Our culture, your safety

Catching up with Guillaume Olivier, General Manager SHEQ at Unitrans Africa around how integral safety has become within our company culture.

This morning as I was reflecting on what impact Unitrans has had on the safety of the general public, I could not help but think of a post from our Botswana team.

This post highlighted the actions of Mr Moses Selabe, who saved 3 lives through his quick actions and skills, which reflects the compassion he has for the safety of other road users. In reality, his action gave Unitrans Africa a glimpse into the effectiveness of our group safety culture which forms an inseparable part of our organisational culture. 

Let’s talk about culture

I truly believe that no one gets up in the morning thinking “what can I do wrong today, or who can I hurt”. By nature, humans are good and our intentions are good. We want to be safe based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This is why I feel a company’s culture will automatically be enriched with a sense of safety. 

We need to ask if it is possible to influence the human experience and perception to channel this natural urge to strengthen a safe working environment. In my view and those of Andrew Sharman (as written in his book from Accidents to Zero), a “safe working culture” needs to form an inextricable part of the organisational culture. Then only will it truly support your vision and stimulate growth. 

Understanding the impact of the working environment

I have had the privilege of working in a variety of industries, from manufacturing, construction, chemical, explosive to mining, but the logistics industry in my opinion is one of the most challenging to maintain a safe working environment. This is merely due to the pure unpredictable nature of our operating environment. 

Allow me to explain this statement. Within most other industries there is a controlled working environment which to a great extent allows for the isolation of employees in the workspace creating a safe working environment in which to inculcate a specific group view or culture that stipulates what is acceptable or not (At Unitrans Africa we refer to this as the “smell of the place”).

The advantage of a controlled working environment is that one can isolate unwanted hazards by implementing mitigation processes and as long as the compliance to these processes are managed consistently, one should not have a negative outcome. The “Brother’s keeper” principles, which allow employees to intervene when fellow workers are at risk or might not identify a potential risk can also easily be implemented. 

The Logistics industry does not work in such a controlled environment as most employees are functioning in the public domain (Uncontrolled environment) for the biggest part of their working day. Although the uncontrolled environment poses a challenge to a traditional safety approach, this contributes positively to a culture-driven approach that is based on trust.

How do we mitigate the risk of an uncontrollable environment?

Effective mitigation starts with a belief that all accidents are preventable. The acknowledgement that the traditional safety system has limitations based on your direct area of influence (Circle of control) and the understanding that a healthy culture creates sustainability.  

Unitrans Africa believes in proactively mitigating what is within our circle of control, we do this through selecting the safest routes, safest driving times, managing driver fatigue, provide the safest and best equipment to assist our driving team and monitor their progress while rerouting them away from high-risk areas and strikes. We also constantly review possible areas of improvement, through monitoring driver behaviour, identifying driving patterns, monitoring the physical and emotional well-being of our professional drivers. 

Through trusting in the ability of our professional drivers who are the heartbeat of our operations, we can provide a high quality of service and ensure that consumers have fuel to get to work, food to eat amongst other products. 

Investing in safer roads for all users 

Unitrans invest a significant amount of time in driving individual accountability, involvement, training and equipping our professional drivers with the skills to allow them to make sound decisions, drive defensively and think for other road users. It is important to note that the hours invested in the training of the average dangerous goods driver is similar to the hours invested in a postgraduate degree. 

These levels of involvement and competency have a clear impact on individual behaviours which contributes to our organisational culture.

The action of Mr Moses Selabe resulting in the saving of 3 people’s lives is a clear indication that we are moving in the right direction.