Embassy Group, a leading property developer in India, is at the forefront of health and safety best practice.
Their efforts, achievements and culture were rewarded with a British Safety Council Sword of Honour in 2017.
Established in 1993, Embassy Group is the largest privately-owned commercial office property developer in India, with headquarters in Bangalore, Karnakata, in southern India. It operates in the commercial, residential, industrial and hospitality sectors.
Michael Holland, CEO of Embassy Office Parks, says: “Embassy is involved in the entire process of property development, from land assembly, master planning, design approval and construction, to leasing and sales and day-to-day operational management of a portfolio of over 35m sq ft [3,2m sq m].
“Embassy is also an investor in these properties and often retains the assets within its wide portfolio, rather than selling them as a trader/developer. For example, we built a 247-room hotel on one of our business parks, executing and operating in agreement with Hilton. We retain ownership, have world-class hotel operations available to our business park occupants – a win-win for all.”
Their broad product portfolio implies a widely-differentiated customer base. “We own or manage over 25m square feet of office space, which we lease to over 190 corporate tenants, including IBM, Microsoft, Rolls Royce, VW, Sony, Nokia and Siemens.”
In the industrial and warehousing division, their customers include logistics companies, such as Fedex, DHL and Amazon, and automotive part manufacturers, such as Bosch. The residential properties are occupied by private individuals, either owner occupiers or lessees – usually senior executives who often work in our business parks.
Michael explains the dimensions of their business: “We have an international school in Bangalore spread over 34 acres and a premier equestrian centre. Our subsidiary, Embassy Services, manages the properties for the Embassy Group and its tenants, taking responsibility for all aspects of day-to-day management.
“Embassy directly employs 400 staff but approximately 205,000 people work in our parks, the majority of them are the employees of our more than 100 corporate tenants.”
With such a broad product portfolio and diversified customer base, the company is used to dealing with operational challenges of urban India.
“We are well prepared to deal with location-specific challenges such as power outages, which are common in India. We ensure that we provide 100% back-up power so our customers can conduct their business as usual, regardless of the external situation, and have confidence in us as provider of their business infrastructure.
“Our business parks have thousands of visitors every day, as well as numerous deliveries, and these present a significant security challenge. One of the many reasons why corporate occupiers like to be located in Embassy business parks is the higher level of security we provide.
“The scale of our operations is both a challenge and an opportunity for us. It crosses economies. We can invest these savings in better systems and infrastructure for our clients, including the investments we make in our safety processes.
“The company continues to grow rapidly. At present, our commercial division operates 30m sq ft of offices and 15m sq ft is in the pipeline over the next three to five years. Our industrial division is looking to develop 20m sq ft across seven cities by 2020. We are also expanding our hotel portfolio, from current two hotels to six hotels in four to five years, extending our capacity to more than 2,500 rooms.
“Embassy Group has also secured an all-India exclusive arrangement with the New York-headquartered WeWork, the global leader in co-working office space. WeWork India plans to develop 5.7m sq ft of office space in the country. This capacity growth will no doubt present new health and safety challenges for the company.
Health and safety issues
“India is not a homogenous market. Embassy operates across the seven major urban centres and even across those centres there are significant differences in economic, physical and business practices. Clearly, safety standards and hazards in this country differ greatly from those in the European countries.
“The country’s health and safety record, with some 40,000 work-related fatalities every year, is a real cause for concern. It drives us at Embassy to push for change and advocate for health and safety to move up the corporate priority list in the country. Many modern businesses in India apply the best health and safety standards, commensurate with the European best practice, and Embassy aims to be in this category.
“Our high business profile and the scale of our operations require us to maintain the highest standards. On the 15 million square feet of future development in our office portfolio, we are going to spent close to $1 billion within the next three to five years. Therefore, safety is very important to us. Our international clients would be very concerned if there was an accident in their offices, so we are doing all we can to ensure that the people working in our parks are safe.
“For example, road safety is a major concern and a source of many accidents and deaths in this country. The Indian climate often exacerbates the situation. Heavy monsoons create deep holes in the road which become death-traps for pedestrians, particularly children. One of our safety initiatives was a $1 million pedestrianised footbridge with escalators, the Manyata Skywalk, at the Manyata Business Park, in Bangalore, which helps our employees cross a major ring road safely. Since 20,000 people cross the footbridge every day, it also reduces traffic congestion in this area, as well as protecting people from accidents and saving lives.
“Electrical distribution systems in this part of India are very patchy. Fires and electrocutions are not uncommon. In addition to having a back-up power infrastructure, we use only approved suppliers of electrical equipment and parts. We constantly check and maintain all electrical installations. We have over 400 lifts across our portfolio and we carry out regular safety audits and maintenance checks to make sure that they operate smoothly and safely.
“Everywhere we look, there is work to be done. Safety is very important for us, but it’s also very important for the customers using our properties. If there is an accident in their subsidiary in India, this information spreads instantly throughout the world and it becomes a reputational issue for them, as well as for us. It can financially damage the company and undermine the trust of the people working with us and for us.
“The Indian market has been evolving very fast. The standards in every walk of life jump up every three to five years. Everything improves: consumer technology, the cars people drive, the homes they live in. The India of today is a very different country from the India of two decades ago.
Embassy health and safety standards
“Expectations in relation to safety have also increased considerably over the past 10 years. Many people whom we employ have worked for international corporations and they are familiar with high health and safety standards. Our customers and their staff want to be located in our urban parks because they are like mini-townships with high standards in every area. In our business parks, we have doctors, surgeries, ambulances and fire stations, so our people and infrastructure are well protected. In our largest park in Manyata, which is home to several Fortune 500 companies, over 100,000 people work on a daily basis and our employees understand what is required. We conduct fire training for our staff, as well as workshops and lectures about safety and health issues. Our people are very keen to improve their knowledge in relation
to customer safety.
“We use an approved vendor list of top-tier contractors who have to comply with all international standards. This is just an example of how we control the environment in our parks.
“Attracting high quality employees is a top priority for companies in India. The way a company looks after its employees makes it more competitive in the employment market. Wellbeing and safety contribute significantly to a company’s reputation. Our employees have access to fitness facilities, such as gymnasia and we organise running events in the parks. We have created a SportsZone for football and basketball. Our landscaped parks are used by our employees for recreation during breaks from work.
“The issue of attracting women to the workplace has a high profile in India at present. I would like to stress that India is not a homogenous market; here you can see examples of best practice. Our customers are well educated, well informed about world issues and most of them are in the 26-31 age group. The companies they work for have modern gender policies. Our parks are well adjusted for female employees – they are well lit and paved, with lots of security and CCTV cameras.
"On the Embassy’s 14-people strong senior management team, there are six women, so stereotypes do not apply here. On 6 March, the company celebrated International Women’s Day (8 March) for which a number of events were planned around the issue of gender. It included a 10K race for women, which attracted some 3,000 participants.”
Journey to the Sword of Honour
“Health and safety is one of the core values of Embassy’s business. The company follows a continuous improvement strategy and every year, it demonstrates higher levels of compliance to health and safety processes. In 2015, Embassy achieved OHSAS 18001 certification and intended to take its health and safety practices to a higher level. Thus, it applied for the British Safety Council’s five-star audit, which would help to identify gaps in its existing health and safety management system and suggest improvements in all these areas. We thought we were good, but wanted to become better.
“The audit has identified areas where we could make improvements and we implemented the recommendations in relation to our processes and the way we do business. It also made clear to our staff that health and safety is an important part of our business. They all learnt new things as a result of it and gained a greater understanding of the need to be actively involved in safety and health at work. The process conveyed a similar message to our corporate clients and, hopefully, it enhanced their confidence in our abilities to develop and manage our properties.
“We are very proud to have achieved the British Safety Council’s Sword of Honour in 2017. We have communicated this on the billboards displayed on the Manyata Skywalk, which is used by 20,000 people daily and thousands of people using the ring road. This conveys a very clear message about our commitment to health and safety and our pride in securing the Sword of Honour Award.”
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