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31 October 2019

The secret to making health and safety second nature for everyone - insight into Azucarera’s internationally recognised approach

The journey

Three years ago, Azucarera, one of AB Sugar’s operating businesses based in Spain, kick- started a radical new approach to re-address health and safety (H&S) across its operations.

As a business, it had historically focused on reacting to the causes of accidents and near misses through a variety of management systems and procedures. But after its performance plateaued; a change was on the horizon.

This new approach considered that by only focusing on proactive activities ‘the presence of safety’ could contribute to a truly accident free environment; not only on its own sites but across its end-to-end supply chain from field to customer. The approach epitomises the belief that all accidents can be prevented by eliminating unsafe conditions and by adopting safe behaviours, establishing a culture whereby ‘working safely is our only way of working’.

Consequently, the business has achieved a significant reduction of accidents from 2016/17 to the present day and currently the best H&S performance achieved in Azucarera. For two consecutive years the business has received internal recognition within the AB Sugar Group for its Health and Safety performance and activities as part of this new approach. But more recently, the business has been recognised internationally by IOSH (Institution of Occupational Safety and Health) at this year’s Food and Drink Manufacturing Health and Safety Awards taking the top prize and becoming the first Spanish company to be awarded with this prestigious honour. The awards recognise innovative projects which have produced a practical solution to, and made a positive impact on, an occupational safety and health problem in the food and drink manufacturing industry. Amongst a field of strong competition from the industry, Azucarera beat Allied Bakeries Belfast and Finlay’s (a global tea and coffee producer) to secure the top spot as chosen by IOSH’s panel of judges.

The detail

To help inform the new approach evidence was gathered; from reviewing all root causes of recent accidents, to conducting a Safety Culture Survey and workshops at all manufacturing sites. Safety conversations also played a key role and provide more fluid communication between managers and workers; enabling a better understanding of why employees who have received identical training and work in similar conditions adopt safe or unsafe behaviour. This evidence identified five basic causes for unsafe behaviours across the business which influenced how new tools, mechanisms and activities were introduced.

To kick-start the new approach, a H&S Global Index was created to focus on promoting three main aims:

  1. Tackling H&S like a continuous improvement cycle, considering organisational reality and the implementing solutions to be able to progress towards interdependence
  2. Establishing meaningful leadership aspects and integrating them into the H&S priority actions
  3. Making safety programmes sustainable and improving upon the low accident rate figures in a lasting way of that includes working safely as the only way to work

Accompanying the Index was a new KPI (key performance indicators) system to enable the business to get a full and ‘live’ performance overview. These help to identify best practices and allow these to be promoted and replicated; creating positive competition amongst factories. Alongside this, non-technical skills such as behaviours and competencies were also reviewed, and action plans put in place to ensure every factory workforce had a blend of such skills.



Since 2016, there has been a significant and continuous improvement in the number of accidents at all manufacturing sites in Spain, a decline of 29%. In addition, there was a 54% increase in risk notifications being communicated, and a substantial increase in the number of safety conversations, action plans and new task procedures owned by many within the factory workforce.

Outside of the tangible outcomes, there has been an increased focus on the potential harm of incidents and not only their consequences, but the establishment of a system of indicators. Behaviours are an essential part of this and everyone within the workforce takes responsibility for ensuring they are working safely.

Every Azucarera employee embraces the value that: ‘safety is a way of life. It’s for you, it’s for all of us’.

On the success of implementing Azucarera’s new approach, CEO of AB Sugar, Dr Mark Carr comments:

“This is a fantastic achievement for Azucarera and is well-deserved recognition following years of hard work and dedication by not only the Health and Safety teams, but employees across the whole businesses. Everyone, whether in the factory, field or office plays their part in making sure they are working safely every day.

“What the business has been able to achieve over the course of three years should be celebrated, and I know we can all take some inspiration from their positive and proactive approach to the cause. I look forward to seeing how the team continue on this success in the future.”

Doug Russell, Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers, Chair of the judging panel for the IOSH Food and Drink Manufacturing Health and Safety Awards comments:

“The judges were particularly impressed by the methodical approach to the new Global Safety Index as a way of measuring and monitoring the positive presence of safety. The development of KPIs which focussed on leadership and on worker engagement and the use of the Preventive Climate Questionnaire to measure safety culture meant that Azucarera were able to demonstrate clearly to the judges the positive progress that they were making. Several of the entries to this year’s awards were concerned with what an organisation can do when their health and safety performance has stalled. The approach that Azucarera took to measure health and safety in a meaningful way meant that they stood out from the others.”

Notes to editors:

Azucarera secured the top prize at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) Food and Drink Manufacturing Health and Safety Awards 2019. The business became the first Spanish business to win the prestigious award. The annual awards recognise innovative projects that have found a practical solution with a positive impact on a health and safety problem in the food industry. 

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