Health and safety: core values in world’s largest chocolate factory

Deemed a super food by scientists, courtesy of its anti-oxidant properties, chocolate tops the list of best-loved “treats”. LIANA SHAW explores the world’s largest chocolate factory, based in the Netherlands, to find out how its so-called Value Based Leadership initiative is enhancing plant health and safety

With an emphasis on creating a natural and authentic leadership environment that enables the Mars Netherlands factory leaders to make a deep personal connection to safety, Richard Jordan, health and safety (HSE) manager Veghel Supply at Mars Netherlands, claims the chocolate maker is moving away from seeing safety as a priority in its business, embracing the concept of incorporating Safety as a Value in all of its associates instead.

“Although the concept of Safety as a Value is not new in the world, what is new is the way we approach it,” states Jordan.

Management hopes to stimulate all of its 1 200 associates to assess potential risk before starting to work, and report incidents and near misses via an incident report form, so that each incident can be prevented and unsafe conditions can be removed.

According to Jordan, because most of the company’s associates have grown up with an entrepreneurial mindset, they do not easily conform to following rules that do not emanate from their own thinking. The challenge lies in embracing their entrepreneurial spirit, while also getting them to work to the same set of rules and procedures.

“In recent years, we have been focusing on creating an open atmosphere, so that incident investigations do not feel like a Supreme Court investigation, but rather an open and honest conversation with all involved to find out the “why” behind an incident. The end goal is to strike a balance in how we assign blame. We strive to create a just culture where we can discuss appropriate accountability.

“I believe the strategy is working and that conversations in our factory are becoming more open and less dictated by fear. I know this because my team and I are being approached more and more to help assess potential hazardous actions before the work takes place,” says Jordan.

Each potential threat or incident is then assessed for its potential to result in a serious consequence or injury, and the findings are shared with 19 other sites.

In addition, the technical state of the factory – which was first established in 1963 – continues to improve with time. Having grown in size and production volume year on year, the Mars Netherlands factory now produces more than 270 000 t of product with the help of nine highly automated production lines. Currently, no manual labour is required to run the production process, besides loading the correct wrapping material into the machines and performing quality checks.

Regular audits serve to assess plant’s compliance with respect to health regulations, while a legal advisor is employed to track and alert management on any changes in national and European regulations as and when they apply to their respective plant.

Staff are also privy to a series of programmes aimed at stimulating their health and overall well-being. One example is a voluntary free programme to help them stop smoking, and with diet considered crucial to overall health, the company offers a variety of healthy meal choices in its company restaurant.

“Furthermore, we run an active and up-to-date health and risk inventory of the factory, spending a part of our investment budget each year on improving working conditions at the site,” adds Jordan.

“Every associate is free to make use of improvement cards to suggest and recommend improvements to their department. For safety-related improvement, associates can also request improvements stemming from an unsafe situation of which they may become aware.

“We assign a Kinney score to each incident and/or improvement form to assess risk, assign priority and to track improvement of these cards via our reporting structure,” he says.

Value Stream managers (production managers), together with their teams, are responsible for prioritising and solving all improvements generated from incidents and improvement cards, with the number of outstanding safety improvements and lead times being reported in their performance dashboard.

Richard Jordan, health and safety manager Veghel Supply at Mars Netherland

Next, via active collaboration between the Value Stream teams and managers, priorities are assigned and corrective and preventative measures are taken together with operators and technicians.

“Thanks to these measures, I am very happy to see that the severity in incidents is decreasing, which in turn, translates to fewer work days being lost,” adds Jordan.

“With safety now a core value, we strongly believe that any incident is one too many. Moreover, safety is not so much about the numbers, but about the person behind the incident. Our aim is for all associates to leave the workplace at least as healthy as they arrived … if not better.

“As a family business, all the factories and associates feel like family. A serious incident and most especially a fatality, has a massive impact on us all. The last fatality on our site was more than 25 years ago and still to this day our associates speak of the incident,” says Jordan.

Dedicated training programmes go a long way towards ensuring factory safety, according to Jordan, while remuneration in the form of variable pay further includes safety and quality targets by way of an incentive for staff to continue practising safety measures on the job.

Jordan says going forward the goal is to bring safety to the forefront of each associate’s mind, to create a culture where open conversations revolving around safety can take place without fear of consequences, and where common sense, coupled with compliance to given standards and regulations, prevails.

With more than 25 chocolate-producing facilities in the world, Mars manufactures products such as Wrigley’s Gum, Freedent/Orbit and Skittles. The company also makes food products such Suzi-Wan, Uncle Ben’s and Dolmio, as well as pet food such as Whiskas, Pedigree and Royal Canin.

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