How ImproChem won the AECI Chemical Safety award

Derek ArnoldiDerek Arnoldi, Corporate SHEQ manager at ImproChem.

ImproChem won the AECI Chemical Safety award in 2013 on excellent health and safety results, and an outstanding SHEQ system. We asked corporate SHEQ manager Derek Arnoldi how they did it.

Behind the silver trophy, the stable SHEQ budget and management backing, lies a decade of team and system development, said ImproChem Water, Energy and Air Solutions corporate SHEQ manager Derek Arnoldi at their meticulous site in Spartan, Kempton Park.

The last decade has been a learning curve for the company and the SHEQ manager, who started working here as a chemist and microbiologist in the laboratory. “I started the SHEQ team alone, 12 years ago,” said Arnoldi.

A decade of improvements

“From our humble beginnings , we now we have a solid system capable of improvement, expanded into quality and wellness – and a stable, highly professional team at the foundation. We go off site for a team talk/conference every year, and return with fresh motivation to manage the endless sets of new risk challenges, technologies and materials in this diverse and interesting industry.”

Arnoldi’s SHEQ team is every bit as meticulous as their system, communication, training and housekeeping, down to their recent energy and waste reduction programme.

Perhaps the placid scene at the flags before the entrance sums up a mature risk management system, and the chemical safety award, in one minor risk signpost: “Beware of geese.”

“We take small but sure steps,” said Arnoldi. There is a detailed SHEQ file on every employee, and a dosing site audit report on every customer. .

Quality of service providers makes a difference

In line with their blue chip clients in mining, food and beverage and energy sectors, ImproChem use only blue chip contractors and suppliers. Life Health Care does their medical surveillance testing, and Freightpak is among their logistics contractors.

“We had motivational talks by Christel Fouche at our internal conferences, legal liability training for all our managers, advice and ongoing support for everything we do on Sheq,” said Arnoldi.

Yet another liability training course for managers was completed in May. While every department, including engineers, play active roles in occupational risk management, they get meticulous and ongoing support and administrative backing from the SHEQ team.

“My team and I are immensely proud of the work done over the past years and remain committed to doing the very best we can to keep our employees, contractors and visitors safe and injury-free. Our goal remains “No harm to anyone,ever.”

How ImproChem built its SHEQ team

When Arnoldi appoints a SHEQ official, he looks for the right attitude and skills, in preference to qualifications. “Our jobs are, at the core, about saving life and sustaining the qualify of life. We sell health and safety to our internal and external clients, and we buy added health and safety value from our suppliers. Our aim is to send our Employees home to their families every day without any injuries and welcome them back the next day”.

It is no surprise that his team has been stable for eight years, and that he has been on the same site for 12 years, where editor Sheqafrica also interviewed him nine years ago when clients and the organised chemicals industry noticed continuous improvement emanating from what was formerly Nalco-Chemserve, now ImproChem.

ImproChem has recently completed the acquisition of GE Water and Process in Southern Africa. “Our management system has also developed and become ever more practical,” said Arnoldi.

“We have excellent backing from our MD and Operations Managers, as well as AECI management.” Another chapter in AECI is about to open as ImproChem is building a new headquarters at Modderfontein, at the historic heart of the South African explosives industry.

The cost of safety

ImproChem has also come a long way in continuous improvement in occupational health, safety and environmental management. Their results and plans reflect this trend, including automation of various functions and operations.

“Our electronic systems track various important stats including manhours worked, incidents and injuries, non-conformances, electricity and water consumption at each office / site, and much more” says Arnoldi. Automation costs money, and SHEQ budget items such as medical testing, training, admin and personal protective equipment (PPE) amount to about R3 500 per employee per year, higher than chemical industry standards and significantly higher than most other high risk sectors.

ImproChem SHEQ Team

ImproChem’s CEO Louis du Toit with Derek Arnoldi and his SHEQ Team.

“Yes, SHEQ is expensive, but it is more expensive to neglect risk management. We certainly do not see SHEQ as a cost – it is definitely an investment” said Arnoldi. “Capital outlay on the manufacture and installation of over 1800 ChemTrac Advanced chemical tanks, with stainless steel walls was also initially high, but we have reduced the numbers of traditional plastic containers, handling and exposures – all very advantageous for our customers and for the environment for years to come.”

ImproChem’s SHEQ system, based on the 15 modules of its SHEQ manual, seems as robust and accessible as its dosing tanks. The site has a tangible SHEQ culture with a peer pressure momentum bound to sustain itself in the Modderfontein era, and sure to rub off on contractors and clients.

“Although we have a lot of diversity in our Sub-Saharan sites, we have integrated everyone into our system. We retain some manual and paper components, but we are now migrating more to e-filing and to a Sharepoint platform in the near future.” The system remains subject to update, with a solid basis in risk assessment, compliance, liabilities, material safety and new client requirements.

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sheqafrica is Africa's largest independent SHEQ Magazine, hosting over 2 000 articles and news items since 2007. is owned by the Cygma Group, a global provider of risk management and compliance solutions. is registered as a digital publication with the ISSN.
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