Axereal cooperative group is working to engage all its teams in an ambitious workplace accident prevention strategy and so foster a health and safety culture within the group.
Protecting our staff and all our stakeholders (members, customers and others) from risks is a priority across all Axereal entities, from grain silos to mills and from feed compound plants to malting plants. “Making sure that our people are safe is a prerequisite across all our operations,” said Romain Gallas, Axereal administrator. “That is why we are committed to taking a proactive approach.”
One of the main tools for making this ambition reality is the safety policy put in place three years ago. Backed by top management, it has made the topic one of Axereal’s strategic priorities. “It has a strong impetus behind it,” said Sébastien Richomme, safety manager of the Agriculture & Processing channels division
Safety really is everyone’s responsibility, and so we can see this policy in action at all levels of the cooperative group. For example, executive committee meetings regularly include a safety update. And once a month, the managers of each Business Unit (BU) in the Agriculture & Processing channels division – grain chain, milling and livestock farming – come together for a safety committee meeting. “These meetings are an opportunity for constructive discussions regarding problems encountered, strategies for improvement, etc.,” Sébastien Richomme continued. They are also an opportunity to share good practice. The same proactive approach is in place at Boortmalt, Axereal Group’s malting arm.
“All accidents can be avoided”
The issue of safety is kept top of mind everywhere the group’s staff work thanks to an ongoing communication campaign. Safety coordinators in the field are available to help line managers progress these issues. “It’s important for us to convince 100% of our colleagues that in everything they do, safety is a prerequisite. We need them to understand the importance of the issue and want to keep themselves safe,” said Sébastien Richomme.
A number of different initiatives have been put in place to support the strategy. Rituals, such as the “five-minute safety briefing”, are one example. Several times a week, local managers present to their teams the work planned for the day, the risks it entails, and what they need to do to stay safe. Training sessions and awareness-raising campaigns are also organised regularly, to help staff develop the instincts they need to keep themselves and stakeholders safe (risk-management measures, systematic reporting for at-risk situations, etc.). “Safety on the ground” meetings have also been put in place to improve the way people go about their day-to-day work (see below).
The group safety policy is based on the fundamental principle that all accidents can be avoided. As proof of this, experience shows us that most accidents can be attributed to an organisational issue or the actions of the people present. Axereal’s communications campaign particularly stresses the importance of good practices in preventing five major causes of accidents: falls from height, work inside storage bins, use of materials handling equipment (such as lift trucks), road accidents and musculoskeletal disorders (lower back pain, sprains, etc.).
The group has set its sights on the ambitious goal of zero accidents, which it intends to achieve by firstly, a long-term awareness campaign directed towards staff and secondly, detailed analysis of any accidents that do occur.
“Safety on the ground” meetings to develop good practice
Staff do not always appreciate the risks posed by everyday situations, such as flour spilled on the floor that could cause someone to slip, or a bag carried incorrectly that could give a staff member a back injury. That is what the “safety on the ground” programme is all about: identifying risky behaviour and reducing accidents by looking at working environments through fresh eyes.
These fresh eyes are those of two supervisors who will take a close look at a staff member’s working environment, in a constructive and supportive way. They will watch the staff member for about ten minutes and then chat to them about how they work, looking to identify any potential areas for improvement. Was any required PPE (personal protective equipment) worn? Was the most appropriate ladder being used? Was the working area cleaned when it was supposed to be? The aim is to use these kinds of watchpoints to improve the site’s safety record and spread the word to as many people as possible.
These meetings were first carried out in Axereal’s Agriculture BU, and then rolled out to Axiane Meunerie in 2021. “Two hundred operational staff now benefit from a visit twice a year,” said Laurent Gandouin, industrial & supply chain director at Axiane Meunerie. “Our accidents are due, in 80% of cases, either to trips, slips and falls or to carrying loads. They can be avoided by adopting good practices. These meetings are an effective way to encourage this.”
Each meeting gives the staff member the opportunity to keep themself safe by making a few simple changes. “In general, the best way of avoiding an accident is to be conscious of the risks,” said Laurent Gandouin. In parallel, managers may identify some adaptations that could be made to workstations to prevent certain accidents, such as for example “providing a vacuum cleaner on each floor of a building or adding a storage facility for a staff member’s tools.”
Boortmalt: Ethiopian malting plant construction completed without a single accident
It is important that we make safety second-nature for group staff. But we also need to ensure that people working on the special projects that we run operate safely. And that is exactly what Boortmalt, Axereal’s international malting subsidiary, did when it built its first African malting plant in Ethiopia, between 2018 and 2021.
During the construction of this production facility, located on the Debre Birhan industrial park, the company made worker health and safety a top priority. To achieve this, “we made sure that the safety manager was present on the work site from the very first day, and with the vision to keep him onboard during the operational phase. A safety manager that that grew together with the malting site, embraced and promoted Boortmalt's safety culture” said Mauricio Corsi, health, safety and environment manager at Axereal’s malting subsidiary Boortmalt.
The group has also put in place rigorous tracking for health and safety measures, across all its operations internationally. In complying with the measures, the group was careful not to lose sight of the local context.
“Thanks to all of these measures, we succeeded in building the plant without a single accident,” said Mauricio Corsi with satisfaction. The malting plant in Ethiopia is now up and running. It has a capacity of 60,000 tonnes, with grain supplied by local farmers.