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Sustainability starts with you: Our priority on Health & Safety

Charlotte Waller, Environmental, Health and Safety Coordinator at Schaeffler UK and winner of this year's MAKE UK SHE Rising Star award, explains how the company’s Sheffield plant has taken great strides in improving, not only the sustainability of its production, but also its employees.

In terms of manufacturers meeting their sustainability targets and maintaining business and production, a key focus should be the sustainability of employees. A sustainability strategy or roadmap should not just focus on the tangibles such as production, products and supply chains, it should also include specific initiatives that help improve the health, safety and wellbeing of your workforce.

At Schaeffler we recognise this. With our Roadmap 2025 we encompass the need to focus on the sustainability targets and our workforce's impact on this through our execution programme Sustainability & Engagement.

At Schaeffler UK’s production plant in Sheffield – the lead plant within the Schaeffler Group for tractor clutch production – we’ve been working hard to meet our Group sustainability targets, while also introducing a range of measures that are improving the health and wellbeing of our most important asset, our employees.

In order to do this, we provide occupational health for all our employees. This includes an annual screening to check their wellbeing, both physically and mentally and that their health is not deteriorating. We’ve introduced an Employee Assisted programme, which is an app that employees can download to their smartphone. We recognised that within the UK, it’s very difficult to see a GP at the moment, which is a real struggle for many people. The app provides counselling, booking of appointments, and enables employees to speak to a therapist if they wish.

Through COVID, mental health issues have increased, so we embarked on the challenge of how we could better support our employees during and post-COVID. We’ve had very good feedback from the employees, who can raise any concerns they have and get things off their chest. We have five mental health first aiders on site, so employees feel as comfortable as possible during their working day. In October and November 2022, we put the whole site (340 employees) through basic health & safety training, to refresh those who have worked here for many years.

Automation and robots

Over the last few years, we’ve gradually introduced more automation systems and robots to some of the production areas at Sheffield, which has had a positive effect on productivity but also on the workforce. Robots can help relieve workers from repetitive tasks, allowing them to focus on more complex and skilled tasks, which can lead to increased job satisfaction, as workers feel more fulfilled in their roles. Our robot assembly cells for example, have taken over some of the more labour-intensive lifting and carrying tasks, reducing the risk of injury and improving the safety and security of employees. Machines that heat up and use sharp or heavy objects, for example, are automated. Robots also offer security to the workplace, with the right tools and safety lock systems being activated as soon as the robot notices a safety breach.

Clearly not all manual labour can be automated, there will always be some manual tasks that our employees need to perform, so every week we have a designated day when a physiotherapist visits the site. As our workforce ages, we’ve found that back, shoulder and neck pains can become an issue. If anyone here experiences any pain or discomfort, they can see the physio for advice and guidance. As a result, we now have lower sickness rates and improved employee retention. As a manufacturing business, you cannot be as productive if you are constantly hiring new staff or agency workers who need to be trained before they can add value.

Carbon-neutral by 2040

Having a happier, healthier workforce has certainly helped us meet our tangible sustainability targets. Globally, Schaeffler’s target to be carbon-neutral by 2040 applies to the entire supply chain and is reinforced by ambitious medium-term targets.

At Sheffield, we’ve taken some important steps to meet these sustainability targets. The plant has been on a renewable energy tariff since 2021. There are also initiatives in place that will help the site itself and the amount of electricity we use, including changing to energy efficient LED lighting across the whole site. We also measure and monitor the energy we use at the plant, particularly on high performance machines in production. The heat treatment line, for example, is energy-intensive and so we continuously monitor this.

In terms of water, we don’t actually use water in production, and although it’s not a KPI that we monitor closely, we understand the importance of measuring our usage to be sustainable. We are currently conducting a project to look at how we can re-use rainwater on site for flushing the toilets.

We’ve also made significant changes to the plant’s waste stream as part of an initiative that seeks to send zero waste to landfill. As part of the programme, general waste created at the plant is being processed locally and used for heat recovery that benefits the local community, including hospitals. In 2022, we achieved 100 per cent zero-waste-to-landfill, though we are continuing to work on this and improving the whole sustainable economy, looking at how to make not only our production, but also the lifespan of our products more sustainable.

Act responsible, think sustainable

There are plenty of systems and processes which can be put in place to ensure that a plant is sustainable, however these can be costly. Most plants in the UK are legacy plants, which is why it is important to not just focus on the tangible but recognise that to be truly sustainable it is our employees who can help achieve this. Ensuring their wellbeing will help grow our business and reach our sustainable goals.

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