Lungile Mkhize, Group SHEQ Manager explains how the basics, makes or breaks compliance – in all environments.
SHEQ management, is a technical field that applies to several disciplines for compliance and continued improvement of occupational Safety, Health, Environment, and Quality factors that impact any organisation.
Lungile describes her first job out in the field, as literally being, out in the field. Looking after SHEQ in her first organisation, she was tasked to oversee that one of their clients, who was in the business of growing trees, fed daily safe meals to its’ forest workers. She describes the experience as humbling, saying, “I had to ensure that when the workers get to camp at 5am, their meal was ready, but more so, that it was served to them at just the right temperature, which can be tricky to achieve in the middle of a forest.” This, she says, had to be done in compliance to all food safety standards, and to her it also meant providing the workers with their source of nutrition for the day – presented to them with the same dignity one would if they were seated at the table in your home.
However, now that she is managing the complete SHEQ portfolio, her challenges are greater than just ensuring a meal is served at the right temperature. The risk of colleagues’ not being able to work due to ill-health or injury, hits hard on a company’s production, so the safer the colleagues are, be it from what they eat, to the work environment they operate in, the more productive they will be. You just have to look at the mining sector and how much they’ve lost in revenue and more importantly, human lives, due to incidents and fatalities, in an already economically strained sector. But what is most important in the safety aspect of SHEQ, is not looking at injuries or fatalities only as a measuring stick, it is critical to understand the hierarchy of incidents and how they come to be, in order to prevent them. The focus should be placed more on preventing incidents, which means aggressively addressing the three (3) base levels of this pyramid, to prevent the top 3 levels.
Lungile says that ensuring the standardisation of safety, the health environment, and quality assurance is not easy, especially if you have to do it across nine (9) divisions; and ensure that it reaches everyone with the correct interpretation for their role. “The way you impart knowledge and information to top level managers, is different to how you do it for the manager on the ground and even more so, for the colleague who is fulfilling the role of implementer. Legislation must be translated simply for people on the ground, to ensure that they understand the importance of the function. The communication chain of command is fundamental in effecting duties – you need to be able to strike the right balance between what the law requires and how colleagues will interpret it, to not only ensure they understand what to do, but most importantly, why they need to do it. Only then can they ensure continued compliance.
The communication chain in the SHEQ function is summarised in the diagram below.
Lungile says, “When it comes to SHEQ, as the experts in the field, we know we are effective when our teachings are taken home. SHEQ is not an organisational issue, but rather a community issue, because it influences people’s behaviours.” She uses the example of safe driving. If there is a safe driving programme at work and colleagues are monitored and possibly rewarded for safe driving, the chances of them driving the same way with their personal vehicle and also educating others on what they’ve learnt at work, are very high. “The education at work, infiltrates into a community (ripple effect) – we cannot change a culture without changing behaviour”, she says.
To her, the SHEQ business is that of assurance, rather than policing. “People should not have to scatter erratically when quality checks or inspections are done. We need to assist management in ensuring sufficient and correct training, supervision and support is provided, so that colleagues monitor themselves – only then is the cycle effective. You need to trust that the process is there to protect you and your environment, daily – not just when there is a crisis, like the recent Listeriosis outbreak”, she says.
The multiplicity of her portfolio, is what provides her with diversity in the workplace. Lungile says, she fully immerses herself in her work and never thought that she would enjoy it as much as she does, given it was not her first choice as a profession. She studied Health and Safety as a last resort and today, she can be regarded as an activist in her field. She says, “As I walk away from work, I take pride in knowing that what I do, brings back home, mothers, fathers, and loved ones in general, to their families; and that’s the true value of what I do.”