APM Terminals: Safety mindset at APM Terminals recognised by the Francis R. Sharp Executive Leadership In Safety award

Source: APM Temrminals

Signal Mutual’s Executive Leadership Award has recognised Jon Poelma, during his time as Managing Director of APM Terminals Port Elizabeth, as an executive who spearheads the promotion of employee safety and health through the implementation of a strong safety culture, safety management commitment, and proactive systems within their organization.

“This award belongs to the people of APM Terminals Elizabeth who worked together with our ILA partners to raise the bar and help each other day and night to stay safe on the terminal,” said Jon Poelma, Managing Director of APM Terminals Port Elizabeth in 2021. “Handling record cargo volumes in 2021 with high yard utilizations required special planning and extra coordination from everyone. Special thanks goes to our ILA Labor partners who enabled us to operate safely through the pandemic.”

The award seeks out executives who sets high safety standards based on personal values and commitment to preventing workplace injuries and illnesses, establishing safety initiatives that are integrated throughout the organizational structure.

“Working at a trucking company years ago changed my approach to safety,” commented Poelma. “Rather than merely reacting to accidents – when the damage is already done – we started installing technology in the trucks to collect data from regular operations. The information enabled us to identify and explore the safety risks, for example when and why the trucks were speeding.

“We quickly came to understand that people are rarely trying to do the wrong thing. Mostly there were valid reasons why they acted as they did. Maybe the driver was in a hurry to finish his run, so he could make it to his son’s baseball practice.

Listening, learning and adapting mindset

“By engaging and listening to the driver, we could understand the reasons and mitigate the risk together – like simply trade his shifts, so he could get to the game without stress. I took that mindset of listening, learning, and adapting with me into APM Terminals, where it is completely aligned with the company’s global approach to safety.”

The award also values recipients who display values and commitment by being actively involved in promoting safety off the job and in the community. When selecting Mr. Poelma for the award, Signal highlighted, among other things, the clear visibility and engagement he demonstrated, through, for example regular site walks with employee observations and engagement. Known as Gemba walks, these site walks are a key pillar of APM Terminals global approach to safety.

“So much of it is about building a culture,” explains Poelma. “By repeatedly asking questions like ‘what’s the worst thing that can happen in this situation?’, you get people to think through what they are doing and how it could result in harm to themselves or their equipment.

“And when you see people exhibiting the right behaviors, you ask: ‘How do we get others to exhibit the same attention to safety as you?’. You seek to understand why, from their perspective, their colleagues might not be exhibiting the same behaviors. Again, you are learning – and that enables you to take action to help coach others.”

Support from Leadership

“This is a key safety cultural aspect. Front line support workers need to understand that leaders will support them as they make daily safety decisions that may not always be operationally-friendly,” commented Richard Lubert, SVP Safety & Member Performance at Signal Mutual.

Other factors recognized by Signal included Mr. Poelma’s strong and regular communication on safety emphasizing its importance to the organization and its employees, while at the same time personalizing safety and its influence on the employee’s family. He also engaged with Signal safety team to develop a robust safety management approach that focuses on leading indicators.

“Our people are constantly balancing priorities like efficiency or profitability, getting a ship in and out, taking care of a customers,” explains Poelma. “We have to build their understanding and trust that safety actually comes first, and if we have to take a hit somewhere else on that account, then that is okay. That’s why we make a real effort to recognize those who are modelling the right behaviors, putting safety first.”

Mr. Poelma was selected from more than 200 other member CEOs in recognition of the steady and innovative improvements in safety under his leadership. He was recently promoted to Managing Director at APM Terminals Pier 400 Los Angeles, California. The facility is the largest privately-operated container terminal in North America.


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