Of experience and observation
Carel Labuschagne, CEO of IRCA Global, is helping to drive South Africa’s safety, health, environment and quality (SHEQ) industry to the top
Working in the local and global SHEQ industry for nearly 30 years affords a person the experience to make some objective observations. One such observation Labuschagne has made is that the “SHEQ issue” is becoming a lot more topical and has escalated to the boardroom – as a result of numerous activism factors such as corporate governance requirements, changing legislation and the fact that financial and reputational impacts on organisations could be devastating.
“Look at how the shares in BP plunged when its oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico blew,” Labuschagne says. “Over £13 billon (R233 billion) was knocked off the company’s stock market value.
“So we are seeing a lot more pressure being exerted from the boardroom to ensure that organisations more scientifically identify all pure and speculative risks, and that appropriate measures of control are put into place. One of the most important observations is that organisations do not understand how to implement a fully integrated approach,” he explains.
“There are companies with good intentions that are trying very hard, but do not have a fully integrated strategy to deal with all the complexities, and the management teams responsible for the implementation and maintenance of these strategies often do not have exposure as to the latest international developments. This, in my view, is a big obstacle, because they are the drivers of the process.”
This is why Labuschagne has ensured that IRCA has kept up with the changing international landscape; operating in more than 23 countries has been one of the main reasons why it’s able to stay at the forefront of technology.
Labuschagne says that IRCA was one of the first companies to establish a fully fledged behavioural-based care methodology in South Africa that dates back to 1997. “This process has been revolutionised over the last 17 years and has been implemented by numerous organisations globally with huge success,” Labuschagne says.
IRCA has also led the field in risk assessment: “We recruited some of the world’s leading risk assessment specialists as this is a resource that was very scarce in the South African environment at the time. They were at the forefront in bringing in technical expertise from the United Kingdom to develop the first real risk assessment programmes,” says Labuschagne.
IRCA has constructed its business around a model (Labuschagne’s “baby”) that has influenced the way organisations can achieve world class sustainability. “We believe this is the first time in South Africa that a business enterprise has been used to incorporate standards into the business processes, bringing the aspects of risk assessment, consulting, training, behavioural-based care, business continuity, management, auditing and software solutions (each of which has it’s own division within IRCA) into context.”
Labuschagne takes a step back to explain the vision behind IRCA: “Right from day one, we wanted to be the preferred provider of integrated operational risk management solutions. SHEQ is our focus, but it has subsequently expanded drastically into enhancing every aspect of the business via our unique integrated Electronic Business Management System.”
Following an 11-year career as the risk manager within the Barlow Group of companies, and then moving on to become the group general manager for risk for the entire Transnet group (which he proudly explains was one of the most senior positions in the field at the time), Labuschagne started IRCA with only his secretary and one other employee on July 1, 1993.
In 21 years the company has experienced enormous growth. It now has 160 full-time employees in offices around South Africa, and has international franchises in Oman, Saudi Arabia and Dubai that employ around 80 people. While sub-Saharan Africa is also a big focus point for the company, the Zambian office is among its stars in Africa.
“At the time we entered this market space there was one non-profit organisation and we saw the opportunity to enter as an additional service provider, with a wider scope to give a more holistic solution and incorporate international best practices,” he explains.
In the early years, Labuschagne spent a lot of time overseas with the International Loss Control Institute and was able to deliver papers on the subject in many countries, working closely with safety gurus such as Professor Frank Bird, Professor George Germain and David Bird Junior. With them, he recently co-authored and released the third edition of A Guide to Managing Risk. “This book is prescribed by a number of Universities as apart of their BCom Management Degrees,” he explains.
“I had the privilege of getting a good feel for what was happening around the world because of my exposure to so many countries. Today, with our substantial international footprint, we view ourselves as a learning organisation, interfacing with relevant associations, and have partnered with Universities and other niche service providers.”
It’s this knowledge and experience Labuschagne aims for IRCA to share. “Many companies are working for the system, instead of the system working for them. So executives must take the time to keep abreast of the latest standards. The day that companies make the comment that they have implemented a standardised system, is becoming irrelevant, as everything they do should be risk based and should address the risks associated with their business. The International Standards Organisation (ISO) provides a framework to this effect.
“There is no rocket science … you just need to understand the complexities of risk and the devastating effects it can have on a business.” This is perhaps a simple observation, but also one of the most powerful.