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Vestas' journey to become the safest workplace in the industry

Published on 28th of April 2020


Lisa Ekstrand
Senior Director and Head of Sustainability at Vestas

Vestas wants to become the safest workplace in the energy industry. This goal is one of four targets which is a part of Vestas new sustainability strategy: “Sustainability in everything we do”, which was announced this February. Vestas is committing to reduce the rate of total recordable injuries to 1.5 per million working hours by 2025, and to 0.6 by 2030.

Global employment in the renewable energy sector is set to grow significantly, from a reported 11 million jobs in 2018 to a predicted 42 million in 2050. As Vestas continues to occupy a leadership position in the sector, the potential for growth demands a strengthening of internal policies that support the well-being of its employees.

Vestas is the first wind energy manufacturer to set long-term safety targets. Our target is ambitious, but for Vestas, safety comes first. Our employees are our most important assets and we want to leverage every possible opportunity to provide a safe environment for all. This means ensuring a safe work environment and activities for all the thousands of colleagues that everyday manufacture, install and service a Vestas wind turbine somewhere in the world. This is essential for realizing our vision and to remain an attractive employer.

To make this goal become a reality, colleagues around the world are working together to analyse and optimize our current practises. This project is led by Paul Robbins, Chief Specialist and Global SME within Global Quality, Safety and Environment, whom I met with to discuss the safety challenge as well as our approach to become the safest workplace in the energy industry.

This article will be the first in a series, providing a deeper insight into each of the goals of the strategy, interviewing the project leads responsible for driving and executing project action plans.

Paul, please start by introducing yourself
I was originally educated as a communication engineer and climber in the Royal Air Force in the UK. During my time in the military, I have travelled to and lived in various countries, constructing and maintaining large and sometimes high communication systems. Later in my military career, I became an instructor and course designer, responsible for the design and delivery of training courses such as Working at Heights, Evacuation from Heights, Engineering, and Health and Safety. In 2005, new Work Heights Regulations

were introduced in the UK, and I was requested by the British Wind Energy Association (now Renewables UK) to create a combined industry training standard for the wind industry for working at heights and rescue. These training standards have evolved under the influence of Global Wind Organisation (GWO) and are today the industry training standards. In March this year, I was elected as the Chair of the GWO.

I have been working for Vestas for almost 14 years. I have had a Health and Safety role in multiple departments in the organisation, but today, I am Chief Specialist and Global Subject Matter Expert within the Global Quality, Safety and Environment department. Our organisation is responsible for setting safety targets and identifying appropriate initiatives to reduce injuries in the company.

How have you been involved in developing Vestas new safety target?
I have been heavily involved with the development of the safety target as well as figuring out how we can achieve it. However, it has been a huge team effort to analyse the data that has been collected on our Incident Management System (IMS) and communicated by the team. We have used this data to identify the areas of concern, and thereby used the silver bullet approach, to aim at the most important challenges. This has led to the development of the safety target and our sustainability strategy. 

Why is the target to reduce recordable injuries important – what will it achieve?
There is a number of things. First of all, I believe it is an ethical and moral obligation to the workforce. I don’t think it is an appropriate expectation for someone to come to work and perhaps get hurt while they work. Secondly, we have a legal obligation to look after our employees in any work that we ask them to do. We must make sure that they are given the appropriate equipment, training, instructions and tools. Thirdly, it’s important for our reputation and image in the industry to retain and attract good safety-conscious employees and demonstrate to our customers that we are an ethical company to work with. Lastly, there are high-cost implications involved with accidents. A serious accident or incident in a factory, on a service or construction site, could result in damage to equipment and extensive time delays for investigations etc. That being said, I do not do money, I do safety. Creating safe circumstances, safe work activities and an overall safe workplace for my colleagues is my true motivation and number one priority.

Why do we focus on total recordable injuries and not lost time injuries for example?
Let me first explain the difference between a lost time injury and a total recordable injury. It all comes down to whether the injury is recorded as lost time or not: A lost time injury refers to an incident that results in an employee missing work due to an injury. A lost time injury will, therefore, only be recorded, if the employee misses at least a day’s work. A total recordable injury, on the other hand, will be recorded no matter whether the injury has caused missed working hours or not, for example, restricted work or Medical treatment injuries. It does, however, not include any first aid injuries.

Data is key for us, so we want to have as many records and as much information as possible. Data related to injuries that have occurred are considered lagging indicators, Hazardous observations and near misses are considered leading indicators. This knowledge can help us reduce or prevent future injuries. As we record more, we can identify and eliminate even “small” injuries, like finger cuts etc. That being said, I don’t want Vestas to be a number-concerned organisation, because, behind every one of those injury numbers, somebody has been hurt. We as an organisation have to take responsibility for that. We need to do everything we can to prevent that from happening - no matter the severity of the injury.

How is Vestas  doing today in terms of safety?

We are actually doing quite well. We have successfully brought down the rate of lost time injuries from 33.8 per million working hours in 2005 to 1.00 in March 2020. However, when it comes to safety, you can, and should always strive to improve, and there are still a number of areas in the organisation where we need to do that. For example, we need to focus more on our high-potential incidents, or life-cases as we call them. Life-cases refer to life-incidents with fatal exposure where people may well by coincidence have avoided a fatal accident. I think Vestas is good at investigating serious accidents and incidents, but we also need to focus on investigating the high potentials to implement the appropriate corrective action. Furthermore, the incidence of total recordable injuries decreased in 2019 - from 4.0 per one million working hours in 2018, to 3.9 in 2019, however not meeting the target of 3.6. We are, therefore, moving in the right direction, but we still need to improve. In comparison to other OEM's (original equipment manufacturers) in the industry, I believe we are doing well.

What does it mean that Vestas aims to become the safest workplace in the energy industry?
It means quite a lot when you consider the environments that our colleagues are working in. Our technicians and employees, for example, may need to work in constant shifting climates and great heights. They are exposed to remote locations with windy circumstances while working with electricity, heavy objects and massive lifting operations. That is the reality of the wind energy industry. So, considering those elements it is quite ambitious that we want to become the safest workplace in the energy industry. That being said, I definitely think it is achievable.

How difficult is it to reduce the rate of total recordable injuries to 0.6 per million working hours by 2030, how ambitious is this target?
This target is very ambitious, but I also consider this target as an opportunity to address one of our biggest safety challenges, namely that of employee behaviour. What we identify during an investigation is that a high percentage of the accidents that we record are not a result of inadequate training, processes, tools or the environment - it is about the behaviour of the individual, people taking shortcuts. These misguided loyalties often take place when employees think that they can save Vestas time and money by taking shortcuts. But it is often those situations that lead to accidents and people getting hurt.

But I believe we are turning a corner in this regard and our safety performance in 2020 is improving. There are a number of influential circumstances revolving around that, one of which is the Covid19. As a result of Covid19, there has come a new and increased focus on health and safety, at every level in the organisation. I believe that this new emphasis is having a positive effect on our current safety performance. What we must do now is to continue with this same intense focus among our employees at every level in every department. We want to keep that momentum. We want to keep that focus on safety and further embed it in our DNA.

Bringing down total recordable injuries to 0.6 per million working hours by 2030 will require focus and a lot of hard work, utilizing technological health and safety advancement as well as increasing focus on cultural and behavioural change, but I am convinced that we can do it.


What are the different initiatives that Vestas will make to accommodate this target?

We are always working on new initiatives. Actually, we try not to overwhelm the organisation with too many new safety initiatives being implemented at once. We always strive to identify the appropriate time in any segment or department of the business to implement and embed the appropriate safety tool.. 

Currently, we are working on six new initiatives. One of which is to focus on organisational excellence. We want to try to pull away from statistics like the total recordable injuries and lost time injuries lagging indicators, and focus more on leading indicators. For example, currently, we get a report at the beginning of April which will explain how many injuries Vestas has had in March. But in the future, we want to get the report that concern incidents in March, at the beginning of March. This is called predictive analytics. We want the report to tell us in advance, which areas of the organisation may need more attention so that we can predict and avoidaccidents. You see, there are a number of positive safety influencing things that the departments can put in place to prevent an injury from happening, for example, safety training, safety walks, behavioural safety programs etc. So, by the beginning of March, we want a predictive list that identifies which areas have not implemented the appropriate initiatives. In that way, we can aim to support that area before the injuries happen.

Another initiative is “safety by design” looking at the design of our turbines. Although the design and technology associated with our turbine are amazing, there are areas where we can perhaps improve to further reduce or eliminate some risks.

What part of the value chain will you focus most on in order to reach these targets?
We especially need to focus on those areas in the value chain that are associated with the greatest risk, the “high potentials”. For example, we don’t see serious accidents in our offices’. However, we do of course focus on safety across the entire values chain which includes all offices and departments. The Safety mindset has to be incorporated already in the offices, in the design process, where the designer has to consider how the employee is going to be able to manufacture, transport, install, maintain and decommission the turbine. So, everybody, in every part of the value chain is involved with safety. Safety is not about one person doing a lot it’s about every person in the organisation doing everything safely, every day.

Will Vestas commit to other safety targets beyond the recordable rate of injuries?
We do already. We have a number of leading indicators, for example, safety walks, safety awareness training, safety introduction, behavioural change programs etc. Here we are looking at identifying best in class in the different areas of the business. We want to focus on the leading indicators. Becoming the safest workplace in the energy industry will require more than bringing down the total recordable rate of injuries to 0.6 in 2030. However, this is the first step of a long journey and as a first step, we are setting incremental targets every year for reducing total recordable injuries.

Will Vestas set a target of 0 total recordable injuries? Would this target even be realistic?
I definitely think this target is realistic, for example, we have departments, factories and countries where we haven’t had an accident for a year. So, even though we might be some time away from achieving that ambitious target, it could actually be realistic to achieve it. It will always be our ultimate safety vision to achieve 0 injuries across the whole of Vestas.

Please visit www.vestas.com/sustainability for more information about the sustainability strategy. And if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Sustainability Department at vestassustainability@vestas.com