Zero Hero - Coke's Journey to Workplace Safety

Intense scrutiny and attention is paid to all aspects of workplace safety at Coca-Cola Amatil New Zealand and that’s just the way they like it. Standing up and holding themselves to account on the wellbeing of their people is the top priority of one of New Zealand’s largest distribution companies and it’s paying dividends.

The following article was published in this month's edition of Employment Today magazine.

Intense scrutiny and attention is paid to all aspects of workplace safety at Coca-Cola Amatil New Zealand (CCANZ) and that’s just the way they like it. Standing up and holding themselves to account on the wellbeing of their people is the top priority of one of New Zealand’s largest distribution companies and it’s paying dividends.

It’s no secret that New Zealand has traditionally had a very poor record when it comes to workplace safety. In 2009, CCANZ realised it had to do something to change this after experiencing one of its worst ever years in terms of workplace injuries. The company’s Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR) had reached a high of 15.2, resulting in a total of 225 lost days across its distribution business.

“Our people are our greatest asset and we were seeing far too many incidents affecting them. Something had to be done to improve the situation and ensure our employees were safe,” says Martin King, General Manager Human Resources at CCANZ.

“It’s not sustainable or ethical to generate profit at the expense of people’s safety. So the bottom line for us was simple: Investment in people’s safety has to come first. The rewards will come when our people are safer at work, are more engaged and vastly more productive as a result of reduced injuries,” says King.

In April 2010, New Zealand’s less than exemplary safety record and the resulting costs to businesses and the economy were a major concern. Following a groundswell of unease about the situation, the Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum was launched. Nearly 100 chief executives and managing directors from some of New Zealand’s largest companies, including Coca-Cola Amatil, pledged to create an environment of ‘zero harm’ in their workplaces.

“The forum served as the catalyst for us to get moving and implement the Zero Harm programme in our own organisation,” says King. “We were fortunate to have a leader who was wholeheartedly on board, passionate about making a difference and who was involved from the very outset.”

A huge part of the challenge for CCANZ was creating a company-wide culture change when it came to safety and trying stamp out the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude.

“The national identity of a DIY, number eight wire-esque approach to business meant that people occasionally made poor, uninformed decisions trying to save time or hassle – resulting in some terrible outcomes and far reaching consequences,” says King.

CCANZ took a top down, bottom up approach in order to foster a culture within its teams across the company where the ownership of safety was everyone’s to address.

“The onus of responsibility isn’t just isolated to senior management. We believe everyone, from the managing director, all the way down to a roving merchandiser at the coal face of the business, is charged with ensuring that safety is front of mind at all times,” says King.

Coca-Cola Amatil’s mantra has become ThinkSafe + WorkSafe = Home Safe - ensuring that all employees are safe at work, and therefore get home safely. This was of paramount importance and set the tone for engaging the business to make changes and deliver on the vision.

Former Managing Director, George Adams, championed CCANZ’s drive by encouraging managers at all levels to become personally involved with the programme. A reflection of the success came in May 2013, when Adams was awarded the inaugural Business Leaders’ Health & Safety Forum Leader of the Year Award at the NZ Workplace Safety Awards.

“The award was an outstanding achievement for our company and recognises the extensive work that has gone into building a Zero Harm culture - a legacy our current Managing Director, Chris Litchfield, is at pains to continue and is putting 100% support behind.”

Now in 2014, a little over four years since the implementation Zero Harm at CCANZ, those efforts are paying dividends across the board:

All employees are involved; from demonstrating in their personal development plans how they are actively maintaining the Zero Harm culture, through to participating in company-wide education campaigns such as the online driver education training module developed to help staff understand the new road rules introduced in 2012.

In July 2014, CCANZ reported an LTIFR of 1.73 - down a massive 89% from 2009 and its ACC levies have been reduced by a total of $300,000 over the course of the last four years. The old adage of ‘what gets measured gets done’ is certainly true here.

“Zero Harm isn’t about ticking boxes that make the company look good on paper – it’s about our people. We’ve made a significant investment to make sure Coca-Cola Amatil is a better and safer place to work but the biggest risk we face now is complacency in our success. We need to continuously improve, making sure that we continue to engage our employees and instil that sense of ownership and responsibility right across the business to ensure the progress is sustainable, long lasting and most of all safe,” says King.