The Unipart way: a Case Study

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Unipart has been collecting the Sword of Honour and Globe of Honour Awards since 2011. Only this year, the company won 13 Swords and five Globes, with five Unipart sites securing double awards – Swords and Globes.

In 2017, Unipart Rail also received the ISA Continuous Excellence Award in health, safety and environmental management and the ISA Sector Award in the transportation, distribution and storage category. Kirsty Summerby, health and safety director of Unipart Group, explains why the company is so successful in sweeping so many health and safety Oscars.

Unipart Group is one of Europe’s leading manufacturing, logistics and consultancy companies, with annual turnover of in excess of £700 million. It employs over 6,000 people across more than 30 sites in the UK and in 15 overseas locations, utilising over 5 million sq. ft of warehouse space. Operating across a range of market sectors, including automotive, leisure, manufacturing, mobile telecoms, rail, retail and technology, the company offers a breadth of services from third party logistics to specialist consultancy. It client base includes several well-known brands, such as Vodafone, Sky and Jaguar Land Rover.

The company emerged over 30 years ago out of the Rover Group in a management buyout led by John Neill, Unipart chairman and Group chief executive. It is now owned by the MBO team and its employees, with most shares being held by employees. Unipart was once described by David Cameron as the industrial version of John Lewis.

Kirsty Summerby, health and safety director of Unipart Group

“Unipart attributes its success to employee engagement. Shared ownership plays a key role on it. Employees who are truly engaged are interested in growing their business by generating ideas and solving problems,” says Kirsty Summerby.

“The Unipart Way is a philosophy of working, supported by a set of tools and techniques that unlocks employee potential. It has enabled us to transform our performance by generating high levels of productivity, employee engagement and safety standards across our group. 

“It is a system designed to engage every employee within the organisation. It not only motivates people, it equips them with the skills to diagnose problems and create innovative solutions that will make a difference. We’ve been refining The Unipart Way for over 30 years, and we have proved that it works – it has completely transformed our own business.

“Having studied the body of work on employee engagement, we refined it to the demands of the 21st century. The result is a culture with a ‘can do’ attitude and a ‘will do’ commitment. We apply The Unipart Way to every part of our business.”

Unipart employs over 6,000 people across more than 30 sites in the UK and in utilising over 5 million sq. ft of warehouse space

Health, safety and wellbeing

The Unipart wellbeing programme, called Unipart WorkWell, encourages and supports employees to lead healthier lives. The programme has four strands: wellbeing at work, safety, financial health and personal health.

“The wellbeing at work framework provides employees with opportunities for learning more about their roles and about themselves.  It includes health checks, gym and fitness sessions, stress workshops, mental health awareness training, stop smoking clinics and an access to a 24-hour helpline. This gives everyone access to a confidential, 24-hour, 365-days-a-year resource delivering clinical support for emotional issues and expert guidance for practical issues. The success of this programme helped Unipart win the Bupa Wellbeing at Work award at the Business in the Community Responsible Business Awards 2016. 

“Unipart aspires to be one of the safest companies in the world.  This is one of the reasons why we are members of the British Safety Council and take part in the audits. Unipart maintains our strong health and safety culture by ensuring that all our leaders set challenging safety objectives and use the problem-solving tools and techniques of The Unipart Way to identify areas of continuous improvement. Safety is not a bolt on to our management system but the way we work. All processes are risk assessed and safe systems of work are fully documented within our standard operating procedures.

On some sites, Unipart runs health and wellbeing programmes specifically tailored to the needs of that workforce

“Every employee receives a Level 1 health and safety training, which is integrated into The Unipart Way training. Level 2 H&S is delivered to managers who learn the skills to manage the safety of their teams, including conducting risk assessments and investigations.

They also receive training on mental health and stress management. Once they complete this level of training, they have to pass competency-based assessment before progressing to Level 3. All our supervisory staff must attain the Level 3 health and safety competence. Our site H&S managers do additional in-house training and become Level 4 qualified. My team are all fully qualified chartered IOSH professionals.

“Financial health is an important part of the Unipart wellbeing programme. The company recognises that money problems can take their toll on employees and their families. Our employees can access free of charge independent advice on managing debt or other financial issues.”

In relation to personal health, Unipart gives its employees access to a team of health specialists. “Since it started in 2015, more than a quarter of all Unipart employees have taken part in one of the Unipart WorkWell events, and the company has seen a year-on-year increase in employee engagement levels.

“Every six months, employees can take advantage of a DIY Doctor assessment, which gives people a reading of metabolic age and recommendations for lifestyle changes. On some sites, we run a health and wellbeing programmes specifically tailored to the needs of their workforce. For example, in one of our warehouses, the staff is older and predominantly male and we assist them with programmes that address musculoskeletal disorders and solutions related to ageing. For other sites, where the workforce is mostly young, we prepare healthy eating and drinking programmes.”

Nurturing innovation

Unipart encourages its employees to report and solve problems. An internal app called Spark is used as a tool to channel employees’ innovation.

“Research by McKinsey shows that matching your standards to industry’s best practice can greatly improve productivity. But it is often difficult for organisations to identify and share best practice widely and quickly. Spark allows every employee to share innovative ideas and knowledge with others in the organisation and around the world. For example, people can take a picture of something they liked and send the image or an idea for improvement to everyone via the app. In this way, shopfloor staff can approach a managing director and ask him to consider the matter.”

Spark is accessible through smart phones and other devices and is integrated into The Unipart Way online knowledge management resources that are used throughout the company and by its clients.

Safety as a business tool

“Health and safety is included in every aspect of company’s operations and it wins us business again and again.

“A few years ago, our CEO set us a challenge: every large site should have a Sword of Honour. So, it isn’t a coincidence that this year we won 13 Swords of Honour and five Globes of Honour, as well as four double Awards.

“We usually score high on leadership, employee engagement and continuous improvement and the reason we perform well on these criteria is The Unipart Way.”


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