The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aims to improve infrastructure connectivity, trade, policy coordination and a passage for connecting people, between China and over 70 countries. Under the initiative, international development opportunities are vast and organisations now, more than ever, need to evaluate their policies and procedures in order to provide a Duty of Care for their people.
Below we hear from the China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC), one of the earliest forerunners in China’s BRI strategy, about how looking after its employees’ wellbeing is critical in driving business success internationally.
CMEC's Approach to BRI
China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC), a subsidiary of the China National Machinery Industry Corporation, was established in 1978 and was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2012. As one of the earliest movers in China’s “going-out” strategy, CMEC has been expanding internationally with operations across 150 countries and regions.
The Belt and Road Initiative is an important strategy for China to embrace international opportunities in the current global context, by promoting international peace, cooperation, and mutual benefits. It not only injects positive energy to the world’s economy to be shared by all, but also encourages higher, newer and more advanced industry innovation. As an active promoter and endorser of BRI, CMEC proactively embraces the opportunities presented and focuses on key markets involved. Being able to operate in extreme and/or remote areas is inevitable and requires constant attention from management.
As a state-owned-enterprise, “people first” has always been fundamental to CMEC’s business. Looking after the wellbeing of their employees and the communities where they work is at the very heart of CMEC’s senior management's priorities. To ensure their people remained protected and to overcome the diverse medical challenges presented, the CMEC gas power plant project called "SOYO" in Angola adopted a comprehensive medical risk control programme. Conducting an initial risk identification survey, performing a series of scenario drills, and setting up an onsite medical support team were some of the practical measures put in place to mitigate medical risks.
"Create ideas, achieve dreams" is the commitment shared by CMEC’s managing board in Angola. The leadership team aims to provide their people with boundless career opportunities globally while looking after their wellbeing. Situated in Angola, a high medical risk country, their SOYO project is challenged by prevalent tropical diseases, such as malaria, yellow fever, and cholera. Other medical threats include risk exposure to deadly snake bites and the inaccessibility to appropriate medical care.
In response to these challenges, the leadership team was convinced that a comprehensive medical risk control programme, leveraging both internal and external resources, was a prerequisite to the success of the project. After comparing and analysing different approaches, CMEC initiated and facilitated a Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) system which was open to all parties. Coupling the system with the International SOS healthcare service, provided a seamless link to integrated medical solutions before the commencement of the SOYO project in January 2016.
Medical Support for All
One onsite clinic supported by International SOS was established in the SOYO project, offering a full scope of medical services and a seamless 24-hour linkage with the International SOS Johannesburg Assistance Centre. Both CMEC’s expatriates and the site subcontractors enjoyed free access to the programme. As a principle of “people first”, the clinic was also open to other onsite stakeholders, such as the project consultants, sub-contracted engineers, and the local community.
A complete health record for each of CMEC's onsite employees was kept and monitored regularly by the clinic doctor. Based on the health data collected, the doctor was able to monitor the overall wellbeing of the workforce and proactively offer suggestions to those whose health was at risk.
A rigorous wellbeing and occupational safety seminar programme was initiated by the onsite doctor and the HSE team. This offered site employees with free access to seminars and workshops on a regular basis, aimed at disease prevention, health promotion, improvements in emergency response, work-related injury precautions and environmental protection.
By January 2018, 45 seminars had been held with close to 1,000 participants including CMEC’s employees, subcontractors and the local community. Continuous improvement in the health awareness helped the SOYO community take active measures to identify potential hazards, maintain personal wellbeing, and keep fit.
Actions Deliver Confidence
According to a survey conducted among expatriate employees working in remote and challenging locations, one of the greatest anxieties they suffered is the feeling of being unprotected and unsupported, especially when there is a serious disease outbreak or an accident occurs which can directly harm their personal health.
To address such problems, the HSE team together with the site doctor took a series of measures to help relieve their people of these worries and build up their confidence:
- At the end of each month, a health and hygiene inspection was conducted to assess the conditions of the camp canteen and living quarters. Comments and recommendations are given in the inspection report and forwarded to the logistic service team for on-going improvement measures.
- Seven large-scale emergency drills were organised in 2017 and three refreshed drills in 2018, which CMEC expatriates and local employees attended. The drills included emergency response for electric shock, emergency response and a rescue exercise for falling from a height, fire-fighting drills, emergency response for gas leakage, rescue practice for deep foundation pit collapse, and medical emergency response plan. Each of the exercises was synchronised with the International SOS Johannesburg Assistance Centre to enhance the operation procedure. These exercises helped to reassure all employees that their safety and wellbeing were protected and are of upmost importance.
- Several onsite surveys were conducted to identify sources of hazards and corresponding solutions were implemented over time. Based on the results, CMEC continue to upgrade the clinic facility with over a hundred categories of medicines and medical devices, including Polyvalent Snake Antivenom for viper bite. Lethal vipers are commonly found and are a cause of serious fear for the site employees.
Since its inception, the programme has delivered outstanding results including:
- The site clinic reported an average of 45 cases per month in 2017 and 2018. Since then, the programme reduced the monthly external case cost by around $13,500 USD per month. This was in part, attributed to reducing the costs associated with lost time and safety and going off site for medical care.
- From December 2015 to May 2016, yellow fever spread across Angola, infecting 736 persons with definite diagnosis and causing 298 deaths. While in SOYO site, the number of infected persons remains zero as of December 2018.
- In January 2017, Cholera broke out in the municipality of SOYO, infecting 145 persons of who 6 died. While in SOYO site, the number of infected was zero.
- In 2016, the site handled only two cases of malaria, out of a total of 440 patients, and in 2017, handled three cases out of 543 patients. The figures from the site remained far below the average in Angola.
- From the beginning of the programme there have been no serious cases of injury, or fatality; and the percentage of minor injuries has remained below 3%.
- An employee’s life was saved as a result of close collaboration with the International SOS Assistance Centre in South Africa. One site employee who suffered a myocardial infarction was transferred by specially arranged International SOS air ambulance, to Sunning Hill Hospital, Johannesburg. Within 13 hours of the diagnosis, this employee’s life was saved.
XIONG Zhijun, SOYO Project Manager, concludes, "Duty of Care needs a dedicated focus of investment in time and cost, while we are confident of the benefits to be derived. Such input is absolutely worthwhile. The remote healthcare solution put in place for the SOYO Project has had a deeply inspiring influence inside CMEC's project management model."
All organisations, no matter their size, industry or location, need to review how the Belt and Road Initiative will impact their most important asset; their people. The momentum that BRI brings to the world requires a close eye on the policies, procedures and plans that organisations have in place.