Associated Octel created a more open and accountable safety culture. The 700 employees at Ellesmere Port have benefited from fewer accidents and injuries, while the company has seen reduced production costs, reduced civil claims and enhanced reputation. In 1996, following a series of major incidents at Ellesmere Port (including a major fire and fatality), and with core business declining rapidly, Associated Octel’s recently recruited senior management team decided things had to change. They identified a lack of accountability as the heart of Octel’s problems. A key focus for rejuvenation of the site was health and safety performance. The stakes were high: failure meant likely closure.
‘Changing the culture at a site like this does not happen overnight. It is a 3–5 year journey. Leadership and a consistent intolerance of unacceptable behaviour are key.’
Stewart Burley, Site Director
‘It was a breath of fresh air to have a management that made it clear what it wanted, and then engaged with the employees to find the best way of delivering some very tough changes.’
Phil Treasure, TGWU Senior Shop Steward
The new management team felt that the fundamental issues behind the unacceptable safety performance were also strongly related to many of their other business issues e.g. a very high cost base, poor productivity, confrontational industrial relations, poor reliability of equipment and product supply.
In making the site a sustainable operation – by downsizing the workforce, improving health and safety, increasing productivity and diversifying output – the management team has ensured a future for the site.
The style and approach of the new manufacturing director and all senior managers was open and cooperative. They quickly established trust with the unions and changed what had become a strained relationship with employee representatives.
As a result of the improved relationship with management, the TGWU and Amicus (formerly MSF and AEEU) representatives worked closely with Octel Management to improve safety culture. They worked hard to ensure that ownership of health and safety is seen as everyone’s business.