Faces of EHS, Training

Faces of EHS: Matthias Krope on Practicing What You Preach in Safety

Matthias Krope began his career as a commissioning engineer for water treatment and wastewater treatment plants. After a few years spent on many construction sites, he moved to Siemens AG in 2006 for the power plant construction business unit where he started as a project engineer for chemical systems. He has passed through various stations in Siemens and was the head of EHS for Siemens Energy Solutions with over 5,500 employees.

Currently, he works as a principal consultant for Youngwoo Ind. Ltd., and as a freelance EHS consultant supporting companies doing construction or industry business in Asia or facing active occupational safety challenges in the region. Youngwoo Ind. is a Korean company that specializes in the Experience Safety Training technology to further develop the training modules and to make it available to other companies around the globe. Youngwoo Ind. was also the runner up in the 2022 Safety Standout Awards for the Innovations in Safety Training Award.

For our latest Faces of EHS profile, we sat down with Matthias to discuss understanding the consequences of safety management, the future of the EHS industry, and how leaders can move towards a better safety culture.

Q: How did you get your start in the field?

To be honest, I have to admit that I didn’t really pay much attention to EHS in my early professional life. Thinking back to that time, I considered EHS more of a chore than a way to protect myself and others from accidents or injuries. Today, I know better!

But why? That changed as I took on more personnel responsibilities. If you put yourself in danger by your own decisions and suffer an accident, that’s different than if you’re a manager and your decisions put other people in danger. The consequences of the choices I make for others have significantly changed my attitude towards safety and determine my personal behavior in the area of occupational safety.

This insight and the numerous accidents that I was allowed to actively and passively accompany in the course of my career have brought me deeper and deeper into the field of occupational safety. Seeing how, in addition to technical and organizational guidelines and instructions, influencing the behavior of employees can help reduce accident rates has driven me forward to this day.

Q: What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?

It is certainly not just one or “the best mistake” that I have made, but a major weakness that I have fallen into is underestimating the amount of work required to set-up a complex large-scale construction site for “safe work conditions” in an international environment and keep it always on a high level until and beyond the completion of the project.

An important key takeaway for me was that it is always worthwhile to set the course in advance, to put sufficient time into developing a health, safety, security, and environment (HSSE) plan, to maintain open and solution-oriented communication from the start of the project, and to work closely with the people on the ground.

Q: What’s your favorite and least favorite part about working in the industry? Would you change anything?

My favorite part of my job is talking to people in the workplace about their personal concerns and challenges. The wealth of useful and helpful information you pick up here is worth its weight in gold. The least favorite part is hearing “We’ve always done it this way”

Q: How can company leaders make safety a value within their organization?

Leaders must maintain credibility, meaning what they say is consistent with what they do. They must act to address unsafe conditions, and paint a picture for safety excellence within the organization with a clear vision. Leaders must ensure that employees take accountability for safety-critical activities, and they should communicate about safety in a way that creates and maintains the safety culture of the organization.

Leaders should promote collaboration and encourage active employee participation in resolving safety issues, and promote employee ownership of those issues. Lastly, they should give employees feedback and recognition that is soon, certain, and positive, since that encourages safe behavior.

Q: Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?

For health: psychosocial risk management, psychological resilience, well-being and mental health will be more in the focus in the future.

For safety: digitalization of workplaces, workflows, and training and learning will become important. the trend for virtual reality concepts, augmented learning, robotics, and behavioral science will play a more important role.

For environment: reduction of packing material and waste, sustainable waste management, green labeling, eco-friendly design solutions, and energy consumption efficiency to safe our planet for the future generation.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic complicated or exacerbated problems with safety culture?

Since I have a background in operations and have spent my life working on construction sites, the pandemic has of course severely restricted my own activities. Elements that are important to build and maintain a good safety culture were more difficult to lead during the COVID-19 pandemic. Influencing people, empowering people or that leaders showing physical visibility is rather difficult to implement under lockdown condition.

Q: How will safety culture look in the future?

I think the safety culture of the future will be much more focused on behavioral aspects, attitudes, beliefs, values, communication and leadership. We already see companies that do this very well and have better successes than companies that think they can define their safety culture with metrics.

Q: What are you most proud of?

Our Experience Safety Training Modules! When workers don’t come out of a classroom training session bored or annoyed and glad that the training is finally over, and when I can look at smiling faces while trying out occupational safety and experience safety through trial and error. It makes me proud, because I am convinced that only those who enjoy learning really retain something of what they have learned.

One of the modules we have developed to improve workers’ decision making is called the 4D Safety Cube and it combines physical experience (moving elements that simulate a fall accident, a guardrail collapse, a slip/trip and fall experience, and dropped object experience) and VR with an innovative and customized training software that is intuitive and entertaining for the workers (Hazard Hunting, Identification of Hazards and Risks, and Intervention and Prevention). It’s really a cool thing!

Q: Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Regardless of the level of qualification or whether you join as a career changer or safety professional, always look for the connection to the practice. Talk to the people who perform the work and ask as many questions as you can. The best ideas to improve things often come from the people who are on the ground.