Michael Lindemann and Anders Haglund

Taking safety personally

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In 2013, Michael Lindemann got a wake-up call. As the manager of Stora Enso’s paper mill in Nymölla, Southern Sweden, he had been struggling with the mill’s low safety performance for a while - and that March day his manager was not impressed. “Do you need help?” the head of Paper division asked Michael. It was time for new kind of leadership.

“It was a true eye-opener,” Michael says today. “Top management were serious about safety and wanted to follow up. It wasn’t just about numbers anymore; it was about taking leadership and building a mill-wide safety culture.”

Work began right away with various safety tools created by Stora Enso’s Occupational Health and Safety team, including regular staff reminders of why safety is so important. Today, every shift of every work day begins with a safety talk where employees go through every accident from the past two weeks, discussing the dos and don’ts to avoid them in the future. An annual Safety Day brings everyone together to come up with ideas on how to further improve mill safety.

“Based on employee ideas we have, for example, put up new signs and made it mandatory for everyone to wear safety goggles whenever they leave the office or control room,” says Anders Haglund, Safety and Work Environment Manager at Nymölla Mill. “The results have been good, with our lost-time accident rate going down from 9.9 in 2013 to 5.6 in 2016.” 

Safety starts at the top

Although Nymölla Mill’s safety performance has improved, accidents still occur, and each one is one too many. Michael Lindemann believes the key is to help people understand that safety is personal, not just a company policy.

“I like to think of us at the mill as a family,” he says. “You often think more about your family members’ safety than your own. Staying alert for the people you work with every day should also be a priority.”

To make this vision a reality, every Nymölla Mill employee is required to make at least five safety observations each year. When you see something unsafe or someone not behaving safely, you make an official observation in a reporting system - but also give immediate and personal feedback to those involved. Making safety observations is encouraged at every Stora Enso unit and function because they help us see where we need to do better.

“My latest safety observation, for example, was when I needed to remind a contractor employee to wear safety goggles,” Anders Haglund recalls. “It’s our common responsibility to make sure everyone follows our rules when they work at the mill.”

Following the rules particularly applies to management:

“I must walk the talk,” says mill manager Michael Lindemann. “I need to become a role model and not only say but also show why it’s so important that we not only follow the rules but also react when others break them. We might hesitate to point out mistakes but people tend to appreciate feedback when given in a positive way and they will remember it next time.”

Michael Lindemann and Anders Haglund

Michael Lindemann (left) and Anders Haglund believe in leading by example.

Zero accidents: it can be done

Leading people toward safer behaviour often means changing their way of working - no easy task as people get set in their ways. Nymölla is tackling this challenge with personal coaching: each employee has regular one-on-one meetings with a coach to share their concerns, ideas, and feedback. But there have still been setbacks.

“2017 has not been a great year for our safety performance,” Michael says. “After so many good years and so much hard work, we should not have six lost-time accidents in less than a year - I feel personally responsible for this, just as I do when productivity is not keeping up. Human error is understandable and the people involved are angry with themselves for not thinking before acting - but it does not have to be this way.”

In fact, Michael is convinced that “zero accidents” is absolutely possible:

“If you can have one day without accidents, you can have two, and four, and a hundred,” he says. “It is my responsibility as a leader to make sure people adopt new routines. I myself behave differently after my safety training; I think twice before climbing a ladder or mowing my lawn.”

At Stora Enso, we believe that safety starts at the top but that it is also everyone’s personal responsibility to work safely. Michael’s vision is even greater:

“We are training people to be safe,” he says. “I have succeeded as a leader when they take it home with them; when they are the same person inside and outside the mill gates; when they think from their heart and care for one another.”

 What makes a great leader: Michael’s six lessons learned

 Be predictable. “Your employees need to know how you will respond to their concerns and feedback.”

Set clear targets and follow up on them.

Encourage feedback and be open to improving yourself.

Listen more than you speak. “Be open to others’ views before deciding on your own. In conflicts, listen to both sides and find the root cause.”

Support your employees when they want to grow as professionals.

Show that you are human. “You are allowed to make mistakes too, own up to them. And top everything with happiness and humor.”