Air Products’ Technical Services Executive a key player in safety and quality
Maropeng Bahula is a busy man. As General Manager – Technical Services at Air Products South Africa, the scope of Bahula’s job encompasses a range of elements critical to the success and sustainability of the company. These include all aspects of SHERQ (Safety, Health, Environment, Risk & Quality) management systems, technical services and procurement.
Bahula, however, is more than up for the challenge. His career in the industrial chemicals sector, which spans more than 20 years, started when he graduated with a Chemistry & Chemical Sciences degree. His main focus on SHERQ and operational efficiency, have instilled in him a passion not only for best practice, but for ensuring profitability.
“Whilst SHERQ management systems and a SHERQ focus gives an operating plant a licence to operate, operational efficiency is equally as important as a plant ultimately contributes to operational profit. Therefore you need the skills to create business efficiency without compromising SHERQ,” he says.
“I have learnt that disruptions as a result of safety incidents are very costly to a business. This is largely due to the fact that incidents cause an interruption of business and there are a lot of additional costs related to investigation, repairs and other aspects related to the incident.”Maropeng Bahula has also learnt that customers want reliability, and he feels strongly that a company should have systems in place that go beyond compliance – to create a value proposition which says to the customer ‘we will not let you down’.
While Bahula honed his skills working in chemical manufacture, operations and technical support, he acknowledges that he gained a much broader business perspective when he completed his Master’s in Business Leadership (MBL) from UNISA. “My business studies were a turning point in my career as a business leader – the MBL opened up a new, diversified world to me and gave me a new perspective in disciplines such as supply chain, logistics and finance.”
As a manager, Maropeng Bahula pays tribute to his colleagues, many of whom are highly qualified and experienced industry experts. He perceives his own contribution to business as:
“My role is to bring it all together and ensure alignment from a business point of view. Essentially, I am there to connect the dots.”
Overseeing quality and safety requires a multi-disciplinary perspective, ensuring legislative compliance, good engineering practices and effective risk management.
“There are strong links between the design and procurement elements, especially when it comes to the specifications on equipment. There are regulations, engineering standards and codes that must be adhered to, which are audited by Approved Inspection Authorities according to legislation. Ensuring safety and quality within the process environment means that our systems are subject to both internal and external audits, offering a combined assurance model,” Bahula says.
Air Products is accredited by a variety of external bodies providing verification through ongoing audits. Two main examples of such bodies are NOSA for health and safety standards, and the SABS for quality management systems (ISO 9001), environmental management systems (ISO 14001) and food safety management (ISO 22000) systems.
The reviewing of documentation, such as SHERQ policies and procedures and incorporating legislative changes, leading and participating in incident investigations and root cause analyses therefore, forms part of Bahula’s working day. However, an even larger part involves the ‘people element’: regular plant visits and engaging with people at all levels of the business. This is pivotal to enhancing and inculcating a safety culture at Air Products, a critical part of his mandate in implementing what the company calls Basic Safety Process (BSP).
“BSP focuses on behaviour,” explains Bahula. “As 90% of accidents are preventable, it has become critical to engender a culture of heightened awareness and consciousness throughout the organisation. And while Air Products has achieved a good safety record and mindset over the years, it has become necessary to revisit and intensify our efforts in this regard.”
Globally, the company is using BSP as a behavioural safety tool, sharing best practice principles in all the countries in which it operates. The basic tenets of BSP are: 100% participation (every person is accountable), constant attention, and applying all the basic elements.
“It involves consistency and involves everyone. When it comes to unsafe conditions and unsafe acts, it is up to each individual to observe and intervene. It means that we are ‘our brother’s keeper’ which must become a deeply entrenched mindset at all levels of the organisation, be it at a plant or in the office.”
He continues: “While BSP involves having checklists and engaging in Task Safety Observation at a supervisory level and Executive Field visits at senior levels, it also means that safety is no longer about just ‘ticking the boxes’ – it has a real impact on each employee’s experience in the workplace, opening their minds and enhancing their understanding and awareness of their environment. Ultimately, it means that we all march to the same drum-beat – and this requires winning people’s hearts and minds.”
Safety and quality are closely linked to risk management, therefore it is important to have a proper enterprise risk management (ERM) framework in place, says Bahula, which means accountability for risk management at board level and corporate level. To this end, the company has appointed an Operational Risk Manager, who ‘champions’ risk management within the individual business units and compiles operational ‘risk registers’.
“Having a register of risks means identifying and profiling possible risks throughout the organisation, such as in supply chain, operations, finance, and analysing and evaluating the risk profile on a regular basis,” Bahula explains. “This includes all aspects of risk – financial, reputational and operational.”
While this job demands a certain attention to detail when it comes to SHERQ compliance and documentation, he makes sure he steps back regularly to review the ‘bigger picture’, and reward key contributors.
“Since joining Air Products, Maropeng Bahula has embraced the annual Dexter Baker Awards, which aims to reward employees who have taken their responsibility to ensure the safety of themselves and others to heart and aim to deliver an outstanding service. The awards are further used to highlight achievements of individuals and facilities with industry specific awards, such as the NOSA Awards.
He explains that the Dexter Baker Awards comprises of various categories, from customer service to safety awards. The process is transparent and resembles the quality processes which are followed within Air Products. Each member of the management team has the opportunity to participate in the selection of the winners of the different categories. The MD’s awards, topped by the coveted Dexter Baker Awards are the prestige awards.
“We instil a mindset of continuous safety and quality in all our employees and our accolades are as a result of the commitment and dedication of individuals. We believe that we need to create a culture of safety and quality internally and it will also become visible externally to customers”, says Bahula.
The Dexter Baker Awards winners are as follows:
“This is a dynamic environment in which nothing is cast in stone, so it is necessary to re-evaluate and refine our processes all the time. This requires both careful forward planning and analysing what works well, and what does not. This is what adds value to the process, and can make a good company great.”
He concludes with the vision for the next year: “We are aligning ourselves to a global Air Products approach – to grow through sustainability-driven opportunities, reduce environmental footprints through cost-effective improvements and to care for employees, customers and communities”.