. Management needs to be informed about the system and able to quickly access information and well-prepared evaluations.

“I showed all of top management how Quentic works live in the system itself. The reaction was entirely positive.”

In just 10 minutes, the employees responsible for carrying out the inspections were instructed online in the corresponding functions of the audit module. By the end of April, the first round of inspections had already been completed. The inspections alone, as well as the tightening of security measures that followed, largely led to positive changes, according to Franz Almhofer-Amering. The fact that those responsible for the inspections knew that the results would be highly publicized within the company and were of great importance to top management was a big contributor to their positive effect.

A further key to their success was that the inspections did not only check whether the Corona safeguards were being implemented, but also looked into how. This allowed Miba to derive concrete measures for locations with discrepant results. For example, during the inspections, smoking areas, offices and meeting rooms were labeled to indicate to how many people could be inside them at once.

Tips from Miba:

  • Use processes and systems that are easy for everyone to understand and operate

  • Document how implementation occurs

  • Use the best implementing to derive standards for improvement and implement these quickly

  • Present the results of inspections to top management in the most easily reviewable format possible (automatic is optimal)

 

How to make the most of this opportunity

The Corona crisis has brought Franz Almhofer-Amering much closer to his goal. EHS at Miba has made real progress in integrating all processes across its sites and having an interface accessible and easy for everyone to use.

The action Miba took, making an EHS software mandatory for audits, led to top management and managers at other levels being convinced of the quality and importance of integrated EHS processes, for one.Using numbers and reports, Miba was able to prove that occupational safety had improved by leaps and bounds, ensuring legal compliance at the top level.

On the other hand, locations that were previously less involved in the standardized EHS processes are now caught up. Quentic’s EHS software fulfilled a very specific function, namely allowing for the conduction of mandatory safety inspections, and now likely didn’t need an additional push from above, but those at locations themselves discovered the software had organic dialogue along the lines of “Hey, it's great that we have such a cool software. What else can it do?”

You can also harness top management’s attention in times of crisis and channel it towards creating a stable EHS culture. Take the following tip with you as you go about it:

Tip from Miba:

The more processes and responsibilities there are, the easier it will be to implement new issues in a large company group (even outside of a crisis). Draw on the roles, software and documents that are already established.