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The Safety Culture of the European Abrasive Industry Fits into its Vision on Sustainability

Sustainability and safety are topics sometimes misunderstood together and separated, but the relationship between the two is interdependent and long lasting. Sustainability is a long-term vision based on three pillars: environment, social and economy.  The framework established by a sustainable approach is conjugated by various issues that fall under the three pillars.

Safety under the social pillar: safety of employees

The topic of safety will generally be found under labor, occupational health and safety (OHS) considerations, essentially answering the question on the safety measures employers put in place to protect the health of their employees and ensure their safety in the workplace.

In order to be sustainable, a company must provide a healthy and safe environment to employees and systematically address their well-being. Long gone is the time of using freshly graduated employees, working them to the bones until an almost inevitable burnout! The key to employee longevity is to find a balance between the past, the present and the future: a focused recruitment, a work-life balance and growth opportunities.  There are numerous key performance indicators (KPIs) that allow companies to accurately measure the effectiveness of their program such as the employee turnover rate. Indeed an employee in the wrong position, overworked or with no growth opportunities will naturally seek another job to preserve his or her health.

PastPresentFuture
Recruitment phaseWork-life balanceGrowth opportunities
Average time to fill a position
Orientation investment
Satisfaction rate
Fired rate
Overtime rate
Sick leave rate
Turnover rate
Shorter week programs
Training investment
Job rotation

While health is important, safety is life-saving. Therefore, to instill a culture of safety, the manufacturing sector goes a great length to promote and reward safe behavior. For instance, corporate social media will acknowledge when a plant has not had an accident for a certain period of time by posting a picture of the team working on the plant floor. Beyond respecting European regulations, companies have understood that safety cannot be imposed to employees but it should be taught, encouraged and rewarded.

Not to be discounted, employees are the grassroot movement of safety. Therefore when safety issues are reported, they need to be taken seriously by management and their response time shall be tracked. The principles of a sustainable approach to labor is reached by creating a sense of accountability between workers and managers and fostering a cohesive environment with safety being the glue binding everyone together.

Other measures such as the dreaded accident rate will provide a good overview of the companies’ philosophy towards safety (see table below):

Safety KPIs
Making safety a priority
Safety prevention investment rate
Number of days without accidents (plants)
Near miss incident reports
Number and type of unsafe behaviors reported
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) investment rate
Equipment breakdowns

Often times, companies will evaluate safety by the money invested in preventing accident because they are tangible indicators. How does a company evaluate an accident that never happened? Another way to look at this would be to track the cost of implementing low safety measures: insurance claim rate, insurance premium cost, workers compensation, recruitment cost, productivity rate, brand damage, governmental sanctions, audit cost. Accidents concretely impact all of these measures and preventing them will save more money to companies than not investing in safety.

Safety under the economic pillar: Safety of end-users

The European abrasive industry challenges the principles of sustainability by also believing that safety can fall under the economic pillar by optimizing the quality of their product and providing the necessary information to end-users in order to avoid accidents.

Abrasives products on themselves are not dangerous, but it is how they are used that makes them extremely dangerous and calls for safety precautions to be taken by end-users every time. The do-it-yourself users can be penalized by their inexperience by “not knowing” for example how to position themselves when cutting or grinding or fix their work piece. Oddly enough, professional users can be penalized by their extensive experience by overconfidently foregoing the basic safety measures such as not using PPEs or removing the safeguard on their power tools.

European manufacturers of abrasives created a safety program that fit the level of experience of users: detailed safety instructions, reminders of the safety measures, prevention campaigns, etc… More importantly, European manufacturers follow scrupulously the safety requirements spelled out in the EN standards relating to abrasive products: EN 12413 (bonded abrasives), EN 13743 (coated abrasives), EN 13236 (superabrasives). Through the conventional process of standardization, end-users can choose abrasives products with the mark EN, thus guaranteeing the products to be conform to the state of the art safety standard of European manufacture.

For more details on the European abrasive manufacturer’s safety program, please go to: www.abrasivessafety.com.

Safety under the environmental pillar: Safety of the community

Perhaps the most obvious, yet the most complicated sustainability pillar for industry is the environment. Carbon footprint, zero-pollution action plan, climate neutrality are ambitious concepts that demand for manufacturers to radically change their approach to making products.

Safety plays a role on a macroeconomic level: air pollution, water discharge, handling of waste, energy consumption. While the immediate logic of the impact on safety can be lost on some, it is evident that the more manufacturers contribute to pollution, the more the safety of the community is compromised. Many class action lawsuits have driven changes in nation’s laws, consumer behavior and even in our sense of esthetic.

The European abrasive industry internalized the moral goal to strive into a more sustainable manufacturing method. To make this goal reality, they first had to accept the fact changes won’t happen overnight. They also realized that the cost of investing in a sustainable program will be far outweighed by the return on investment they will receive in the long-term.

The SEAM program (Sustainable European Abrasive Manufacturer) helps the manufacturers in turning today’s production imperatives into a sustainable process.  The fundamental theory bases itself on the idea of “continuous improvements”: improving energy efficiency, waste management, chemical management and so on. The program does not stick to the European laws. It incites companies to go above and beyond to ensure the environmental safety of their community.