Making our safety vision a reality

To achieve our Vision Zero, we assess the risks attached to all our activities and develop programmes to tackle them.

Bird view of traffic

Putting our safety programme into action

Through the five pillars of our safety programme we address safe travel and transport, behaviour-based safety, and safety related to contractors and construction, processes and machinery.

Making the roads safer for us & for others

We have a responsibility to ensure that our employees keep themselves and the public safe when they are behind the wheel. And the need to reduce road injuries and deaths has been recognised as a worldwide priority in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 3 on Good Health and Well-being.

Our brands are available in over 190 countries and we have around 25 million retail sales outlets in our distribution chain. In many countries, travel can be dangerous due to poor driving or poor infrastructure conditions. Our Safe Travel in Vehicles Standard is at the heart of our effort to make the roads safer for our employees, and for communities. 

Our Safe Travel in Vehicles Standard

Our Safe Travel in Vehicles Standard sets out our mandatory requirements for all our organisations in the areas of leadership, planning, driver requirements, vehicle operation, performance monitoring, reward and recognition, and disciplinary procedures.

It includes the stipulation that employee work schedules, remuneration and incentive schemes must be kept under review by the organisation’s senior management team to ensure that they encourage safe driving patterns and practices.

It also stipulates that local legal requirements must take precedence over Unilever requirements if they are more stringent.

Supporting our standards & addressing local risks

Our Safe Travel in Vehicles Standard is supported by our Safe Travel Roadmap and other specific guidance designed to help drivers and line managers interpret and apply the requirements in their daily work, for example, understanding route risk assessments, or planning driving hours. In 2018 we carried out a risk analysis in all countries with a Unilever vehicle fleet – around 100 countries – with the aim of tailoring each country's Safe Travel programme to address specific local risks. 

We continue to issue global guidance to support road safety. Recent examples include discouraging inter-city night driving in all countries, and a ban on transporting unauthorised passengers. Following a benchmark study, we’ve upgraded the minimum mandated vehicle specifications for all Unilever-owned, rented and leased vehicles, or personal cars used for business, and introduced requirements for head restraints and anti-lock brakes.

We’ve also set rules for third-party operators who run 'mass transportation' services for our employees – for example, driving them to and from our sites. Such services must meet the same stringent safety standards as our own drivers.

In 2019 we saw a number of serious road accidents involving our ice cream delivery trucks, particularly in Mexico and Russia. These countries operate our biggest fleets, which run year-long, not just in the summer months. We have made it a priority to pool resources from both countries and, led by our senior management, to formulate a specific programme to help these countries reverse this trend. 

Motor On, Mobile Off: preventing phone use while driving

Distribution center

Recordable serious injuries involving mobile phones in 2018–2019

Mobile phone use is one of the leading causes of vehicle accidents worldwide. Our mandatory global ban on the use of hand-held and hands-free phones while driving – Motor On, Mobile Off – is a key part of our Safe Travel programme.

We introduced this ban with an extensive communications campaign in 2015. In 2019, as in 2018, there was no recordable serious injury where use of a mobile phone was found to be a contributing factor.

Understanding the consequences

Violations of safety rules need to be addressed fairly and objectively. To do this, countries have ‘consequence management policies’ which are aligned with local legislation and frameworks. This means we can impose a range of disciplinary actions on those responsible for poor safety oversight – which can include dismissal in the most serious cases. We’ve stepped up our enforcement of these policies to ensure leaders clearly understand their accountability when serious incidents occur because our policies and standards have not been implemented.

Using technology to drive road safety

Alongside policies and standards, technology plays an important role in road safety too – whether by delivering online training or through the use of ‘telematics’ (also known as ‘black boxes’) to track and record driving behaviour and promote safe driving techniques.

Every country tracks safe travel through a range of parameters, such as driver training or mileage. In 2017, we introduced a new tool for high- and medium-risk countries: our Airsweb Safe Travel Module. We use it to ensure that all drivers complete their obligatory defensive driving training courses, report any safety incidents, track driver mileage and make the best of route risk assessments.

Distribution center

Decrease in road-related collisions resulting in employee injuries 2016−2019

We’ve launched a new telematics portfolio for our ice cream truck fleet in Mexico. It helps control drivers’ working regimes, safety belt usage and fatigue (see below). And worldwide, we’ve introduced additional requirements for the third-party transportation companies which drive our employees to and from work, including the requirement to equip all buses with black boxes.

Together, our standards, programmes and technology are leading to improvements in road safety. Over 2016–2018, road-related collisions resulting in employee injuries dropped from 26 to 11, a reduction of 58%. In 2019, however, collisions rose to 16, reinforcing our view that keeping people safe requires constant and consistent effort.


Holanda truck

Embracing smart technology to make our ice cream fleet safer in Mexico

Our ice creams are on sale in more than 150,000 locations in Mexico – from the mountains and deserts to the towns and cities. Getting our products to those points of sale means a substantial fleet of 1,100 vehicles – around 600 of our distinctive Helados Holanda ice cream trucks, and a range of other vehicles for sales teams, managers and support staff.

We want our drivers – and the public – to be safe on the roads everywhere. But Mexico's varied geography, security situation and road infrastructure mean that it has been one of the most difficult environments in which to deliver our Safe Travel in Vehicles programme. Sadly, two of our people died on the roads in 2019.

Even before these tragic accidents, we'd begun making radical changes to our approach to road safety in Mexico. As well as introducing new methods of risk assessment and better processes, over 2018–2019 we invested in new technology – telematics – and a central monitoring tower which provides real-time information.

Telematics allow us to monitor driver behaviour. As well as measuring speed, the black boxes include a range of measurements, such as acceleration, braking, speed around corners and seat-belt use. Video of the road, and in the cab, gives us further information. The technology directly helps our drivers by giving them a real-time measure of their driving, scored on a traffic light system.

And as managers get live notifications when drivers stray ‘into the red', it helps us deliver feedback and training. We’ve already gained insights into both safe and at-risk behaviours, which is helping us recognise the best drivers and provide coaching to those who need it.

This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goal

  • Good Health and Wellbeing)

Safer behaviour, safer people

Policies, guidelines and procedures on their own do not always keep people safe. An effective safety management system aims to eliminate unsafe conditions, but it must also target potentially unsafe acts. That means people’s safety depends to a large degree on how they, and the people around them, behave. That’s why the safety pillar of our World Class Manufacturing Programme (WCM) includes an important focus on behaviour-based safety.

Our World Class Manufacturing Programme (WCM)

World Class Manufacturing is the continuous improvement system we use in our manufacturing sites. It’s implemented through a structured, step-by-step approach that engages employees and promotes positive behaviours. Using these company-wide foundations, sites develop tailored plans that drive continuous improvement based on their particular challenges.

The objective of our World Class Manufacturing's safety pillar is to foster a robust and interdependent safety culture.

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Reduction in accidents achieved in our most advanced factories 2013−2019

WCM helps us create a strong, consolidated safety culture across all levels of our organisation. As a result, our ‘mature’ (most advanced) sites have reduced accidents by 37%, and sites running our foundation programme reduced accidents by 26% (measured as Total Recordable Accident Frequency Rate over 2013–2019). 

Our leadership team receives mandatory training on the importance of WCM, and we expect leaders to ‘walk the talk’. We remind our employees that we’re all responsible for making the right choices when it comes to the safety of ourselves and others, whether they work in a factory, in an office or elsewhere. 

How we’re tackling process safety

Process safety is our approach to controlling hazardous processes and preventing incidents with potentially severe consequences. It brings together expertise from our safety teams, engineering, supply chain and technical groups as we apply good design principles, engineering and operating practices from the very beginning of a project.


Group of Unilever employees in Thailand

Thailand wins on process safety

Some of the most important ingredients in our detergent products are made through what is called 'sulphonation', a long-established chemical process in which safety is crucial.

At our Minburi sulphonation plant in Thailand, our team's dedication to running their factory safely has delivered outstanding results: there have been no safety incidents since 2015. As a result, we recognised it as the winner of our process safety category in our annual safety awards in 2019.

Anek Sapjamnong, Minburi’s Sulphonation Manager, explains: “We put our process safety management programme into action in 2013. Since then we’re pleased to say that active leadership, continuous improvement and support from Unilever's Sulphonation Global Technology team have eliminated process safety incidents.”

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Reduction in process safety incidents in 2019

In 2019, we reduced process safety incidents by 36% compared to 2018. We achieved this through enhanced engagement by our teams and the use of new tools to support our technical professionals. 

We’ve continued to roll out our competency-building programme, which is based on the model developed by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE). We also introduced a number of software systems to support risk management, including a global 'management of change programme' which is designed to manage all our major accident risks. 

Construction & contractor safety

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Reduction in contractors’ recordable injuries 2014–2019

Keeping people safe during construction of all kinds is vital. We approach all incidents as being preventable, and in 2014 we began collecting data specifically related to contractor safety (for those who work on our sites under the direct supervision of their own management). 

Contractors’ recordable injuries are measured by Lost-Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR). They reduced by 51% over 2014–2018. In 2019 this reduction slowed to 40% (since 2014) which shows us that while progress continues, there’s more to do.

Our Construction Safety Programme offers training at the right time with the right emphasis – both virtually and face to face. It means safety experts work with projects during periods of high-intensity construction, and lessons and best practice are shared through networks.

In 2019 we equipped our teams with our new construction safety audit app. This allows real-time documentation of site observations and audit findings as well as providing a platform for tracking corrective actions.


Safety Award in Pakistan

Unilever Pakistan wins our Premier Safety Award

Ensuring that construction is carried out safely and being safe on the road in difficult driving conditions are some of the most important areas of our work. That importance is reflected in the success of Unilever Pakistan, which in 2019 won our annual Premier Safety Award. This is our highest award, earned for outstanding safety performance. 

Two aspects of the team’s work stood out. The expansion of our foods factory, known as Project Raftaar (which means ‘speed’ in Urdu), was a major project which saw 1.6 million contractor hours worked without any recordable injuries. At the same time, Unilever Pakistan people drove around 25 million km with zero injuries from motor vehicle incidents. 

"This is a testament to the leadership of our Pakistan team to ensure that everyone who comes into work, goes home safely at the end of the day," said Marc Engel, our Chief Supply Chain Officer (left) as he presented the Premier Award to Faheem Khan, VP, Supply Chain, Unilever Pakistan.

For further details see Monitoring our safety performance.

Machinery safety

Safety vest

Reduction in ‘hand in machine’ incidents in 2019

We continue to work on improving the safety of people who work with machinery in our operations. This includes injuries caused when people’s limbs, particularly hands, get caught in machines. While our reduction improved from 12.5% in 2018 to 21% in 2019, that means 33 people still suffered from this type of injury in the year.

To combat this, we’re equipping employees with the ability to identify hazards and assess their risks. This makes safety more personal and builds greater individual accountability for it. We ran extra training on this in 2018 and have created tools to help people spot any hazards. We ensure that any new machinery arriving at our sites is 'safe by design' – and we’re working with vendors and industry experts to assess existing machinery safety risks and identify improvements.

We’ve also developed new safety standards, guidelines and e-learning to prepare people for working with new technology, robotics and automation.