Renault, France: Ergonomics
In 2000, the Renault Group took a significant step towards improving working conditions and preventing incapacities for its employees when it designed and implemented its policy on occupational health, safety and working conditions, while also integrating ergonomics into the so-called 'Renault Production System'. This policy is aimed at all employees and was handled directly by the management of all the Group's plants worldwide.
In 2006, the Renault Group was active in 118 countries and employed 130,000 persons. Through its alliance with Nissan (Japan) and Dacia (Romania) and the creation of Renault Samsung Motors (Korea), together with production of about 2.5 million vehicles and sales of €41,528 million in 2006, the Group is the world's 4th largest car manufacturer, after General Motors, Ford and Toyota.
In December 2006, Renault employed about 43,000 workers in France. Some 15% of the workforce were women. Operators in charge of production (agents de production Renault) numbered 15,422 employees, representing 36% of the workforce, while there were 11,017 engineers and managerial staff. The average age of employees was 42 years, with an average seniority of 18 years.
Improvement of occupational health and safety was the first objective mentioned in the Group's Declaration of Fundamental Social Rights, signed in October 2004. Collective bargaining is significant. An important achievement was the conclusion of a company-level agreement related to disabled workers on 24 May 2006.
Good practice today
Through a policy restated by the Chairman in 2006, health, safety, ergonomics and working conditions are considered strategic challenges for the Renault Group and they are integrated into the Renault Production System. This system is a management initiative for continuous progress and is common to all the Group’s plants, involving all the industrial players worldwide. This is achieved through the use of a specific reference system inspired from the OHSAS 18001 standards.
Health and safety are the first of workers' fundamental rights. Protecting employees is a priority responsibility area of managers. Working conditions are shown to be:
- a motivation tool, making it possible to achieve performance;
- an attractive factor against workforce reductions;
- a key element of the social aspect of sustainable development.
Over the period 1985-95, Renault conducted studies on work ergonomics in its manufacturing plants and through various projects, employing the expertise of social-technical engineers. These studies showed, among other things, an increase in the average age of operators in charge of production in France and Spain. However, in France, for example, due to early retirement plans (CASA-Cats in 2002-03), age was considered of secondary significance, while a more general and systematic approach, adapted to both 'ageing' countries (Europe) and 'young' countries (e.g. Brazil), was preferred. Paradoxically, it has been observed that younger workers at Renault suffer more often from pains (e.g. back) than older workers. There are several reasons to explain this situation, including training, their weaker constitution and variable levels of acceptability. Younger workers often consider arduous work as fitting for their age and sometimes also see it as an individual negotiation leverage.
Since 2000, ergonomists have been hired on every Renault site, thus setting the foundation for a network of 'ergonomics correspondents' (together with occupational physicians, some managers and method technicians). Over the years, a specific ergonomic analysis method has been created, perfected, regularly tested, simplified and developed. It enables companies to list all workstations according to five levels of difficulty and four criteria (position, effort, regulation and complexity).
On the basis of this method, since the integration of ergonomics into the Renault Production System, a simplified form has been designed for first-level managers, who undertake a minimum of 4-hours basic training dedicated to this issue. Every position must be analysed once a year and if any modification takes place during the year, it must be analysed again. Satisfactory positions are marked in green; those that may involve one or several constraints are marked in yellow, while positions with a high level of constraints and requiring improvement or a new assessment as soon as possible are marked in red.
Similarly, the Ergonomics Committees in Renault sites regularly review staff with capacity limitations in order to take into account new developments (both of people and positions), in particular those known by doctors, to find solutions and organise the 'return in line' of operators with reduced capacities (e.g. position adjustment, mobility). The proportion of workers with reduced capacities often accounts for 15% to 18% of the direct workforce of production sites.
Moreover, these practices are organised and motivated by a certification approach (with internal and external audits supervised by the Group's HR Department), based on a reference system, which is itself updated. The 44 sites (non-commercial) are organised in five world regions, each with a regional industrial manager having responsibility for the issue. Two sites were subject to these practices in 2003, with almost all the other sites following in 2004-06 (with the exception of two sites, Spain and Romania, where there had been accidents in 2005). Enthusiastic support was received from the sites in their efforts to obtain certification. Systematic audits are performed and scores of between 0 and 100 are given to six sections, namely:
- commitment (health, safety and ergonomics organisation and structure);
- implementation coordination (e.g. follow-up, indicators, incident management);
- associated communication and information system;
- efforts to develop skills and train staff;
- results (in particular, accident rate, frequency and seriousness);
- verification of international and national standard and regulatory requirements.
To obtain the certification, a minimum of 85 points is required and each section must total at least 75 points.
Between 2002 and 2005, this approach has made it possible to improve the results of the frequency rate (F2 in France), which fell from about 6.4 in 2001 to 3.6 in 2006 (for the Group), as well as the results of the seriousness rate (G1, down from 0.23 in 2001 to 0.14 in 2006). Beyond these immediately quantifiable results, this voluntary policy, applying to employees of all ages, is a way to prevent early 'burn out' or premature retirement.
Since 2005, the reference system has been completed, with an ergonomic approach, for prevention as well as for correction, to all the positions and capacity limitations. Beyond the global improvement of results (including productivity), this approach has been followed by significant operations, such as the generalisation of self-carrying assembly lines and of assembly lines with variable heights, and, more spectacularly, the implementation of a car body-swivelling system in Spain's Valladolid plant (where the average age of operators, 49, is especially high) for filling (tightness) of the lower part of the Modus body.
Among the conditions of success of the reference system, Renault highlights:
- making operational managers directly responsible for health, safety and working conditions, just as for quality, and for following up on those issues within the framework of a general production system (with certification as a reward), with the Group Executive Board’s expressed and visible commitment;
- the task was previously achieved through the project teams by social-technical engineers;
- investment in ergonomic resources at all sites;
- integration of productivity criteria by ergonomists and HR managers, together with safety requirements;
- continuation and quality of social dialogue, particularly through the committees on health and safety at work.
Contact: Jean Jacques Ferchal, Director, Working Conditions Department
Anne Sophie Goubin, Ergonomist