Safety in the workplace

The safety of our employees remains a priority for us. We aim for zero workplace injuries.

Our strategy

The health and safety of our workforce is an essential element of a successful, growing and sustainable business. We are committed to providing a safe workplace for our employees.

USLP logoIn November 2010 we set two new targets as part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan:

  • We aim for zero workplace injuries

  • By 2020 we will reduce the Total Recordable Frequency Rate (TRFR) for accidents in our factories and offices by 50% vs 2008.

With the exception of 2001, we have achieved continuous improvement in our health and safety record since 1996 and we are among the leaders in our industry on safety performance. Therefore the target to further halve our accident rate (TRFR) is a stretching one.

Leadership & governance

Our commitment to safety comes from the most senior levels in our organisation. Ultimate responsibility for our safety performance rests with our CEO. The senior leader responsible for health and safety is our Chief Supply Chain Officer, who is also a member of the Unilever Executive.

Unilever has a global health and safety policy and a set of mandatory standards based on the international standard OHSAS 18001. We also have detailed guidelines on individual aspects of health and safety. All these are made available to all Unilever locations worldwide on an intranet-based system. We have an IT system to collate health and safety data from each of our sites.

Our senior health and safety professionals meet regularly as the Unilever Group Safety and Health Leadership Team. The Team is chaired by our Vice President for Safety, Security & Brand Protection, who reports to our Chief Supply Chain Officer. Its role includes:

  • advising our Supply Chain Leadership Team of areas of focus and recommending and supporting specific improvement projects
  • reviewing progress against targets and recommending specific remedial actions
  • following up on serious accidents and ensuring wide dissemination and adoption of the lessons learned.

We are also embedding responsibility for health and safety with our line managers. Central safety committees at every site carry out engagement and consultation with employees at all levels.

Our performance in 2010

A key measure of our progress is the Total Recordable Frequency Rate (TRFR) which counts all workplace accidents except those requiring only simple first aid treatment. In addition to halving our TRFR by 2020, we also aim to eliminate all employee and contractor fatalities.

We continue to focus our support on those sites with the poorest health and safety performance.

Accident rates (1998-2010)

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In 2010, our TRFR decreased to 1.63 accidents per 1 million hours worked, a drop of 14.7% compared with the 2009 figure of 1.91.

Total Recordable Frequency Rate (TRFR) is one of two occupational safety and eight environmental performance indicators which have been independently assured by Deloitte LLP.

Some of our sites are achieving zero recordable injuries on an ongoing basis. For example, at our factory in Auerbach, Germany, our workforce of 215 employees produced 20 000 tonnes of food products a year without experiencing a single recordable injury between 2006 and mid-2009.

Fatal accidents (1998-2010)

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Regrettably, in 2010, two employees and one contractor lost their lives while working for Unilever. The lessons learned from these deaths were communicated across our business.

Fatal accidents is one of two occupational safety and eight environmental performance indicators which have been independently assured by Deloitte LLP.

In addition to the recordable fatality data in the above chart, Unilever requires its organisations to report fatal accidents involving members of the public where these fatal accidents may be deemed associated with our operations, and those which occur at third-party contract manufacturers producing goods and services for Unilever. In common with the other companies in our industrial sector, these incidents are only reportable internally. This reporting practice helps us to identify ways in which such accidents might be prevented in the future. We also benchmark ourselves against other companies in our sector and in wider industry, and work collaboratively to share best safety practice.

The definitions and basis of reporting of these occupational safety performance indicators are described in our Basis of reporting document.

Behavioural-based safety

All our regions have adopted a behavioural-based approach to health and safety. This approach recognises that best practice guidelines and policies are not enough to achieve a safe working environment. It is how well people adhere to them which makes the difference.

The example set by leadership is crucial in achieving adherence. We make safety the responsibility of every manager. Each manager is expected to set a personal example. We are investing in safety leadership training – this will become mandatory from 2011 for senior leaders in our Supply Chain function, with other senior leaders to follow in future years. In addition, safety professionals will provide advice, data and tools for managers. These tools are designed to encourage managers and employees to identify unsafe behaviours and make the consequences of such behaviour more immediate and personal for everyone in the organisation.

Process safety

Process safety concerns the safety of manufacturing processes which can be potentially hazardous. For example, the manufacture of aerosol sprays (because of the flammable nature of the materials used) and the refrigeration in ice cream manufacture (because of the toxicity of the ammonia refrigerant).

Our aim is to prevent any incident which would result in fatalities, serious occupational injuries or a threat to the local community, such as a major fire, explosion or leakage.

Our approach to process safety informs the way we design, develop, construct and operate our manufacturing sites. It also ensures any modifications to sites are managed correctly.

We have developed new indicators for measuring process safety to complement our existing measures for occupational health and safety. These have been used first for processes that are potentially the most hazardous, such as aerosol manufacture, sulphonation, the handling of enzymes in our laundry products manufacture and ammonia refrigeration. They include both lagging indicators (which record incidents and near misses) and leading indicators (which measure the rigour and effectiveness of preventative measures).

Safe travel & transport

Safe travel and transport continue to be a priority for us. Around half our business is in the developing world, where countries often lack a culture of safe driving, basic road safety infrastructure and enforcement. The risk to our employees from personal street attacks is also rising. We are currently reviewing our security arrangements in those countries where this risk is significant and putting additional measures in place.

We have a Safe Driving Teams initiative that is led by a senior manager in the highest risk countries. These teams identify local risk, then develop and implement safe driving standards. The assessments take into account not only the specific circumstances in each country, but also the risks associated with certain routes. Drivers are provided with training based on this risk assessment. We have banned the making of calls using mobile phones while driving to improve road safety.

We also require all our professional drivers worldwide to have regular medical check-ups to ensure their fitness to drive. Each Unilever organisation ensures that their providers of outsourced driving services provide safe and reliable vehicles and qualified drivers.

Where accidents do occur, we are keen that any lessons are learned swiftly and the findings shared throughout the company to prevent recurrence.