Having safety in your organisation’s DNA is our commitment to ourselves and our legacy to the next generations, thinks Karen Bittner, a former microbiology researcher and Paulig’s current Head of E2E Supply Chain Excellence QEHS. You know it has been achieved when the results come naturally, as part of everyday life. On World Day for Health and Safety at Work, she talks about safety leadership, co-creating health and safety culture at work as well as Paulig’s ambitious objectives.
Today, April 28, is the World Day for Health and Safety at Work. This day is promoted by the UN and its agency International Labour Organization ILO. Its purpose is to promote the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases globally and raise awareness on the importance of creating a safety and health culture at work.
At Paulig, the day is particularly important for Karen Bittner, Head of E2E Supply Chain Excellence QEHS. Since she started in her role in 2019, she has been hard at work unifying Paulig’s health and safety practices into a global programme – and, first and foremost, a culture.
“This translates into a concrete vision. At Paulig, we want three things: zero accidents, a sustainable and safe workplace, and to have safety in our DNA.”
Having safety in the organisation’s DNA is a concept that inspires and intrigues Bittner who, due to background in biochemistry, has spent time researching DNA. So, now she has a very topical metaphor for health and safety culture at work:
“When we manage to get the ‘Health & Safety gene’ into our company´s very DNA, acting in a safe way comes naturally as part of everyday work and gets passed on to the next generation who will keep improving what we have already done. This way, it is not an extra task for you to accomplish. Rather, it is ingrained in everything you do. It is part of what you believe in and you do it for yourself and the people you care about and care for,” she describes.
What safety culture takes, above all, is leadership
Paulig’s health and safety strategy can be divided into three main objectives:
- Have zero accidents
- Be a sustainable and safe workplace
- Have safety in our company DNA
So, how is this achieved in practice? On the high level, Karen Bittner emphasises the role of leadership above all.
“We need very strong leadership who is committed and motivated and who can inspire people and really lead the way by doing, not by talking. The expectations regarding what safe behaviour means need to be clear.”
In line with this, Bittner and her team have developed Paulig Safety Rules, and all Paulig employees have then received training on them. Next, there will be workshops on the subject.
“It’s important to understand that while the rules are the same for everyone, the applications will not be. Think about someone working in an office as opposed to someone working in a factory nearby machinery, for example. This is why the next step is to allow people to co-create the ways in which they apply the rules in practice. They need to determine what they mean for their work, specifically,” she says, pointing out that co-creation also boosts engagement and allows the organisation to crowdsource the best practical applications for the rules.
Particularly for the zero accidents goal, a big part of this collaborative aspect is that while Bittner and her team lead the health and safety initiative, they are not working on it alone. Every Paulig location has health and safety representatives, and together they are Paulig’s EHS community.
“We have 25 great, committed people working together to establish what we need to have in our safety culture and how to implement everything the best way but we need everyone in our company to contribute to a safer workplace,” Bittner describes.
She also says she has received full support from Paulig’s Leadership Team.
“I don’t take it for granted, but it means a lot. Like I said, change is executed through leadership – and I am supported by great leadership myself. It really makes me passionate about my work and what we are looking to achieve!”
Bittner also notes that efficient and transparent communications are key for any cultural change. The same goes for health and safety. At Paulig, the initiative has been branded as under the name Yes, we care. In the end, safety is essentially all about caring about yourself and caring about your colleagues. As a company, we care about our employees.”
“Since we want to build a learning culture, we are open and transparent even when things go wrong like when we have a Lost Time Accident (LTA)”, she explains.
“We have a counter in our Intranet and on info screens in our facilities showing how many days without LTAs we have achieved and whenever an LTA occurs, we describe and publish what happened so that all of us can learn from it”.
Career: Educated in Chile and Germany, Karen is a biochemist with an MSc in Functional Foods and PhD in Bioprocessing. Before joining Paulig, she worked for various companies with roles in R&D and QEHS Management. Her role as R&D and Quality director for a multinational group and responsible for several countries allowed her to work in different South American countries as well as the US before settling in Europe in 2008. At Paulig, she started in 2009 as Quality Manager in one of the factories and progressed through several positions into her current role in 2019.
Family: Karen’s background is very multicultural – she was born in Chile to a Chilean mother and German father – and her grandmother is Italian. Now she lives in Sweden, has four adult children and a Swedish husband. Karen speaks six languages: Spanish, German, Italian, English, Swedish and – since she has worked in Brazil too – Portuguese.
Hobbies: Being from Latin America, Karen naturally loves dancing. In addition, her hobbies include travelling and Tai Chi. Karen says Tai Chi is great for health – sometimes called “moving meditation”, it frees up tension and helps connect the mind and the body.
Last book you read: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari and Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson.