On Wednesday, 5 December 2018, Siemens and Business Day Connect invited industry leaders to discuss environment, health and safety (EHS) issues in industrial and infrastructure environments in South Africa. “We would not be here if we did not take health and safety as seriously as we do,” said Sabine Dall’Omo, CEO of Siemens Southern and Eastern Africa. “At Siemens we have a global standard for environment, health and safety procedures,” she said. “We call it zero harm – to make sure that all of our employees at the end of the day come safely home to their families and stay healthy within our organisation.” 
Host Andile Khumalo posed hard-hitting questions, starting with: Is it true that companies have a lax approach to EHS? “I think it’s untrue,” said Siemens EHS Country Lead Marthinus Coetzee. “Human life is not a commodity we should be trading in. You can’t have success without health and safety.” He explained that the cost of an injury to a project outweighs the cost of instilling a culture of health and safety. “You can’t pay for a project in blood.”
Jan Loubser, Corporate HSE Manager at Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Africa, said: “We have perceptions, we have emotions, we have reality – and we have the press. For the last 50 years the mines have really invested millions in safety, but one fatality occurs and then management is bad, nothing is done for safety and that perception is carried over to the general public. We must also look at when things go well in companies.”
“It’s not about the economics. It’s a moral and ethical issue,” added Michael Parker, Head of Group Safety, Operational Risk and Assurance at Anglo American. “And certainly at Anglo, we will stop work; we will shut the mine down; whatever it takes. We will not compromise, we will not question safety.”
Klaus Helmrich, Member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG, said: “The highest priorities of the company are safety and compliance. Everyone has a right to go home safely after every shift and after every work day. We instil a culture of ownership within Siemens and we don’t shy away from our responsibilities.”
How to instil a culture of safety?
Rogan Black, HSE Manager at Group Five, said: “If safety is visible from the top all the way down to the site, people are aware that safety is being enforced. If you don’t enforce safety, it becomes a lapse where people become complacent.” Duncan Carlisle, Industry Accreditor Regulator and CEO of NOSA, said a big challenge comes in when they partner with sub-contractors that may not have the resources or budget to invest in health and safety and end up taking short cuts around their systems and machinery.
To this end, industry leaders are investing in upskilling suppliers in EHS and compliance. Rita Nkhulu, Executive Director of Siemens Africa, explained that Siemens provides supplier development programmes to small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and particularly to exempt micro enterprises (EMEs) to help them obtain an ISO certificate and to understand – what does it mean to be certified in occupational health and safety? Parker added that Anglo American too provides supplier development programmes to strike a balance between rationalising the supply chain and building up suppliers in the communities they serve.
Geoffrey Small, SHEQ Manager at Eskom, said Eskom provides occupational hygiene programmes to sub-contractors to make sure that all their workers are safe from dust, noise and other occupational hygiene hazards. Kerseri Pather, General Manager of Sustainability Systems, added that Eskom also hosts a contractor academy to engage, vet and upskill suppliers before they become service providers.
Using technology to keep people safe
Siemens recently launched a Digital Mining Incubator at Wits University to develop innovative solutions to health and safety, environmental protection and improved productivity. Keshin Govender – Group Head: Corporate Communications at Siemens – explained that anyone can access the open source platform and co-working space to come up with solutions to health and safety issues. With the incubator, he said, “We can explore relevant technology that can impact our environment in a positive way.”
But how can workers report safety issues to the top? Coetzee said that at Siemens, workers can report problems directly to managers using a digital platform and app. Loubser said at Mitsubishi, workers and managers are on the same WhatsApp group – making it easier for employees to let managers know when they feel unsafe.
At the end of the night, each person around the table made a pledge towards upholding health and safety, which included:
• Increased visibility of management
• To take care of employees and enforce consequences when EHS standards are violated
• To share knowledge and exchange insights with industry players 
• To maintain a balance between performance and conformance
• To make sure people are not harmed because of factors leading to fatigue 
• To make sure every employee goes home the way they arrived at work
• To align products and services with industry needs
• To make sure every employee has a voice when it comes to health and safety
• To make sure the commitment that management demonstrates is transformed into the hearts and minds of employees
• To drive collaboration, culture change, accountability and transparency