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2020 / 2021 Edition

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Dedication to Health and Safety Excellence

First published in the May 2018 issue of Quarry Management as Striving for Excellence

Eliminating workplace injuries and the incidence of ill health is the highest priority for any quarry operator, and for EPC-UK, specialists in commercial explosives and blasting services, they have not only met the safety requirements of customers, but are also taking major steps to raise their own health, safety and environmental standards. QM spoke to Ben Williams, managing director, about the company’s dedication to health and safety excellence and the importance of leadership in employee engagement

Quarrying can be a dangerous occupation, and while industry accident rates have dropped significantly in the last decade as part of the drive towards ‘Target Zero’ and ‘Zero Harm’, it still remains a potentially hazardous sector to work in, with slips, trips and falls, manual handling and vehicle/equipment-related accidents being among the most common incidents. 

The UK aggregates industry employs more than 75,000 people and each year these workers are at higher risk of death or injury than those working in other sectors across the country. Health and safety management has, therefore, become central to the operation of almost every construction materials firm. 

However, it is not just policies, audits and training in the quarry that can improve the industry’s overall health and safety record – everyone in the construction supply chain (eg plant manufacturers, fleet operators and SME contractors) also has a leading role to play. 

With many quarry operators fully committed to delivering further safety improvements, there is a growing need for contractors, suppliers and the businesses themselves to share and spread best working practices across the wider mineral products industry. 

At EPC-UK, one of the industry’s leading experts in commercial explosives and blasting services, occupational health and safety has always been – and continues to be – the most important priority for managing director Ben Williams. 

‘Safety is at the forefront of everything we do,’ said Mr Williams. ‘As specialist service contractors to the aggregates and mineral extraction sector, we have a duty to provide our customers with the highest levels of safety competence and to ensure a sustainable safe working environment is established, monitored and developed to help us reach our ultimate goal of zero harm.’ 

Workforce engagement

EPC-UK clearly value employees as their most valuable resources and Mr Williams said it is important for companies to focus on new ways of getting their staff more involved with the overall process of workplace safety.     

Through their highly successful ‘Esprit d’Equipe’ initiative (launched in 2015), EPC-UK have demonstrated a strong commitment to delivering a safer, more visible and healthier culture for their 250-strong workforce.

‘The programme targets all employees within the company – raising awareness levels, promoting the industry’s Zero Harm objectives and improving the safety culture across the organization,’ commented Mr Williams. 

‘The Esprit d’Equipe campaign represents the core values of the EPC Groupe [parent company] which are encapsulated in the word ‘Spirit’ – safety, passion, integrity, respect, innovation and teamwork – with safety being our number one priority. 

‘These strong company values are the essence and culture of the way we operate, and the initiative is led by a number of EPC-UK employees who work as voluntary safety ambassadors. Communicating with staff is an extremely significant factor in the improvement of health and safety performance in the workplace, and our ambassadors ensure that good safety practice is acknowledged and communicated back to the workforce.’

He continued: ‘Employees are a company’s most important asset and we want to inspire and engage our workers by taking a team approach to health and safety management, encouraging them to take ownership of their behavioural safety and developing a ‘blame-free’ working environment. 

‘Having visible felt leadership and worker engagement across all levels of the organization directly improves occupational health and safety. Directors, senior managers and safety representatives need to be visible and their enthusiasm for health and safety best practice must be felt by everyone in the business.’

With a strong safety culture embedded across the organization and a proactive SHE strategy in place – based on exemplary leadership and a behavioural approach to safety management – EPC-UK are recognized for their health and safety excellence in the minerals extraction industry.   

The message from Mr Williams is that everyone in the workforce has a key part to play in improving safety standards, and  promoting the understanding of responsible personal behaviour throughout the whole workforce is essential for businesses and their long-term SHE performance.  

He also emphasized the key role played by the company’s safety ambassadors in the health and safety management process and the value of ‘peer reviews’ as part of the Esprit d’Equipe safety programme.

‘Over the last few years, I’ve seen fundamental changes in personal and process safety within the drilling and blasting sector,’ said Mr Williams. ‘Bureaucratic process-orientated safety systems are long gone and the quarrying industry is now much more focused on people issues rather than taking a systematic and structured process approach to managing health and safety. 

‘We’ve always taken a proactive approach to keeping a health and safety focus on site and avoiding complacency – as it is our employees who provide the solutions to our safety problems. When it comes to near-miss incidents or accidents, I don’t believe taking disciplinary action against an employee(s) will encourage or improve workplace safety for everyone. 

‘The Esprit d’Equipe campaign fosters active involvement in health and safety issues by managers, supervisors and workers. And our successful peer-to-peer reviews [between safety ambassador and employee] have been supporting, advising and educating staff and employers on how to make sites safer for everyone, as well as sharing best practices in work-related health, well-being and managing environmental risks.’

Mr Williams continued: ‘Along with our safety toolkit measures, the peer-to-peer assessment approach is about information exchange and co-operative organizational learning to achieve substantial and sustainable safety improvements. If people do not feel properly equipped and supported they will be unable to perform to their full capacity.

‘However, by demonstrating a real concern for each employee, coupled with workforce engagement and other approaches, EPC-UK staff will have a personal value of their own safety and the safety of the people they work with. This means letting each other know what is expected and what is needed to safely conduct our operations. Ultimately, it makes them feel that they are an integral part of our Esprit d’Equipe mission.’

Employee well-being

With a strong focus on health and safety and continuous training firmly rooted in Mr Williams’ agenda, EPC-UK have clearly gone above and beyond in leading a safer culture for employees and promoting Zero Harm at their Alfreton and Harwich sites.  

While further improvements (managing vehicle movement; reducing slips, trips and falls; equipment safety; housekeeping etc.) have been made on addressing safety issues and preventing accidents and injuries in quarries, there is still a lot of work to be done on promoting employee well-being and good health in the construction materials sector.  

In recent years, there has been a surge in positive attitudes from businesses about implementing workplace health and well-being programmes, but many firms have been slow to embrace and put such initiatives into practice.

EPC-UK are one company who are bucking this trend, having recently launched an innovative programme specifically designed to support their employees’ personal well-being.

The ‘Commit to be fit’ scheme is available to all of the company’s employees and encourages staff to take an active interest in their health, while offering support and guidance on a range of topics from nutrition and exercise to mindfulness and mental health.

As part of the programme, employees are provided with a Garmin fitness activity tracker, a gym/workout bag and online access to a Wellness Programme Portal, which aims to keep workers engaged and motivated as they work towards a healthy, well-adjusted lifestyle. 

‘The Commit to be fit programme has been well-received and it’s great to see so many of our employees taking part in the initiative,’ said Mr Williams. ‘Workplace health and well-being programmes not only have a positive impact on your employees’ wellness, but they can also lead to a significant increase in team performance and engagement, cohesiveness and overall productivity.’  

EPC-UK say Commit to be fit is a demonstration of their commitment to the Workplace Wellbeing Charter – a nationally recognized statement of intent showing employers’ responsibility for the health and well-being of their staff.

One of the most important points of the programme launch was that each EPC-UK employee will have access to information, advice and support on all aspects of their personal well-being, and this year Commit to be fit is focusing on ‘mindfulness’ as a general theme.  

‘Tackling workplace mental health is complex and sensitive because there is still a stigma attached to having mental health problems, and often employees would rather stay silent by not acknowledging them or do not have the right tools and understanding of how to handle these issues,’ commented Mr Williams.  

‘Health and safety management is about looking at the bigger picture, and while many companies have done a lot to ensure that the physical health of their workers is at the forefront, not enough is being done to put mental well-being on the same level as the physical safety elements. It is important that the mental health of the workforce is also considered and cared for.’ 

EPC-UK have already taken major steps in encouraging and changing how their staff think and talk about mental illness in the workplace – replacing silence and stigma with acceptance and support.

While awareness of mental health is increasing across the quarrying and mineral extraction sector, Mr Williams believes employers and employees alike need to be better educated on what it means to suffer from a mental health problem. 

‘Breaking down mental health stigma in the workplace is about creating awareness, encouraging acceptance and challenging false beliefs and stereotypes,’ he said. ‘Companies need to create a culture of openness about mental health by raising employees’ awareness and understanding of mental health issues and providing clear information, support and guidance on mental illness and well-being, and how these issues can be addressed.’

Aiming for Zero Harm 

As the quarrying sector aims to achieve zero incidents and injuries in the workplace, one of the key contributing factors in meeting the industry’s ‘Zero Harm’ targets is fulfilling its wide-reaching goal of having a fully competent workforce. 

EPC-UK have ensured that all employees have had extensive training and carry the necessary professional accreditation and safety certification to be able to demonstrate the fully assured competence of their workforce. The company has adopted a rigorous ‘zero harm’ approach to workplace safety across its five business lines – explosives, blasting services, fuel additives, defence and logistics. 

Mr Williams is a strong advocate of skills training and professional development, so much so that EPC-UK provide accredited training courses through the Institute of Quarrying, MPQC, HSQ and Highfield. 

The courses are utilized by some of the leading names in industries such as quarrying and surface mining, to certify shot-firers and explosives supervisors to nationally-approved standards of accreditation.

‘We all have a common goal of delivering zero harm in the workplace, so it is critical that best working practices are shared and spread across the wider aggregates industry,’ said Mr Williams.   

‘That is why we are committed to supporting the sector in a focused and considered way with a range of training courses and assessments designed to meet the needs of particular businesses and personnel. Training and ongoing professional development of employees at all levels within the industry is absolutely key to making the workplace safer, raising standards and improving the working experience.’ 

Creating and embedding a strong safety culture across an organization takes time and effort, but employers, such as EPC-UK, who are committed to taking SHE performance into a new dimension, will reap the rewards of having a healthier, more engaged and highly productive workforce with reduced sickness absence and staff turnover costs. 

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