"A few years ago, many people thought that safety meant complying with regulations to a certain extent. But that is not enough." As Xella's first Lean Manager, Marcin Maś is a regular guest on the shop floor of Xella's Polish plants. For the past five years, his job among other things has been to continuously improve the safety awareness when working with highly complex machines - together with the employees, not over their heads.
The keyword is lean manufacturing, a method that originated in the Japanese Toyota factories in the 1950s. Its primary goal is to make value-added chains and processes in factories as effective as possible and to avoid waste - in Xella's case, primarily with the aim of making workflows continuously safer. Marcin and his team began their mission with a more subliminal factor: "Every human activity takes place in an environment. And plant management has a lot to do with that," says the lean manager. Well-lit workstations, for example, make it easier to see what you are doing. As a result, workplaces in Poland were made brighter and more modern years ago - in the name of safety and in accordance with Xella's ESG standards.
From ritual to habit
"Both good and bad habits are formed when we perform them on a regular basis," says Marcin. "We are using this human behavior pattern to increase safety in the plants: with daily rituals." In 2020, Xella Polska introduced regular meetings at the start of shifts to improve communication between shift supervisors and employees and focus on safety aspects. LoTo training boards followed at the end of 2022. These are a proven education method of lean management. The four letters stand for "Lockout Tagout": "According to the Lockout-Tagout system as an occupational safety procedure, all potentially dangerous energies of the equipment are isolated, locked and tagged," Marcin explains. The more meticulous plant personnel are in applying LoTo procedures, the more accidents can be avoided. LoTo boards at Polish Xella plants show an overview of the various plugs, hydraulic hoses, and valves. Together, the employees go through the various procedures each day. "In this way, the employees start each day with the topic of safety - because a ritual that is performed every day soon becomes a habit."
One lock, one life
During production, the massive calcium-silicate blocks are pressed with up to 250 tons of pressure. "We have to be careful: We are in heavy industry and work with extremely robust technologies," adds Marcin. The danger posed by heavy machinery is not comparable to many other industries: "Our motto 'One lock, one life' sums up the importance of the daily LoTo meetings," he says. After all, the processes on the machines are by no means simple: the complex plant often has different types of energy that need to be kept under control. When external companies are involved, things can become more challenging to manage. To ensure that no mistakes are made even in hectic situations, a lot must be practiced and internalized - for example, through regular training courses that provide employees with additional skills.
Safety for the loved ones at home
But what makes workers rethink safety - sometimes after decades on the job and nearing retirement? Sometimes the rethinking doesn't happen in the plant, but at home over dinner: "We all go home and talk about work. So, it's part of the lives of our loved ones, the people we really live for." A worker recently told him, "He's been working on the cutting line for 25 years. And now, with all the things we're doing at Xella to help him build a safer mindset, his wife tells him she sleeps better. She sleeps calmer." Conversations like these stay with Marcin - because they show him what is important in his job: "Polish men don't usually tend to be exuberant, either verbally or emotionally. But when someone comes and says that he changed his ways to a safer behavior - then my work has meaning."