20 years and the world
IRCA Global has just turned 20! We spoke to company CEO, Carel Labuschagne, about humble beginnings, a holistic approach and taking world markets by storm
Twenty years ago South Africa was in the throes of change. Despite much hope, goodwill and negotiation there were clear risks for the country; it was a turbulent time. Today, we enjoy freedom like never before and have one of the most respected constitutions in the world. This abridged story of growth and prosperity holds clear parallels with one of our county’s oldest leading players in the safety, health, environment, risk and quality (SHERQ) field.
Just as our country has seen huge changes over the past 20 years, so has the safety performance of South African industry. “The safety performance of South African industry and mines was not on par with world standards 20 years ago,” says Labuschagne. There were also very few service providers in this field and Labuschagne recognised the need for the best products and services to enable South African industry to implement international best practice.
“South African industries at the time were branded ‘bad performers’,” notes Labuschagne. “There was a lot of new legislation promulgated (in terms of the Mine Health and Safety Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act) and there were factors like ‘external activism’ – for example the unions and consumers put pressure on organisations to act more responsibly in terms of more than just safety.”
With that, Labuschagne formed IRCA in June 1993, based in a small flat in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. He had two former colleagues join him and acquired some IP and support from America. “Right from day one we had an international vision in terms of getting the best products and services to the South African market,” he says. Little did he know that one day his organisation would be one of the biggest and best in this field – it currently employs around 300 people globally with offices in South Africa, Zambia, India, Dubai, Abu-Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Oman. Offices are also currently being established in Australia and Croatia.
Getting involved in a number of international projects for multi-national companies enabled IRCA to see what was being done in other countries and then benchmark South Africa. “We took some of the best that was available and built it into our range of products and services,” Labuschagne says. “Over the years we’ve developed a model which we believe is a world-class sustainable solution. We call it a ‘world-class strategy for sustainable SHEQ’.”
One of the most comprehensive available, this solution is the model for everything the company does today. It begins with assessing an organisation’s risk in terms of doing baseline, issue-based and continuous risk assessment to identify the hazards associated with SHEQ. “If you don’t understand that, then you can’t make the necessary technical changes and put systems in place to manage your residual risk,” notes Labuschagne. The company also learned that risk assessment cannot be done in a vacuum; there are many influencing factors.
After acquiring an understanding of these risks, the next step is to consult with the client so that management systems are put in place to manage the residual risk, after they’ve made technical changes. “We build the safety requirements into the company’s processes. So when a person is busy with a job, the safety requirements are already built into the task and he or she complies without even knowing it,” Labuschagne points out.
This is achieved with IRCA’s electronic business management system (EBMS) which is built on best practices and business requirements. The client’s entire business is mapped so that the software can be integrated with its current systems. It then becomes accessible through the client’s intranet.
It was then realised that, to ensure successful implementation, a company needs skilled, knowledgeable people. A training division was thus established for SHEQ training, “from the ground floor to the boardroom”, as Labuschagne puts it. It incorporates 54 training courses and also offers fully fledged certificate, diploma and degree courses through different universities.
“A company needs its people to take ownership,” says Labuschagne. “We train the top people to change their behaviour and from there it filters through so that right down at team levels employees take ownership of all these aspects.”
Yet it doesn’t end there, things can still go wrong … which is why IRCA’s strategy is also designed to aid business continuity, crisis management, emergency planning and disaster recovery.
“But to be world class,” says Labuschagne, “companies need to do assessments and auditing on an ongoing basis. This is one of the leading and most powerful indicators in a business – it actually identifies deficiencies before anything happens.” The company’s software solution again steps in to help clients capture the data and transform it into management information. Managers then need to do reviews on non-conforming areas and take corrective action. From there, the whole cycle starts again.
With IRCA doing all this for its clients, one then has to ask what is next for the company.
“We’ve got a fantastic brand and we serve on lots of different forums. We are ISO 9001:2008 certified and are recognised by the International Quality Network (IQNet) in more than 40 countries. We are also in the process of aligning our certification to the new ISO 9001:2015 standard on Quality Management. I think we’ve been the first to work with universities and were the first organisation in South Africa to implement the government’s customer service standard,” Labuschagne adds.
“For us to go to the next level we will have to look at mergers, acquisitions, partnerships, alliances and further product diversification,” he says with a confident smile.
Labuschagne says that what strikes him is the increasing importance of the SHEQ domain – it’s become a boardroom issue and society is also less tolerant of workplace incidents. “There’s also a new understanding by CEOs worldwide of the impact that has on business. There are also a lot more requirements for corporate governance and accountability.”
It’s amazing how much things can change over 20 years!