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One of IOSH’s youngest chartered members, the India-based Health Safety Environment Supervisor for M Al Bargash Co (MBTC) was a finalist in SHP’s Rising Star international category at the SHP Awards in December 2022. He talks to SHP about raising safety standards in a fast moving and challenging construction environment as well as his work to recruit graduates to a growing OSH profession in India.
It was Saravanakumar Natarajan’s older brother Kannan who advised him to pursue an OSH career. Kannan, a chartered IOSH member and the holder of a NEBOSH Diploma, felt that an OSH career would be a good fit for his ambitious sibling, who originally had aspirations to join the Indian armed forces.
“The reason for aiming for both of these careers is almost the same; it is to protect people,” explains Saravanakumar. “I get the utmost satisfaction from providing the day-to-day care of others.”
He has been working as an OSH professional for just over six years and has already made an impact professionally. Still in his twenties, he has become one of IOSH’s youngest chartered members.
When Saravanakumar joined his current employer, M Al Bargash Trading & Contracting Company or MBTC in January 2022 as Health Safety Environment (HSE) Supervisor, he’d already worked for a number of companies in India gaining invaluable experience as a contractor, project management consultant and a client in the country’s fast moving and thriving construction sector.
MBTC was founded in eastern Saudi Arabia in 1976 and is a leading engineering, procurement and construction company that delivers large-scale projects, notably oil and gas and water pipelines as well as other onshore builds. Its extensive client base includes Saudi Aramco, SEC and the Saudi Arabian government.
“When I joined MBTC it was already well versed in health and safety and it was progressing towards achieving certification in ISO 45001 and 14001 management systems,” he says.
“Currently it is certified for ISO 9001, 45001 and 14001 and it also conducts regular HSE campaigns like ‘Tree Plantation’ and ‘Beach Cleanup’ to motivate employees to help support the wider society. MBTC continues to strive for self-advancement in health and safety.”
Saravanakumar says the construction industry is very challenging in nature as the activities and the working environment changes on a daily basis. There are also changeable weather conditions that can impact on the construction activities onsite. From one day to the next operatives can be out working in soaring temperatures and the next torrential downpours. This underlines the importance of putting proper safety control measures in place to ensure the health and safety of the employees.
“We must be accountable and administer and implement various health and safety programmes at managerial as well as field level,” he says. “I strongly believe that the evaluation of HSE implementation at field level and restructuring the strategies periodically is the key to success.”
Saravanakumar believes that it is vital that he develops a strong skills-set so that he can meet all client requirements and ensure all health and safety management systems are fit for purpose. He has taken a very hands-on approach and is closely involved in the delivery of all safety programmes from inception through to implementation and involving all levels of the business from management down to front-line operatives.
“This includes conducting planned and unplanned HSE inspections and audits, the verification of emergency preparedness, delivering safety training for managers and field operatives at multiple sites and communication of HSE requirements to various departments,” he says.
“My current role also includes the management of environmental requirements demanded by the client as well as our company.”
Saravanakumar points out that at one of his previous employers, he was the first safety professional appointed and this provided him with the opportunity to develop the entire health and safety management system.
“Although there were no safety plans, policies and procedures to follow, I found that management was ready to provide full support,” he says.
“I developed all of them, which involved so much research to make them applicable to each unique situation and also very comprehensive. I made sure I involved key people at all levels of the organization so that it had their input. I also made sure it reached everyone through effective communications and continue to consult everyone on any changes.”
Saravanakumar explains that in India the construction industry looks to Indian Standard Codes (IS) for best practice and he will always turn to sector experts, for example the electrical team, to inform procedures so that the company maintains the highest standards. Thanks to this work, he says the company improved its overall safety performance since he’s been employed there and he’s also seen an improvement in safety behaviour among the workforce.
Before joining MBTC, Saravanakumar worked on two massive construction projects that both involved multiple contractors. On the larger project, he estimates that there were more than 1,000 workers onsite. To ensure the safe delivery of both construction builds, he explains how his day-to-day oversight, which included providing safety training, undertaking inspections and ensuring that plans and procedures were adhered to by the different contractors resulted in both being delivered without any lost-time injuries.
“It’s not just because of the system that I introduced,” he says. “It’s because of the support provided by my employer and the senior management team. They helped make it possible by providing sufficient resources so I could implement all of my ideas. Also, it was really important that line managers and the workforce accepted the system and complied.”
Saravanakumar is a strong advocate for the OSH profession and says that he has more than 7,800 followers on Linked-In. Whenever he has a free moment, he takes the opportunity to promote the value of an OSH career and to respond to queries from followers who often have no idea about health and safety and its importance in protecting and saving lives.
“So many people ask me on a daily basis how to do the NEBOSH course and how to get the IOSH certificate and become a chartered member of IOSH,” he says.
Together with his brother, they extol the merits of an OSH career and have helped recruit individuals to the profession. “We have supported many Indian graduates and many of them have now got a job in the field and are working in different sectors as a health and safety professional.”