New eyes on safety within Saft

Total and Saft have nearly 200 years of combined experience in industries that are known for needing high levels of safety awareness. So what can the battery maker learn from its new oil and gas owner?

How do you get workers to improve safety in a 100-year-old company with a good record? It’s a challenge that Gilles Tardivo, Director of Saft’s World Class program for continuous improvement, likens to viewing through new eyes a daily routing such as “driving your car on a journey you make every day and know by heart”.

You have to fight the temptation to think: I know this, it’s been like this forever and I’ve never seen an accident, he says.



Saft is now on a mission to find that room for improvement. Not least because since the the oil and gas company Total took over Saft in July 2016, it has set a “challenging” new safety target to be reached by the end of December 2017. This is for the Total Recordable Incident Rate, or TRIR, a metric used for the number of recorded incidents per million hours worked.

“The new safety target is a challenging one,” says Gilles Tardivo. “But it’s the challenge that makes it interesting and everyone is on board with this – after all, we are talking about improving safety for people.

We need to change the culture to make sure everyone understands what safety means and is willing to report any potentially dangerous situations they see.



At Saft’s manufacturing site in South Shields, in the North of England, General Manager Tessa Collinson, says her staff are proud of their current safety status of 423 accident-free days and counting[1]. Everyone recognizes and understands the importance of continuous improvement with regard to Health & Safety.

The site has 89 permanent employees and up to 22 temporary workers making 250 different types of batteries. All employees receive on the job training in handling chemicals and are told they should only carry out activities they are trained in and feel comfortable with. Manufacture of the cells is an automated process while battery assembly is manual; obvious risks in this come from activities such as soldering, welding, gluing and using knives to cut through plastic shrink-wrap. But there are also less obvious risks such as the physical strains caused by repetitive activities.

“Employees can become over familiar and comfortable with their day to day tasks so it’s important to show the benefits of job rotation with regard to ergonomic improvements,” says Tessa Collinson. “And that’s the way you get buy-in from employees, by making it a win-win situation”.

We’re also encouraging people to report ‘near misses’ as it’s easy to become blind to the risks that are present. There’s a competition amongst internal departments to spot the highest amount of near misses.



The first priority is to increase the sharing of information between Saft’s 14 different manufacturing sites and more than 4,000 employees. Up to now each site has operated its safety operations largely in isolation, but in January Gilles Tardivo started a monthly meeting that brings all the safety experts together. There is also a chat group using Yammer (an internal social network) and experts are sharing their safety data and information via SharePoint, including the new TRIR metric.

Back in South Shields, Tessa Collinson can see the benefit of building a health and safety community across the company that includes managers and employees. “We more than halved the number of first-aid requirements for plasters by changing to a protective tape for operators’ fingers,” she says. “It would be good to share that kind of solution with other sites.”



In addition, Gilles Tardivo is leading a review of safety at all Saft’s manufacturing sites in partnership with an external safety expert and an expert from Total. They have already identified five sites that represent up to 80 per cent of Saft’s total incidents, along with six risks – including tripping, heavy lifting and machine operation – that are causing 90 per cent. From the review, action plans will be drawn up for each site by the end of May.

He will also be making use of Total’s 12 Golden Rules. Applying to everything from protective equipment to change management, they have been communicated across Saft making the most of Total’s communications resources such as videos, posters, pocket information cards and training.

“That’s the advantage of being part of a big company,” says Gilles Tardivo of the 100,000-strong Total group. “We can make use of their resources for communications tools and training packages, as well as their safety expertise”.

Coming in with new eyes from Total – and with the help of other experts – shows there are still plenty of possibilities we haven’t explored yet. It makes things more interesting for our safety managers, too, as they can see a whole range of new ways to improve.


[1] As at April 3, 2017