"Safety in the workplace is well worth it!"
Safety expert Dr Olive Polanz talks in an interview about the importance of prevention and how measures can be implemented in practical terms in companies
Safety in the workplace goes hand in hand with process optimisation and thus pays off twice over: this is confirmed by an international study that determined a return on prevention of 2.2. In practice, this means that one euro invested in safety in the workplace brings companies success amounting to euro 2.20 – in the form of an increase in safety and efficiency as well as lower costs for accidents and downtimes. The importance of prevention for companies is also emphasised by Dr Oliver Polanz, Head of Occupational Health, Environmental Protection and Quality Management (HSEQ) at the multi-technology service provider SPIE Deutschland & Zentraleuropa (Germany & Central Europe). In the following interview, he gives tips for the practical implementation of safety in the workplace measures. For him, the most important thing is well-managed dialogue with the employees and close cooperation with manufacturers such as Günzburger Steigtechnik. The family-owned company from Bavaria is regarded as an innovation and technology leader for access technology solutions and has already implemented multiple new ideas for SPIE in the area of safety in the workplace such as the Desk-Surfer, the pluggable platform ladder, and the step pit ladder.
Dr Polanz, SPIE plays a pioneering role in safety in the workplace. Why do you think this topic is so important for companies?
Dr Oliver Polanz: Any occupational accident is one too many, because it can have a massive impact on individuals' personal lives and cause great personal suffering for the accident victim. For me, therefore, people must always come first when it comes to safety in the workplace. As a result, all measures at SPIE are based on our duty of care towards employees, customers, subcontractors and also towards uninvolved third parties. With good prevention, however, we as a company not only fulfil our social responsibility, but we also influence our economic success. For example, we have been able to reduce the frequency of accidents by more than 55 per cent in the past seven years through various measures, and the costs of downtimes have also fallen by almost half. This is a great success and shows that safety in the workplace pays off in every respect.
A study to calculate the return on prevention also comes to the conclusion that investments pay off financially twice over. Would you confirm that?
Dr Oliver Polanz: I firmly believe that well-planned safety in the workplace incurs little to no additional costs. Of course, it is enormously important that safety in the workplace is really thought of from the beginning and that it is taken into account in every single step of the work. If this is the case, then the investments can of course also pay off in business terms, because safety in the workplace always goes hand in hand with process optimisation. At SPIE, we have not only made work processes safer, but also more efficient in many areas – among other things through a whole series of new developments. One example is the Desk-Surfer mobile platform, which Günzburger Steigtechnik implemented for us. Our idea was met with open minds and together we developed a solution that makes it possible to drive under fixtures such as desks and thus ensure a safe stand for the platform. The Desk-Surfer makes working on technical equipment in a suspended ceiling safer and easier than ever before. This clearly shows that in practice, the implementation of safety in the workplace measures often means significant time and cost savings.
So you see safety in the workplace as a management process. How would you summarise the advantages of this approach?
Dr Oliver Polanz: Well-implementedsafety in the workplace affects every area. It increases safety, efficiency as well as the quality of work and also increases the motivation of employees – completely independently of the company's size, I might add. In order to achieve these effects, the operational processes need to be well thought-out from the beginning. This is the only way to identify hazards in the first place and to take appropriate measures. It is very important that the employees are involved in these processes. Their on-site knowledge is crucial for the successful implementation of safety in the workplace.
What does an ideal implementation of safety in the workplace look like in practice?
Dr Oliver Polanz: The ideal implementation of safety in the workplace depends greatly on the culture in a company. As already mentioned, it is important that all parties involved – employees, managers, but also the manufacturers of aids and tools – have a good understanding of safety in the workplace. This is achieved through a wide range of measures. For me, easy-to-understand instructions for action that are ideally adapted to the target groups are a must. This means colleagues on site learn easily and quickly how to implement safety in the workplace in practice. Only in this way can their attitude towards safety in the workplace be positively influenced long-term. Also, it is not a question of whether the specifications are implemented at all – that goes without saying for us. Much rather, it must be about the "how".
What role do safety experts like you play here?
Dr Oliver Polanz: The interface lies with the risk assessments, which are required by European law and must be implemented by managers with the help of occupational safety experts. Unfortunately, they are often seen as a necessary evil. That's a pity, because I see them rather as a great opportunity to be able to develop individual protection measures. In my opinion, we safety experts should not act as controllers, but rather as advisers for the company. This means that we look beyond our own horizons, listen to the managers and the issues in the company, but also understand the market environment. Only in this way can safety in the workplace be implemented on an even footing. It is our task to research and develop new technical measures, for which we at SPIE work closely with authorities, partner companies and manufacturers, for example, just as we did in the development of the Desk-Surfer.
Can you give further examples of successful safety in the workplace measures?
Dr Oliver Polanz: Our cooperation with Günzburger Steigtechnik, for example, which is really a great partner when it comes to safety in the workplace, has proven itself very effective. We have also designed two ladders together: one of them, the pluggable platform ladder, can be flexibly adapted to different purposes. It is easy for one person to handle and can be transported brilliantly by our employees even in small service vehicles. Because our workforce also works in trenches up to two metres deep, we have also developed a step pit ladder. Safety in the workplace has thus improved significantly, because previously colleagues in this area often had to manage without any tools at all. Both ladders are based on suggestions from our staff, by the way. I can only advise every manager to listen to their employees. It is worth engaging in dialogue. That's because the best ideas come from those who are at the "coal face" every day and know the challenges first-hand. It doesn't always have to be major new developments. Often, even small changes are enough to make processes safer.
Whether or not instructions and safe tools are provided – in the end, safety in the workplace must be practised and followed. How do you motivate your staff to really implement the measures?
Dr Oliver Polanz: We have to make it as easy as possible for colleagues. At SPIE, we therefore take an approach that is strongly orientated towards marketing. In concrete terms, this means that our guidelines are adapted to the target groups, they are based on local conditions and are translated into the language of our employees. We completely dispense with legal references and keep the instructions for action as short and concise as possible. We have already achieved success in this way with some topics: for example, we partly work with QR codes that are attached directly to the equipment. Colleagues on site are guided via the code to a video that explains efficient and, above all, safe maintenance step by step. Safety in the workplace is successful when it reaches the workforce across all hierarchical levels.
Special care is certainly required when working at height and depth. What is important to you specifically in terms of access technology?
Dr Oliver Polanz: Working at height and at depth requires the interaction of different components. Whether it's personal protective equipment or access technology, the tools should first of all be of top quality, because this is the only way employees can rely on adequate safety in the workplace. The added value also lies in easy assembly, in the comprehensibility of the information, in the flexibility of the products and in the availability of straightforward assistance. In the application and – as in our case – also in the development of new solutions, we safety in the workplace officers want manufacturers to regard us as partners. The cooperation with Günzburger Steigtechnik, for example, shows that this approach works very well and that safety in the workplace innovations can be developed according to the motto "from practice for practice". Our colleagues benefit from this every day.
About Dr Oliver Polanz
Dr Oliver Polanz has been Head of Occupational Health and Safety and Environmental Protection since 2013 and also Head of Quality Management (HSEQ) at SPIE Germany & Central Europe – one of the leading multi-technology service providers in the areas of building technology, IT networks and security systems – since 2017. Dr Polanz has a degree in chemistry and is now also a lecturer at the Westphalian University of Applied Sciences in Gelsenkirchen. He is qualified as a technical supervisor, safety specialist, VdS/Verismo risk management officer as well as an AMS BAU consultant (BAU safety in the workplace management system). He is also a member of the High Level Group of the ETPIS European Technology Platform in Industrial Safety and BDA representative in the DGUV's PPE department.
About the return on prevention
The study entitled "Calculating the international return on prevention for companies: costs and benefits of investments in occupational safety and health" was initiated jointly by the International Social Security Association (ISSA), the German Social Accident Insurance Company (DGUV) and the German Social Accident Insurance Institution for the Energy, Textile, Electrical and Media Products Sectors (BG ETEM). It calculated a cost-benefit ratio of 1 to 2.2. In specific terms for companies that invest in prevention: one euro invested will return a success of 2.20 euros – in the form of improved safety at work and efficiency, and lower costs arising from accidents and disruptions to business.
About the MUNK Group
With its business units Munk Günzburger Steigtechnik, Munk Rettungstechnik, Munk Service and Munk Profiltechnik, the Munk Group is one of the most important suppliers of access and rescue equipment as well as suitable service solutions. As a technology and innovation leader in access equipment, the name Munk stands for safety made in Germany. The company is now run by the fourth and fifth generations of the Munk family - true to the motto "One family. One name. One mission".
In the MUNK Günzburger Steigtechnik business unit for access solutions, the MUNK Group carries over 2,500 products in its standard range, from ladders for commercial, public and private use to mobile scaffolding, platforms, stairs and bridging steps to custom-made special constructions. These include, for example, work and maintenance platforms, docking systems, walkways and assembly platforms, which, in the era of digitalisation, can also be automatically adapted to the respective environment using the latest control technology.
In the MUNK Rettungstechnik business unit for rescue equipment, the company offers access solutions and transport logistics for fire, rescue and disaster relief operations. These include, for example, multi-functional ladders, scaling and push-up extension ladders, rescue platforms, toolboxes, station equipment and a wide range of mobile containers. In the MUNK Service business unit, the MUNK Group bundles the areas of installation, testing, repair and maintenance of access solutions and rescue equipment, as well as seminars. The youngest business division, MUNK Profiltechnik, offers high-quality technology for individual and professional configurations with a functional and sophisticated profile system.
The MUNK Group is always drawing attention to itself with new ideas that offer customers real added value in practice. It has already received several awards for its innovations, its economic development, its responsible and sustainable actions and as a family-friendly employer. In 2022, the company was awarded the "Work and Family" audit by berufundfamilie Service GmbH.
The MUNK Group manufactures exclusively in its home region of Günzburg. It was also the first provider ever to be audited by TÜV Nord in 2010 with the certified proof of origin “Made in Germany” and grants a guarantee of 15 years on all standard made in Germany products. The Munk Group employs over 400 people at its headquarters in Günzburg and at the site of the Munk Rettungstechnik business division in Leipheim. The company recently invested 20 million euros in the development and expansion of its sites.