“Safety is anything but boring” SHE Manager, Joost Gosens

“Safety is anything but boring” SHE Manager, Joost Gosens

April 28th, 2021

28 April is the United Nations World Day for Safety and Health at Work. To celebrate this important event, we sat down with Joost Gosens, SHE Manager at our Waalwijk site in the Netherlands, to understand what health and safety mean to him. We asked him what he enjoys most about his role, how the safety culture at Stahl is changing, and his priorities for the future. 

How would you describe your role in three words?

Complex, varied, challenging. Some people might think safety is boring but, in my experience, it’s anything but. It’s the foundation of everything we do as a chemical producer. You need your safety management system to be fully in control for everything else to run smoothly – quality, capacity, and so on.

On a basic level, safety is about chemistry and chemical processes, so it requires a high degree of technical knowledge. You need to understand your processes, your raw materials, and your technology. I also need to be up to date on changing health and safety legislation, so there are multiple layers to my role.

Most of all, safety is about people. As an SHE manager, it’s vital that I communicate well and help build awareness and engagement around this important issue. Good people skills are important, especially when emotions are running high after an incident.

What are the most rewarding and frustrating aspects of your work?

For me, the greatest satisfaction comes from helping people to improve complex processes. When I see that my contribution has helped to make something better – and that people are safer – it’s a great feeling. It might surprise some people, but I also enjoy the compliance side of my role. As a chemicals producer, our facilities undergo regular safety inspections. It’s nice to receive positive feedback from these authorities as it validates all the work we’re doing.

The most frustrating thing for me is complacency or indifference around health and safety. It’s the attitude that “these things happen” when something goes wrong. That’s not how I work: I want people to have that drive to constantly improve.

Why do you think that, sometimes, we knowingly put our health at risk?

It’s usually a question of attitude. Some people don’t consider safety to be an integral part of their role, but that’s simply not true. Whatever you do, you can’t claim to be a professional if you’re not able to work in a safe and compliant way. A good analogy is a carpenter who constantly hits his thumb with his hammer because he’s not taking the right precautions – it’s not a sustainable way of working.

At Stahl, we take a top-down approach to health and safety. Our managers and supervisors have a responsibility to set a good example and ensure best practice. We need them to follow the rules to the letter and make sure those reporting to them do the same – no exceptions.

Stahl’s safety culture has certainly changed over the years. How would you describe this transition?

Particularly in the Netherlands, safety has increasingly come under the media and government spotlight during the past few years. At Stahl, we’ve made it a priority to invest in our safety processes and infrastructure. We’ve built an entire new warehouse for flammable materials. We’ve also replaced our outside storage spaces with much safer indoor areas. Those are just two examples of recent developments I’ve overseen at Waalwijk.

Perhaps more importantly, we’ve worked hard to change how we think about safety and how we educate our employees. We’ve tried to move away from a reactive safety approach to a more proactive mindset. If there’s an issue, we look for the underlying cause; we don’t just look for an end-of-pipe solution. And we aim to stay one step ahead of changing regulation – we don’t wait for an inspector to point something out before we take action.

Again, it’s all about people and helping to change attitudes toward health and safety throughout our organization. We’ve done this through education and helping colleagues at all levels to develop their awareness, discipline, and accountability; from senior management all the way through to the factory floor. This is a constant focus here at Stahl.

What are your main targets to improve our safety?

My yearly plan is very full. An important project here at Waalwijk is a spill reduction plan that we trust will have a significant impact. We’re also updating our Seveso safety report and renewing all of our safety studies, among several other big projects. On the environmental side, we’re working on a new wastewater treatment plant to comply with new discharge limits and achieve new waste reduction targets.

However, my top priority is to continue developing our safety culture. In 2019, we launched our Road to Zero (R20) program to further integrate safety into our way of working. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to put the program on pause during 2020. However, we’ve found ways around this with the help of technology and we’re aiming to bring R20 back on track in 2021.

Even though we’ve made great strides on safety over the past few years, I’ll never reach a point where I can say: “That’s it, we can stop now. We’ve done enough”. Changing attitudes and behaviors is a lifelong challenge. It’s why I keep coming back to work each day!

Are you looking for more information?

Please get in touch with your relevant contact within Stahl:

“Safety is anything but boring” SHE Manager, Joost Gosens
Alexis Pey
Global SHE & Process Safety Manager