Posted on: November 9, 2010 Posted by: Diane Swarts Comments: 0

When opening a conversation about safety, the concept of “zero harm” draws special attention from almost every participant.

In debates with a diverse range of industry colleagues it seems we each have our own perspective on what “zero harm” should mean in the context of the workplace.

Statisticians tell me “zero harm” in the workplace is impossible: there’s no such thing and, by implication, the elimination of workplace accidents will never be achieved.

While the engineer in me understands that to be a law of nature, the leader in me knows the human condition relies on a much broader sense of what’s possible.

DuPont’s Safety record

For more than 100 years DuPont has been on a quest to eliminate accidents in the workplace. It has yet to realise that vision. But after reducing accidents by more than 99% it has a belief that perfection can be achieved.

That belief in what’s possible has driven DuPont to the brink of achieving the impossible.

The Wilmington, Delaware, based chemicals manufacturer has developed a safety programme so successful that in 1999 it formally began training other companies in safety management.

Ashanti and Safety

In October 2007 AngloGold Ashanti reported its 37th fatality for the year. In response to that – and the ongoing tragedy of workplace fatalities – AngloGold Ashanti’s leadership team made a solemn declaration:

Safety is Our First Value.

This declaration represented a very personal commitment to the elimination of fatalities and workplace accidents in the context of the belief that “People Are the Business”.

Like the DuPont leadership of more than 100 years we’d taken a major step in creating a new future for the firm and each of its 63 000 employees. A leadership declaration and the commitment to the belief all accidents are preventable created a new conversation and a debate about what we’d need to do to achieve an accident-free workplace.

These conversations identified practical pathways to deliver safety improvements.

The reinvigoration of the risk management programme, closure of mining areas that represented an unacceptable risk to workers and the design of improved work planning processes combined to help improve our safety performance.

These actions were reinforced through an aggressive safety promotion programme targeting work practices and processes.

The lessons from DuPont were being applied: reconstruct work practices and use those processes to lead beliefs and attitudinal change.

Since October 2007, Anglo-Gold Ashanti has reported a 65% reduction in fatalities and a 45% reduction in all other accidents.

The more significant improvement in fatalities seems to reflect the focus on managing high-risk workplace situations.

An example of the relative impact of the risk-focused work is that deaths from seismic events reduced by more than 85% over that period.

In looking at what steps we need to take to drive the next level of improvement, we’ve reflected on some of the unique issues that impact performance in SA and in the deep underground gold mines of the Witwatersrand and Vaal River:

To deal with those and other structural relationship impediments the AngloGold Ashanti leadership team is building a new operating model that seeks to reconstruct the way we work together.

The focus on work detail, the engagement of employees in the design and planning of their work and the attention to critical detail provide a structured approach to improving safety outcomes.

However, the real strength in the approach is that employees design the detail of the work – with leaders supporting their teams delivering on their commitments.

Leadership in Safety is about accountability

When leaders understand they’re accountable for the safe working practices of their team members, they invariably start to take ownership of those practices.

Once leaders take ownership they’ll provide the systems and resources for work to be undertaken safely, which in of itself models a behaviour that reflects an expectation we have of all employees.

Every employee is accountable to work safely and to look after the welfare of their work colleagues.

Living both personal and collective safety accountability provides a pathway to the next level of safety improvement.

As for DuPont, “no harm” is a vision of our future. At AngloGold Ashanti we never debate if we can achieve an accident-free workplace: we only debate when it will be achieved.

Source: Cutifani CEO AngloGold Ashanti

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