Archive: March 25, 2024

Neurocentricity: pivotal to occupational safety – and success

The pursuit of safety and success remains a top priority for organisations across industries. However, achieving these goals requires more than just robust safety protocols and procedures. It demands a deeper understanding of human behaviour and cognition within the workplace – and a willingness to implement organisational cultural change accordingly, says Christopher Mörsner, Head of Training and Consulting at the Dekra Institute of Learning (IOL).

What is neurocentricity?

Neurocentricity, as Mörsner defines it, is the integration of neuroscience principles into organisational culture and behaviour. It emphasises the importance of empowering employees to take ownership of their actions and decisions, shifting away from a mentality of reliance on employers to one of individual accountability.

“One of the fundamental aspects of neurocentricity,” Mörsner explains, “is acknowledging that trial and error is a natural part of any process. As such, failure and success are two sides of the same coin: if you do not allow for failure, you also do not allow for success.”

Rather than assigning blame when things go wrong, neurocentricity encourages organisations to explore why errors occur – and how they can be prevented in the future. This shift in perspective not only enhances workplace safety, but also cultivates a culture of continuous improvement and innovation.

The impact of neurocentricity

Neurocentricity represents a paradigm shift in how organisations approach safety and performance management. Traditional safety protocols often focus solely on procedural compliance, overlooking the critical role of human behaviour in shaping safety outcomes. However, by integrating neuroscience principles into safety practices, organisations can tap into the intrinsic capabilities of the human brain to enhance decision-making, situational awareness and risk perception.

One key aspect of neurocentricity is its emphasis on creating a culture of psychological safety. In environments where employees feel empowered to voice concerns, ask questions, and share ideas without fear of reprisal, there is a higher likelihood of identifying and addressing safety issues proactively.

Mörsner emphasises the importance of leadership buy-in fostering such a culture, as leaders play an essential role in setting the tone for organisational behaviour and attitudes around safety: “Without a positive attitude from leadership, expecting different outcomes is unrealistic. Leaders play a crucial role in inspiring change among employees, by demonstrating their commitment to the concept – and the implementation thereof. Employees are more inclined to follow suit when leadership sets the correct precedent.”

Safety training: a fresh approach

Neurocentricity offers a fresh perspective on how to approach safety training and education. Traditional safety training programmes often rely on memorising procedures and checklists by rote – which may not effectively translate into real-world decision-making scenarios – or suit everyone’s speed and manner of cognitive processing. In contrast, neurocentricity advocates experiential learning methods which engage both the fast and slow brain functions. By simulating realistic workplace scenarios and providing opportunities for reflection and feedback, organisations can better prepare employees to navigate complex safety challenges.

At the same time, by promoting a heightened awareness of hazards and risks, neurocentricity equips employees with the cognitive tools to identify and address potential safety issues more effectively. It is all about behavioural change, which enhances both the process and the desired outcome.

Everyone in industry strives for zero harm: whether to employees, the environment or the business at large. Neurocentricity entails training the brain to adopt a specific approach to achieve success. This is applicable across all industries and businesses, and is certainly not limited to safety alone,” Mörsner explains.

Making safe decisions

Addressing common workplace issues such as fatigue, distraction and habituation, Mörsner underscores the importance of understanding human cognition and delving into a deeper understanding of hazards and processes. This entails scrutinising shift patterns, industry norms and – most importantly – human behaviour. As Mörsner aptly puts it, “Staff and management need to grow their understanding of hazards and risk management, as well as the tendency towards complacency in the workplace. Routine and repetition breed a dangerous form of tunnel vision, which blinds people to potential hazards lurking just beyond their immediate focus.”

He warns against falling into this trap, emphasising the importance of maintaining an exciting and dynamic working environment: “If we create repetition, we create tunnel vision and complacency, because this becomes a habit,” he cautions. “Neurocentricity asks us to look around and acknowledge that there is more to life!”

Neurocentricity, at its core, is about breaking free from autopilot mode and proactively engaging with our surroundings. “Neurocentricity is about training one’s brain to be more aware. Making safe decisions, or what our global parent company terms ‘MSD’, is for this reason often the last line of defence when it comes to safety in a company,” he affirms.

Furthermore, Mörsner underlines the importance of taking immediate action when hazards are identified. Whether as an employee or employer, it is crucial to respond promptly and effectively to mitigate risks: “If you have identified a hazard, immediately think about ways to correct it – thereby creating a culture of continuous improvement,” advises Mörsner.

Central to the principles of neurocentricity is the concept of slowing down and observing. In the fast-paced environment of the modern workplace, taking the time to pause and reflect can seem counterintuitive. However, Mörsner argues that this deliberate approach is vital for harnessing the full potential of both the slow and fast brain functions. “Understand the person first before you can expect anything to be successful,” he asserts. “Accommodate fast and slow, left and right brains to succeed.”

By embracing a culture of awareness, adaptability and proactive hazard management, organisations can mitigate risks, enhance safety outcomes and – ultimately – unlock their full potential, allowing their people to truly thrive,” Mörsner concludes.

GSI women: champions of compressed gas safety training – Empowering women throughout industry

As a leading South African provider of cutting, welding and grinding consumables and machines, First Cut has always prioritised safety – and nowhere more so than in the field of compressed gas.

First Cut’s subsidiary and well-known compressed gas safety training company GSI is extremely proud of its female team members, who have an impressive track record in gas product sales and compressed gas safety training.

Melanie Kearns, GSI’s National Product / Sales Manager and Thabelo Rabedzwana, GSI’s  Technical Sales and Training Officer run the company’s compressed gas safety training, and in addition, are also frequently requested to attend private and public sector forums where they share the importance of compressed gas safety. 

Executive Assistant Anneke Hofmeyr is another pivotal member in the GSI team. Supporting Managing Director Peter Rohlssen, as well as Kearns and Rabedzwana, she also contributes to GSI’s compressed gas safety training success.

Sharing the compressed gas safety message

An example of this was the company’s attendance in August 2023 at the government printing works’ national Women’s Day event. Gas safety was the third item on the agenda, and Kearns’s and Rabedzwana’s messages were very well-received, by a very different audience to the more familiar industrial audiences at mining, welding, fabrication and engineering companies.

“Our safety message was still extremely relevant – and empowering to women, being a Women’s Day gathering,” Rabedzwana says of the event. “The response was positive, and we were subsequently invited to present at the University of Limpopo.”

Rabedzwana is quick to point out that the more in-depth training courses offered by GSI usually cover the range of industrial compressed gases used for welding and cutting; whereas the information shared at the government printing works event focused more on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG.)

However, this did not detract from the vital key messages which she and Kearns conveyed around the need for compressed gas safety – particularly since more consumers are moving to gas due to the ongoing national power crisis.

“At this event, we focused more on gas safety for home use, explaining the properties of LPG gas and equipping people with practical knowledge on how to handle it,” Rabedzwana adds.   

“People forget that gas is a propellent in most aerosol cans, and it is important to demonstrate this in such forums and events – as well as to remind the audience about the highly flammable nature of compressed gas and how important it is to  check for leaks before use, and always close the cylinder valve after use.”

Women training – and empowering – women

The perception that the cutting, welding and fabrication sectors are exclusively male domains is changing. Kearns and Rabedzwana are just two of a well-represented group of women in pivotal roles at GSI and First Cut who are championing this shift.

Working in compressed gas sales and safety training roles, these women are also supported by First Cut’s and GSI’s company culture, which fosters the growth and progression of women in the welding, engineering and mining sectors. In turn, they are encouraged by the growing number of female welders and others working throughout industry, attending GSI’s compressed gas safety training seminars.

“The certificates obtained from these seminars are valid for a period of two and three years,” says Kearns.

“Yet many women who previously attended are asking for a refresher course after two years, which just goes to show how much they value GSI’s training, and wish to keep up to date with compressed gas safety.

Furthermore, when we analyse new attendees – particularly in the mining sector – there are always a significant number of women. It is very empowering for us as women in the sector to train and empower other women,” she adds.

Kearns has become a well-known authority in her field, and her passion for compressed gas safety training at GSI (which extends to oxyfuel product sales and accreditations) is evident:

She cites GSI’s Level 3 training seminars, typically conducted over a five day period. “Judging by the evaluations from the students, these high-level compressed gas safety training seminars are very well received. It makes me really happy to see that people are still so positive about our training, and our equipment…it is just the best!”.

By the same token, Rabedzwana says she feels empowered when sharing her knowledge and skills around compressed gas safety, specifically as it applies to the welding sector:

“It is empowering because it saves lives, giving welders working with compressed gas on a daily basis, the knowledge and the confidence to perform their duties in a skilful, safe and responsible manner, while also reducing welding-related costs.”

Growing interest in compressed gas safety training

Interest in compressed gas safety training from women continues to gain traction – particularly in the mining and welding sectors. To this point, Rabedzwana has been encouraged by the increasing numbers of female artisans, welders and fitters from the large mining houses. 

Kearns shares in this optimism, celebrating the growing diversity of attendees at GSI’s  training seminars. However, she would also like to see a more substantial presence of women in  supervisory roles.

“The majority of women who attend our training are welders, boilermakers and artisans – which is great. We do however look forward to seeing more female engineers and engineering contractors attending going forward,” she concludes.

AES: making a material difference through energy optimisation in the textile sector

A change of fortunes for South Africa’s beleaguered textile sector depends on many factors – and leading operations and maintenance service provider to the steam and boiler sector, Associated Energy Services (AES), can make a material difference to its future success.

“AES has been active in the sector since the 1990s, and has first-hand experience of its implosion after trade liberalisation and an influx of cheap imports toppled less competitive local companies, leading to the loss of over 100 000 jobs. Now, we are well positioned to share our knowledge around energy optimisation, to make a real difference in the much-needed revitalisation of the textile sector,” says Managing Director, Chris Paterson.

Weaving a new textile tomorrow

According to Paterson, the company is already working with a large textile dyehouse in KwaZulu-Natal, looking at options for optimising its steam supply.

“Most of the current hope and positivity within the textile sector hinges on key market changes. Overall, according to the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), the textile industry accounts for 14% of manufacturing employment (60 000 to 80 000 jobs) and contributes around 8% to GDP (gross domestic product).

According to the Cape Clothing and Textile Cluster (CCTC), a not-for-profit initiative established by government and industry to boost competitiveness, the sector stabilised after 2014 by implementing best practices, lean manufacturing principles and a government-supported machinery modernisation programme,” Paterson points out.

He adds that a global shift by retailers towards a Quick Response (QR) supply chain model – which hinges on stocking the most desirable products in the shortest possible time and rapidly replenishing big sellers – also favours local suppliers over offshore producers.

However, another trend – environmental sustainability or ‘greening’ – could prove a hurdle. Already, retailers are punting ‘greener’ fabrics that are natural, require less water and are sourced locally to reduce the carbon footprint associated with long-distance transport.

Fabric of the industry

AES believes that, given ongoing economic uncertainties, it is still early days for South Africa’s textile industry. Companies – quite literally – need to cut their coats according to their cloth.

As Paterson explains, a single factory has multiple energy requirements: from using thermal oil for heat setting of materials, to using steam for washing textiles before dyeing and printing. During dyeing, steam opens open up the cellulose structure to allow for comprehensive dyeing. This can even raise the rate at which the dye is absorbed, increasing throughput. Steam is also used in laundry process to finish fabrics.

He notes that, to remain competitive, particularly in comparison with Asian producers where the cost of labour and energy is less, local manufacturers must focus on their cost inputs – and energy is one of the highest.

In addition to reducing fuel usage and cost per metre of fabric produced, AES also looks at how efficiently steam and thermal oil are used in the textile producing facility.

Commercial Director Dennis Williams explains: “If there is any waste in the system, the investment in terms of people, turnaround time and equipment changes is relatively small, but the benefits are considerable. Therefore, we advise companies to go for the low-hanging fruit of waste reduction first, to establish a proper baseline from which to make further choices. They might even find that waste improvements mean that changing to a different fuel no longer makes economic sense.”

He says a cautious approach is needed: “Regarding efficiency and sustainability, it makes sense to manufacture locally. However to re-establish a whole supply chain requires massive capex investment – especially where textile plant assets were stripped and machinery is very outdated.”

Opportunities for AES include advising and assisting with the starting up of mothballed textile plants – around boilers particularly, including sizing which is critical. The company also advises new investors on the most appropriate choices for the longer term, including sourcing skilled operational staff.

Sewing up sustainability

While the main consideration for the South African textile industry remains survival, local manufacturers need to go beyond improving technology, to deal with challenges like sustainability, carbon tax implications,  water (condensate) and heat recovery. These are all areas where AES is already providing input.

“AES’s standard approach is to optimise what is there, generally by making an efficiency improvement. Reducing fuel consumption and emissions substantially improves sustainability,” says Williams.

He cautions that sustainability investments for the textile industry must be economically viable: “We work with textile companies to minimise waste and recover heat or water. Hopefully, those improvements will also improve competitiveness as this is what will drive their commitment to sustainability.”

Paterson is keen to see the local textile sector flourishing – but also more focused on addressing its safety issues. Fires, associated with the operation of thermal oil heaters have been a key challenge for textile companies in the past. AES is, again, well positioned to monitor and care for these sorts of assets.

“A significant value chain can be created via the textile sector: from cotton farmers to transporters, mills to dye houses and then cut, make and trim operations and retailers. This can create much-needed employment, with all the attendant socio-economic progress benefits. AES looks forward to contributing to that,” he concludes.