Improving health and safety with Vita
by Duncan Geddes
In June 2021, it was announced that Europe’s leading flexible foam solutions provider, The Vita Group, had acquired Technical Foam Services. To find out more about how the integration has changed approaches to health and safety, we talked to Allan Wild, the Safety, Health & Environment (SHE) Risk Manager for Vita UK and Lesley Thomas, Safety, Health, Environment and Quality (SHEQ) Manager for TFS (Technical Foam Services) and Custom Foams.
“With a background in engineering & operations management, I joined Vita towards the end of 2016, heading up the ‘Vita Towards Zero’ project rollout. In 2019 I was appointed UK SHE Risk Manager and currently support 12 sites.
“I’m uniquely positioned in terms of safety as I’ve got a broad range of experience gained from managing permitted sites in the aggregates & metals industries. I couldn’t ask for more in terms of support at Vita. Money is always made available if we raise an issue regarding safety.”
The importance of health and safety
“We have a people-first approach in terms of health and safety at Vita. We care about people, and we want people to return home to their families having enjoyed their work and in one piece. We’re very much an inclusive organisation and it’s that culture we’re trying to drive with our ownership’s engagement and involvement with safety.
“Safety is the number one priority. It’s not just about our licence to operate, it’s our moral obligation and is what the senior management team have bought into – safety first, and always first.”
Safety within Vita
“We’ve just agreed a standard metric across the group – SQCDP 7 (Safety, Quality, Cost, Delivery and People). The most important thing is always discussed first –safety. No meeting starts within Vita, whether it be from a supervisor right up to the MD, without a safety contact.
“I could wax lyrical about how much safety is valued within Vita. If you have a major near miss or an LTA (lost time accident) within the business, you must complete an accident report and put together a red safety bulletin and then face the rigour of the senior team asking, “why didn’t you do this?” “What happened there?” or “what are you going to do to ensure it doesn’t happen again?” Any findings or learnings are then shared across the group. Every incident is an opportunity to learn and improve practices.”
Staff training and support
“We’ve just spent over £300,000 pounds on a behavioural based safety programme being delivered by an external partner. The idea is to reach out and engage with our workforce. We want people to be empowered to be able to stop an operation if they feel it’s unsafe.
“We provide people with training in terms of safety, safety management, risk management, risk identification and risk reduction as part of what we call ‘Vita Towards Zero’. Just recently, we have implemented a recognition scheme whereby every month an individual is picked within the division (UK Comfort & Technical West) either because they’ve identified hazards or took some action that stopped an incident occurring. These employees are presented with a certificate and receive a voucher in recognition of going that extra mile. It’s something we’re really proud of.
“We’ve also rolled out a programme called ‘Better You, Better Life’ where we focus on a variety of different activities and wellbeing. We provide massage therapists and sports therapists to visit our different sites to help with the health, wellbeing and fitness of our teams. Should staff wish to see anybody about their mental health, we direct them to the right support in confidence.
“Overall, we are implementing a holistic approach in terms of healthy bodies and healthy minds. We’re still in the infancy, but it’s something that we’re certainly starting to embed into the organisation. And it’s just as important for us as safety because one complements the other.”
“Prior to Technical Foam Services, I was at a company called Autoglym for 19 years. I began as a temp before becoming a safety rep and getting involved with ISO systems, audits and safety inspections. My role then morphed into being the administrator for the safety committees before moving into QC.
“As Quality and Regulatory Manager, I had to go through the IOSH Managing Safely Course. Duncan Geddes knew me and invited me to join TFS as David Hood, the current HSEQ Manager, is retiring at the end of this year. So, he’s training me up to take over the role.”
Safety at TFS
“David Hood started 13 years ago and basically came into a company that didn’t really have any risk assessments, didn’t have any systems of work or anything of the sort. So, he has worked incredibly hard over the last decade to get all the documentation in place and to get TFS into a position where they were granted ISO 45001, which is a real feat.
“Safety has always been very process-driven in the past. Whereas with Vita now, although processes are still a very important part, it’s also a really people-focused organisation.”
“I’ve recently taken a behavioural safety training course which I am now training out to people at TFS to try and get them to buy into the Vita ethos of caring for each other. This training is really about getting people into a comfortable position and giving them the tools to keep everybody safe. I really enjoy delivering it. When the course starts, people are unsure but as they get more involved, they start telling their own stories and they see the relevance of safety to their life and work.”
“At TFS we probably do more audits than the ISO standard dictates that we need to. We’ve got three ISO standards: Quality, Environment and Health and Safety. The whole system needs to be internally audited on a three-year cycle, so a lot of our audits are dictated by the requirements of the ISO standard. We’re also adding extra audits as a form of housekeeping. For example, we pass forklift truck audits, racking inspections and things like that out to the shop floor to be completed, increasing ownership and personal involvement in the auditing process among the team.
“The biggest challenge with ISO 45001 is the engagement of people. You need to get them involved in risk assessments, you need to consult with them about changes and do things in the right way – by engaging your workforce. Without an engaged workforce, you’re not going to get anywhere.”
An excellent safety record
H4: An excellent safety record
- 1 LTA (lost time accident) in the last five years
- 158 days since the last recorded accident
- Very low staff turnover
- 54 internal audits performed in 2021
- Last 45001:2018 external audit resulted in no non-conformances
- The first UK foam converter to achieve three ISO standards:
- ISO 9001:2015 Quality
- ISO 14001:2015 Environmental
- ISO 45001:2018 Health & Safety
“We’ve got a cracking workforce at Technical Foam Services. They work very hard and are already very safety conscious. They have been taught the best kind of safety approaches and had good training on how to use the equipment, which is a big priority within the company.
“We also have a very low staff turnover. So, people obviously feel really safe within their environment, they’re happy to come back to work every day. I know that TFS has got a proactive approach to those things. It’s not just about being physically safe, but it’s about being comfortable, happy and well within your environment.”
“Adapting to the acquisition has been difficult. Our people are used to working in a certain way, they’ve worked in a certain way for a long time. With a low staff turnover comes habits and comes a fear of change. But I think we are well on the way across the change curve now. We’re really encouraging them to report every hazard.
“David Hood has done a really great job. It’s made the Vita implementation easier. I’m doing a gap analysis between our system and Vita’s mandatory standards – and a lot of the time it’s already there. What David has brought in because of ISO 45001 has really backed up Vita’s mandatory standards and has really helped TFS to be compliant.
“TFS’ HSE staff have put the foundations in place, and with the merger, Vita is now helping to build on that foundation to improve safety, awareness, training and health.”
For more on Technical Foam Services’ integration into The Vita Group, check out Duncan Geddes’ article An update on integration into The Vita Group.