October 20, 2021

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EHS Congress

Questioning zero harm cultures

Ahead of EHS Congress 2021, which takes place in Berlin from 9-10 November 2021, SHP, an event media partner, discusses how organisations can aim for vision zero and how the pandemic has created additional challenges when creating a successful safety culture, with Paul Leonard, Krishnen Mootien and Francois Germain.

A new thinking is quickly appearing, dedicated to showing the opposite side of the “Zero Harm/Vision Zero” cultural movement. According to these new thinkers, we don’t need to implement Zero in our day-to-day operations.

EHS Congress is running a panel debate on the topic during the second day of the event, on Wednesday 10 November. In this article, SHP catches up with three of the panellists to discuss the subject, as well other aspects of safety culture, as we search for the ‘new normal’, post pandemic.


Francois GermainFrancois Germain, Former Health and Safety VP for Refining & Chemicals at TotalEnergies, now CEO of BcomSafe.

A career of global and international executive leadership in oil, gas and energy manufacturing companies has given Francois experience in HSE and manufacturing. He has a passion for transversal management, people development and culture change through leadership to achieve zero injury.

He believes in safety leadership to achieve zero injury goal and has a track of delivering HSE performance across a global organisation, he argues that health & safety does not stop at the company gate.

Paul LeonardPaul Leonard, Helping Prevent Unplanned Events, Globally at SinoCelt LLC.

A highly accomplished and results-driven health, safety and environment executive with an extensive operations background in diverse chemical industries as well as domestic and international experience.

Paul is passionate about safety and the concept of #Zeroispossible (getting everyone home safely, every day) and participates regularly in benchmarking sessions as well as sharing best practices with peers and colleagues.

He uses #Zeroispossible to help communicate his message.

Krishnen Mootien

Krishnen Mootien, Head of Health & Safety, Compliance – EMEA, North America & LATAM at Reckitt

An energetic, innovative & thought-provoking leader with over 10 years senior level experience in a variety of roles across a range of sectors. Krishnen champions talent development, diversity, equality & inclusion, and employee wellbeing as key ingredients for success.

Krishnen is keen to help promote positive culture within organisations at all levels using practical, supportive and forward focused approaches, whether leading functional or project teams.

Also on the panel, will be Bruno Vercken, EHS Director at Danone.

Can we start with you introducing yourself and telling me a little about your background?

Paul Leonard (PL): “Despite my international background, having worked for Dow, Arkema and Orbia in Germany, France, China, USA and Mexico, I am extremely proud of my Irish roots. When not spending time with my family, I enjoy golf, rugby and more recently diving, where I had an amazing experience of swimming with tiger sharks in Cozumel, earlier this year.”

Krishnen Mootien (KM): “I work for a company called Reckitt, previously known as Reckitt Benckiser. Most people know our brands, we manufacture things like Nurofen, Strepsils, DTL, Vanish Finish, Durex, but don’t know our company. I’ve worked across various different manufacturing and am a chemist by qualification.”

Francois Germain (FG): “I’ve worked in the oil and gas industries for just under 40 years. In the first 20 years, I worked for BP with my main role being a corporate role, dealing with operations, procurement, and auditing. I then joined Bostik as Global HSE Director in 2010.

“I joined TotalEnergies in 2013 as the VP Health and Safety for Refining & Chemicals. I’ve led several safety culture transformation programs within the business unit.

“As of earlier this year, I have run my own business, BcomSafe, helping organisations to improve their safety performance. I hope to help them to work towards zero injury.”

What are your top tips for implementing a consistent and positive safety culture in an organisation?

(PL): “Make sure you have a strong management system in place. Share your strategy and vision, and have trust in the people on the front line. Look for the real believers in the organisation and give them your trust and accountability to run the programs. Don’t waste time fighting the unbelievers or naysayers, instead, instil the concepts of HRO (high reliability organisations) and treat near misses like they are big events… Instil a culture of open reporting and no blame and, perhaps most importantly, listen.”

(KM): “Ever since I’ve been working in health and safety, around 10 plus years, safety culture has been a hot topic. How do we improve safety culture, and so on? But, in parallel you’ve got the evolution of workforces, the evolution of people. So, whilst something may have worked for some organisations 10 years ago, is it still applicable now? How do we keep on top of that?

“Today, you’ve now got the added dimension of hybrid working. We call it ‘navigating our new normal’, in our organisation. How do we make sure there are risk assessments in place, not only from a safety perspective, but from a wellbeing perspective? How do we really drive that forward, without it just becoming catchphrases? Those are the questions we need to be asking ourselves.”

How has the coronavirus pandemic had an impact on your role and on safety culture as a whole?

(PL): “If we can dare to think of a positive from the pandemic, I think it has helped highlight the importance of the EHS function, which was ready and trained to react. At Orbia, we had just changed the medical organisation to report through the HSE function. This helped a lot in the understanding of planning and focus on managing the risks and reducing exposures.

“We really got back into the original meaning of EHS. Those of us who are experienced enough to remember the early 80’s, before “green” was sexy, EHS was all about employee health and safety. The pandemic gave us a chance to focus on this.

“The reverse was that there was less face-to-face contact, fewer field interventions, audits etc. I talk about ‘cathedral thinking’ a lot, so an approach that helps the organisation focus on the long-term goals that you set to build a sustainable culture. That can be a culture of safety, operational excellence, reliability, quality etc…

“You cannot change culture overnight, there is not an app for it… Building a cathedral typically took several generations of stonemasons and the person who laid the first stone never saw the finished product. But the teams that came after, all worked towards the same final cathedral. In an organisation it is similar. A generation of management or leadership is maybe three-five years, so it could take 10 years to build a sustainable culture, but if the vision is clearly communicated at the beginning, everyone buys in and it makes sense, then the teams that follow continue the process until it becomes the way things are done.

“So, there was less focus on the safety aspect, however, from my discussions with peers, those organisations that had already ‘built their cathedral’s’, where safety performance was not a result of hierarchical intervention but trusting the front-line workers to continue to work safely, these organisations were able to adapt and continue to improve safety performance.

“The other big issue that has really come to the surface is the issue of mental health. It has certainly been sub-surface for many years but these past couple of years it has really come to the fore.”

(KM): “We probably hit the ‘good’ side of the pandemic. Many of our hygiene products really increased in demand and we had to change our portfolio. We do not make hand sanitiser in many of our sites, but that that increase in saw us install lines to make hand sanitisers.

“All of our facilities were running throughout lockdown, so we obviously had to have COVID-safe protocols in place. But, additionally to that, we had construction projects that were still going on too, which had to be managed.”

(FG): “I think every company has learned to work more with Teams and with the other with the digital tools. We were not allowed to travel, and one big issue was not being able to pass on your leadership, to pass relief, to communicate physically.

“I think being a strong safety leader is to be visible, be visible on the floor, to show your presence, to give feedback, to show that you care. You cannot do that virtually, so yes, COVID impacted the way you can influence, but it created another opportunity to work differently and probably to change where we will manage at the corporate level. I worked in a corporate role for 12 years, and I’ve seen a lot of different ways. I think we’ve made really a big change now around how we work, from corporate standpoint.

“For a large portion of the company, we still have some people on the floor, people being injured, so we’re definitely still going to have to tackle this in an organisation. So, moving forward, I think that part of the safety manager’s role will remain the same. But I think part of the role is now going to be health focused, much more human factor focused, as a result of the pandemic.”

One of your ‘key ingredients of success’ is employee wellbeing. Do you think this topic has come to the fore even more because of the pandemic? And, what is your business doing to help its staff?

(KM): “I think it’s very much around understanding our individuals and understanding them as groups? At Reckitt, we haven’t got a hard line on how we’re approaching this new normal. It’s very flexible depending on teams and individuals.

“We build it around three areas essentially…

“External readiness. What are the government guidelines and other restrictions that we need to be aware of?

“Internal readiness. How is our company positioning itself for the next phases of the pandemic? Whether that’s reopening facilities, reopening offices, setting in place the right controls and aligning that with our external readiness.

“Then, most importantly, individual readiness. How do we factor in the readiness of each of our employees, as individuals, to the pandemic? Some of them are really struggling, some of them are vulnerable, some of them need shielding. It’s important that they aren’t just a name on a sheet that can just come back three days a week and work at home two days a week.

“We consider each of those three particular areas equally when looking at supporting our people.”

You are an advocate of ‘zero is possible’ and use hashtags to help get your message across, why do you believe zero accidents is achievable and how can businesses put a culture in place that works towards this goal?

(PL): “As an industry we focus on failure, who else does this?!? The number of accidents, we measure safety in TRIR or LTIR. We need to look at the more positive side of safety. I need to make sure that we do not focus on a goal of zero, but a vision of zero. Plants, organisations that can go for 100 days, 1,000 days, five years etc, without an accident know that #zeroispossible for this amount of time. They understand that feeling of going so many days without an accident and they want that feel good feeling to last as long as possible.

“We are honest and pragmatic enough to understand that we will not have zero accidents, but by having an attitude that #zeroispossible, a no blame culture and focus on learning from near misses, we can really increase the number of days between accidents and reduce the severity of accidents when they do occur. This can ultimately help reduce the 2,78 million fatalities targeted by the One Percent Safer initiative.”

You are a big believer in the importance of safety leadership in order to achieve a zero-injury goal, can you expand on that a little?

(FG): “For me, when I’m talking about why you make a decision to believe in zero, is because zero is really a foundation to drive towards, it’s not an objective. It’s something to aim for within your culture, where you give clarity as to what you expect. Vision zero is not a target, it’s something far away that you are searching for. Vision zero is always there because you are explaining what you expect.

“When you think about zero, you think about zero incidents, zero near misses, zero breaches of compliance. But, from a leadership standpoint, think there are four aspects:

“Visible leadership. First, you need to be visible, and reinforce competency in safety leadership.

“Visible commitment. You need to be committed, to be present in the field, to give feedback and to intervene when you see something going wrong.

“Visible recognition. You need to recognise that things are progressing. Tell people when they are doing good.

“Visible standards. Finally, you need to create achievable standards.

“There are four elements of leadership that I spoke about in the One Percent Safer book. Those four elements are clear, concise and give level of expectation.”

Are you excited to get back to attending face-to-face events?

(PL): “My biggest challenge during COVID, was not being able to get out and visit plants, recognise the workers on the front-line for their amazing contributions in these challenging times and take learnings from this that will reinforce the support of our ‘cathedral’.

“Taking part in conferences such as these, is an additional privilege and something I am looking forward to rekindling in Berlin.”

(KM): “I absolutely can’t wait, I’m super excited and so thankful that the contact was made.

“One key message that we we’re putting out there, is COVID hasn’t gone away. We cannot ignore the pandemic, but at the same time we cannot ignore the need for us to connect and resume. Whether that’s going back to the workplace and reconnecting with peers, groups, teams and live events, being in a place with so many different perspectives and taking on board what they have to say.”

(FG): “It’s a fantastic opportunity to reconnect with my network. But I would also like to know what’s keeping people awake at night now. I think that’s one of the great things about this Congress, it gets people talking, thinking and sharing ideas.

“In my area, in oil and gas, you may only get to see one part of the story. I don’t know the food industry or other industries and what their concerns are, how they are performing and benchmarking against that.”

What can delegates expect from the ‘Questioning zero harm cultures’ panel debate?

(PL): “A lively session for a start! I like to say, ‘sharing is caring’ and hope that from our discussion, we can share some knowledge and approaches that can help other EHS practitioners in their organisations, with the aim to get more people home safely and more believers that #zeroispossible.”

(KM): “I very much want to hear what the others on the panel and the audience have to say on the subject. I’ve tried to engage with my own network to get some feedback. My views are probably both for and against, if I’m honest.

“I understand zero cultures, I’ve led zero initiatives in the past and it’s been fantastic to be part of those. However, are the zero strategies from five or 10 years ago, the same copy-paste strategies that we need to implement today? I’m not so sure they are, and this is where my thoughts against plays a part of the debate. So, I’ll probably be flicking in and out of different arguments.

“What I want to get to the bottom of, is how do we develop these strategies? How do we align with the sharpness we have amongst EHS professionals when we’re building strategies? Without any added value, the meat to the bones is worthless. But, pulling in the right strategy, with the right context, to the right audience, at the right time, can add value. It’s how we go about the approach, for me.”

(FG): “I think an explanation of why you agree an objective of vision zero. What excites people when they hear zero and how it helps to drive to the strategy when you tell them, vision zero.

“I know on the panel there will be some people who will say the opposite and I’m looking forward to that, because it will make things very interesting.”

Hear more from this panel on two one of EHS Congress 2021 in the session, ‘Questioning zero harm cultures, on 10 November.

Click here for the full EHS Congress agenda, COVID guidelines and to register for a place at the event.

Click here for more from EHS Congress on SHP.

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