In discussion with 

Dr. Ralf Mertens.

Ralf Mertens, Head of Occupational,
Health & Safety (OSH) Industrial Solutions.

Dr. Ralf Mertens has been Head of the Occupational Health & Safety (OSH) function at Industrial Solutions for good six month. In this interview he reports on his first impressions and the special challenges facing a large-scale plant engineering specialist like thyssenkrupp.

 

What are your first impressions in your new function?

 

I have received a warm welcome from everyone and already had the opportunity to take a look at various locations and construction sites in Germany and abroad, for example in India, Algeria and Saudi Arabia. The size of our construction sites impressed me and reminded me once again of what challenges we face.


We are dealing with a constantly changing environment – our construction sites change from day to day. In addition we have to cope with different workforces in different countries with different cultures. In some major projects there are up to 4,000 employees on the site at the same time. And all of them need to know the safety rules and put them into practice.


 

“The value and the will are there!”

Ralf Mertens visited the Yamama construction site of BU Cement Technology. Two turnkey cement clinker production lines are being built around 80 km east of the capital Riyadh.

 

That sounds like a mammoth task.

 

Yes and no. If everyone involved accepts safety as an important value in their everyday work, it is easier to implement. I don’t think it’s helpful to say “this is the way we’re going to do it now. Period.” That’s not sustainable. It only becomes sustainable if employees are really aware of why they should or shouldn’t do something. When they recognize the value for themselves and an example is set for them every day. In my opinion, managers have a key role to play here. Giving feedback should not be seen as extra work, but rather as part of their leadership role.


I am sure that everyone – employees from thyssenkrupp and subcontractor companies – ultimately has the same goal. There’s no difference there. The safety of everyone at our construction sites is of equal importance to us and our customers.


“I am sure that everyone – employees from thyssenkrupp and subcontractor companies – ultimately has the same goal.”

 

 

What role does the issue of safety play for our customers in their contract awards?

Occupational safety and health already plays a major role in contract awards and is becoming ever more important. We need to understand our engineering, our quality in construction and the topic of OSH as an overall package. We can only be competitive if we impress on all three points.

 

So what does that mean in concrete terms? How can we implement this on construction sites?

Let me give you two examples: In 2015 thyssenkrupp Industries India in Pimpri won the thyssenkrupp WeCare Award for its “Safety Park”. Today we are using this instrument at other construction sites as well, for example in Brunei. Internal and external employees are trained in how to act safely. What do I need to know when working at height or what must I observe when working in confined spaces? Everyone completes a kind of obstacle course that is tailored to the actual work on site. Obviously if you practice something beforehand, it will be much easier to do it later on the construction site.

Another example is Industrial Solutions in South Africa: our colleagues have created an integrated safety culture over the last years. Their approach started with the management commitment to safety as an existential value for thyssenkrupp. A roadmap of proven and new elements has contributed to a new attitude at IS. It is a prize-winning approach: 3rd prize in the 2018 “we care” Award – and the highest safety awards on offer in South Africa: the NOSA 5 Stars and NOSCAR Award and the Winner of Sector Awards for thyssenkrupp.

 

It’s also important that employees conduct a last-minute risk assessment on site immediately before starting work. It serves to identify all (potential) safety, health and environmental risks before starting work to minimize hazards.

 

The bottom line: Occupational safety and health is a top priority for the entire thyssenkrupp Group. For employees, for their families, for customers, for thyssenkrupp’s public image and of course also for costs. It’s part of our corporate culture and an important component of our competitiveness. I personally will be striving to further improve collaboration with the business leaders, plant and site managers, and to define processes more clearly. The value and the will are there – I’ve sensed that clearly everywhere I’ve been in recent weeks. Now we need to give everyone involved the right tools.