Lessons from Brazil

Lessons from Brazil

Brazil is doing a pretty good job when it comes to improving levels of occupational health and safety in that country. However the sector certainly isn’t without its challenges …

Like Jack Nicklaus, I am a big fan of lessons. (“Don’t be too proud to take lessons. I am not,” he once remarked.) As such, wherever I go and whoever I meet, I always try to learn a lesson in the process. And at the end of last year, when I attended the International Fair of Safety and Protection in Säo Paulo, I learnt a number of fascinating lessons that can be applied locally.

The first is the vitally important role of its government. Like South Africa, Brazil doesn’t have the greatest safety legacy. But this is something that government is determined to banish to the annals of history. It is passionate about introducing, and subsequently legislating, safety standards.

I travelled to Brazil as a guest of the country’s National Association of Manufacturers Material Safety and Protection (known as ANIMASEG), and I had a number of fascinating discussions with the association’s executives.

For instance, Jorge Smilgys, director of safety boot manufacturer Safetline and president of ANIMASEG, told me that the government had recently launched a safety procedures manual, which he described as “a safety revolution”. “We have good support from the government. For instance, government is currently revising the certification standards for safety equipment to improve the quality of both locally produced and imported products. Government, PPE manufacturers and the end users have all worked together for some time now to raise standards in this country. Uniform quality from all the manufacturers is the goal. In other words, they (government) want to get rid of the bad companies,” he told SHEQ MANAGEMENT.

Speaking of bad companies, there is real concern in Brazil that Chinese manufacturers will dump inferior rubbish on the market – but, of course, these certification standards apply to Chinese importers too, so the quality issue has been relatively simple to solve. Maintaining the viability of local manufacturers is another issue entirely.

Raul Casanova Junior, executive director of ANIMASEG, revealed that local manufacturers have already been hard hit. “We used to have a number of factories here producing safety goggles. The Chinese came and many of these factories went bankrupt,” he noted.

Other sectors have felt the impact of the Chinese too. Founded in 1980, Promot is the biggest Brazilian manufacturer of gloves and produces and distributes an immense range. “We are known for our affordable quality products,” Marcio Ribeiro Leal, Promot director, told me.

Ten years ago, 50 percent of Promot’s product range was imported. Today that has risen to 70 percent. “We used to have 400 people working at our company,” Leal, says woefully. “But now we have only 200.”

“The fact of the matter is that Chinese quality is improving dramatically. We are, however, committed to local manufacture and made some substantial investments in our plant last year in order to improve capacity,” Leal tells SHEQ MANAGEMENT.

His concern is shared by numerous other Brazilian companies. In fact, ANIMASEG received a number of complaints about the prevalence of the Chinese at the fair in Säo Paulo. Some companies believed that the Chinese should have been banned from exhibiting.

I understand their fear but banning the Chinese is not a solution. Casanova agrees. “There are other ways of protecting local manufacturers. In Brazil, we already have huge import taxes. Looking to the future, I would prefer quality barriers, as opposed to more tax barriers,” he commented.

The solution is clear: companies have to deliver quality. Failure to do so is not an option. I’ll let Jack have the final word in this regard. “I think I fail a bit less than everyone else,” he once said. That’s exactly what winning companies do too. 

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