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Certifying health, safety and environment management systems

HSE’s duties in terms of a safer workplace and healthier environment.

In the last years, the coronavirus pandemic spotlighted the topic of safety at work. However, many remain unaware of how much more the topic of health and safety encompasses. The Health, Safety, Environmental (HSE) department oversees a diverse and detailed range of regulations and measures relating to occupational safety, fire protection and the environment. We spoke to Magnus Bodmer and Michael Mak at HSE to get a better idea of what certification in health, safety and the environment means.

HSE – all in a day’s work

One can’t overstate just how far the work of HSE reaches. It affects every area at HARTMANN and plays a crucial role in upholding our commitment to the health and safety of our workforce and to protecting the environment. The certifications that HSE oversees cover the whole range of environmental issues, including the ever-increasing facet of sustainability, as well as safety issues, with a strong footprint in terms of the physical safety of people and the safety of technical equipment.

Michael Mak gives some concrete examples, “we make sure evacuation routes in buildings are in order and that people know how to access them. Safety even covers the smallest details such as potential health hazards of office furniture or of a stairwell section where people may trip.” “This is not as superficial as it sounds”, Michael continues, “the worst work accident in the PAUL HARTMANN AG 2020/21 was a fatal fall down a set of stairs, causing a broken lower leg.”

And, as more employees opt for hybrid working, HSE even ensures safety standards in home offices.

The “E” in HSE makes up an increasingly large part of the department’s work as certifications relating to the environment take on greater importance. These include energy use and efficiency, CO2 emissions and waste disposal. Some standards are required by law, but some sustainability certifications arise from customer demand, such as the FSC® C131245 (Forest Stewardship Council, a sustainable forestry certification).

The HSE department comprises six employees, plus five firefighters in Heidenheim’s main headquarters, and at least one person responsible for HSE at each site. These are few resources considering that about two occupational safety officers are required by law for Heidenheim alone and waste management, FSC® and energy management require legal documentation. So only about 1 person is available for corporate support. Plus, the fire brigade provides at least one qualified person twenty-four-seven. Michael Mak says, “we are much more than just a team in one department. We rely on our network of HSE officers. They support locally, and they help carry out assessments, implement measures and supply facts for our corporate reporting. Health and safety always come down to teamwork!”

Meeting the standards and laws

One of the most intensive areas of responsibility for any HSE department is gaining certification and maintaining compliance. Standards for occupational health and safety range from areas such as waste disposal and fire protection to building codes and quality control. In addition, emissions, environmental and energy certifications must be acquired – such as Iso 14001 (Environmental management systems). All-in-all the number of HSE legal provisions that PAUL HARTMANN AG in Heidenheim needs to gain certification for number well over 400 And even more for other sites.

Certifications and standards are reviewed internally every year; this is in addition to the continuous administrative upkeep like the collection of energy data, taking protocols and documentation. Generally speaking, certifications must be externally renewed every three years. This involves outside auditors visiting sites for a period of two days, and usually requires about two weeks of preparation work for HSE. If it’s a recertification audit, the work and time is even greater. Most production and logistic sites in the group have at least one HSE certification, so again, this is not something done solely in Heidenheim.

Never falling short

Happily, falling short of certification standards is a very rare occurrence at HARTMANN. If certifications fail to fulfill the standards during an external audit, the outcomes vary. With regards to certifications required by law, such as ISO 500001 (Energy management systems), auditors first make a recommendation to resolve the issue. If it is a small deviation, usually six weeks are given to fix it. If the problem seems untenable or a serious breach, companies can be fined €50,000. However, ISO 50001 is unique, because in Germany HARTMANN saves some hundred thousand Euro in energy fees and taxes, providing a great incentive and business case for the certification.

If the norm is one required by customers, such as an environmental norm like FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council), then issues will naturally arise with those customers who expect HARTMANN to fulfill that commitment and it may lead to a loss of contracts.

Magnus adds, “The main challenge for us is the constant evolution of regulations and standards. For example, if a new requirement for a process arises and we need to inform everyone involved. Or in facility management, if a new elevator is installed, we have to check together if a new technical standard is required.”

HSE is a team effort

The HSE department regularly holds compliance information meetings with department heads to keep them updated on changes and whether action is required. This is part of the quarterly required meeting. Department heads or supervisors are then also required to keep employees regularly informed of safety measures or standards that must be adhered to. While overseeing the certification process is a huge area of responsibility for HSE, ensuring that safety and environmental measures are carried out is another – and both Michael and Magnus emphasize: “This requires teamwork.”