Should the health and safety of employees be considered as a priority or even something more?

Many of us have been used to view safety as a priority in the things we do. What if I were to tell you that safety should not be called a priority? As priorities can change, to have a true safety culture we should view safety as something more, where safety always comes first.

This was a discussion among Valmet’s North America Area Management Team last year during the battle with Covid-19. The pandemic was rocking our boat daily and there were many aspects of our business to consider.

When we reflected and reminded ourselves that protecting the health and safety of our people, partners and customers is a core commitment in Valmet’s Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) Policy, it made this process a bit easier.

Safety comes first

The reality is that priorities can change. Depending on which priority is more pressing, safety might be more important than something else, or something else might be more important than safety. With so many competing priorities in daily life, what comes first?

When we shifted our mindset and focused on safety coming first, it then became a guiding principle in our thinking, decisions, actions, and behavior. Securing the health and safety of people, including our employees, partners and customers, then became a fundamental piece of the puzzle. That’s not to say that other aspects of the business were not important, they were. Nonetheless, when we had complicated decisions to make, we used the health and safety of our people to guide our actions. It was considered core in the decision-making process.

For instance, very early on in the pandemic we implemented in North America a planning process to ensure the customer sites we worked on were as safe as possible. At the same time, we had close and continuous dialogue with our customers to make sure best practices were shared and implemented for the health and safety of all.

Strengthening the safety culture

Moving forward the real question is: How do we continuously keep the safety mindset in all our daily actions at work? I feel it starts with an organization that strongly believes in protecting the health and safety of people and one that designs HSE into its backbone of processes and decisions.

Valmet has done this extremely well and it is the reason why we have been able to both protect our people and continue serving our customers during the pandemic.

Safety has always been our core commitment, and in these unprecedented times our safety culture has even strengthened, and we have learned many new things. The principles in our HSE policy guide the decision-making of all Valmeteers, showing that we are committed to everyone coming home healthy and safe every day.