A Conversation with Vice President of Environmental, Health, & Safety, Suresh Rajapakse
How does Schnitzer maintain a comprehensive safety strategy that meets the needs of each employee?
Our environmental, health, and safety programs build a strong foundation for a safe workplace by aligning with industry best practices and relying on the expertise of our leadership teams. Our focus on continuous improvement, especially within our training programs, addresses the evolving physical and environmental health and safety needs of our teams. Training courses reinforce mainstay safety policies, like proper use of personal protective equipment, truck and operator safety, emergency preparedness, and incident and accident management, but also include an increasing focus on occupational health.
Are there any training programs that have been especially insightful or effective at improving safety performance this year?
Over the past year we’ve seen roughly 10% growth within our employee base and added 10 new facilities due to acquisitions. On-boarding many new employees at once provided a unique opportunity to embed a collaborative safety culture from day one. During business integration, we introduced new processes and provided enhanced resources to individuals who, in many cases, have been working in the metals recycling industry for decades. The response from new employees has been overwhelmingly positive. Specifically, our pre- and post-task risk assessments resonated with our newest team members as we continuously seek to eliminate risks from our operating activities.
What kinds of challenges or obstacles to safety do you experience from external factors?
Schnitzer’s products and services are essential to local, regional, and global economies. Since the start of the pandemic, our resilient workforce has shown up to get the job done. This year challenges, including labor shortages and pandemic fatigue, added a new layer to the situation that required us to dig in our heels and harness the energy of our workforce. In some cases, this meant finding creative ways to cultivate quality employee relationships and leading by example to demonstrate a capacity for continued resilience. In other cases, we deployed targeted efforts to manage safety risks at specific sites based on the varying needs of our teams. In all situations, we aim to inspire safety leadership across the organization through true collaboration. No task, feedback, or suggestion is too small to make a difference.
What does personal safety leadership look like?
Building a safe work environment requires perseverance, attention to detail, and a commitment to ongoing development. We often see great examples of personal safety leadership at high-performing facilities where safety culture ripples throughout a site and individuals feel personally responsible for maintaining the group’s commitment to safety. I would also mention our Layered Safety Observations (LSOs), which provide dedicated time for a manager to observe an employee perform a work task. The discussions that follow LSOs include open dialogue and shared learning that undoubtedly improve our processes and encourage personal safety leadership.
How do you incorporate innovation into safety culture?
Replacing or augmenting business activities using automated systems has proven an immensely valuable lever for advancing our safety performance. In 2022, we used wireless communication technology to support driver safety, reviewing data to understand when our team of 200+ drivers hauling recycled metals, end-of-life vehicles, and finished steel products across all parts of the country are most at risk. We employ on-vehicle cameras with machine vision and artificial intelligence triggers to identify and signal lane departures, forward collisions, following distance, cell phone usage, seatbelt usage, distracted driving, speeding, harsh cornering, and incomplete stops. Innovation that provides more detailed information about how to keep our teams safe will continue to be a cornerstone of Schnitzer’s safety strategy.