Jaime Martínez
Business Development Director

Preventative Mentality Need in Automotive Health and Safety

Mon, 09/01/2014 - 16:07

“Sustainability is comprehensive and must be approached through specific indicators: people, environmental performance, community relations, clients, safety, business conduct and ethics, and leadership,” states Jaime Martínez, Business Development Director of ERM, a leading sustainability consultant. However, such a wide array of indicators makes it challenging for automotive companies to develop their sustainability strategy without being subsumed under too many goals. “To circumvent this, ERM asks its clients to prioritize and focus on certain critical factors. They must then show the results to their headquarters to prove that investing in these key areas is beneficial,” he adds. For Martínez, this strategy creates a virtuous cycle that enables companies to regularly move onto other sustainability challenges. The automotive industry has a unique mind-set, setting it apart from others in its approach to sustainability, according to Martínez. “It runs on the motto of ‘first come, first served’ and has unique production concepts where speed is crucial.” To increase productivity, automotive companies respond by adopting different production and waste management strategies that stand out from those seen in other sectors. Martínez believes this uniqueness “has had an important influence on all quality standards. The auto industry is a pioneer in implementing quality systems because of the needs it has and the speed at which it develops.”

Despite the industry’s leadership on many fronts, health and safety is not typically seen as a sustainability indicator but just another element of the management systems that the automotive industry has developed and implemented very well. Martínez identifies health and safety as one of the most relevant elements of the sustainability concept. “Generally, companies only solve this issue when accidents or fatalities occur. It takes such events for people to change their mentality.” According to Martínez, the importance given to this indicator relates to the culture of the industry. “Big auto companies spend millions in dealing with safety issues, but the results remain unchanged, so they become complacent and believe nothing more can be done.” Martínez believes this is unacceptable, and that automotive companies wishing to change must adopt a behaviour-based approach.

This approach requires a completely different culture and mentality towards health and safety matters. Martínez describes the evolution of incidents like a pyramid. Minor incidents are at the bottom, which progress to major incidents until ultimately reaching the pinnacle: fatalities. The new approach driven by ERM turns this pyramid upside down, with the focus now on the minor incidents. “Taking care of the overlooked minor incidents is important, because if these accumulate and nothing is done, a fatality will eventually occur,” explains Martínez. Focusing on the root causes of small incidents reduces the likelihood of fatalities, but most companies still follow a reactive approach. “Better results are certain if health and safety is approached in a preventative way rather than in a reactive manner.” Successful safety systems not only benefit the workers but improve manufacturing processes, decrease downtime, injuries, and fees.

Despite his views, Martínez admits that “compared to other industries, automotive is more sophisticated in safety aspects because of its more automated processes.” Martínez acknowledges that automotive equipment and tools are seen as inherently being safe because safety has been ingrained during the design process. This does not mean they are exempt from assessment. “We helped an automotive client in San Luis Potosi with a study to assess the hazards related to every piece of equipment,” adds Martínez. Checking machinery might appear simple, but Martínez points out that a lot of equipment is imported and warning signs are often only in foreign languages. Basic requirements under Mexican law ask that all hazards to which the operators are exposed should be clearly communicated. It seems that a basic element of this system would be to mandate the translation of all warning signs into Spanish.