Vincenzo Micheli has been the head of the EHS (Environment, Health, Safety) department at Avio Aero since 2013: a team that is responsible for providing, managing and defining the protocols relating to the environment, health and safety of the organization. A considerable responsibility for a manufacturing company that employs approximately 5200 people on numerous Italian and foreign production sites. Together with his direct collaborators, 4 women and 2 men who in turn work with about 25 professionals, including nurses, Micheli takes care of the employees every day and encourages them to carry out their activities observing full compliance with the strict regulations regarding the aeronautical sector.
Until February of this year, his daily routine involved risk assessment, preparation, verification and management of improvement plans, updating of procedures and compliance with legal requirements. Then, everything changed.
"To give you an idea of the impact that the health emergency has had on our business," says Micheli, "I can say that for more than 30 days, in addition to working uninterruptedly, every issue dealt with in every 24 hour period is related to COVID-19. There has been no room for anything else. This may not seem like much to some people, but for those who do our job, it's an enormous task, considering the scope within which we have to operate on a daily basis within a metalworking company".
Many of the processes implemented to date, aligned with those of the parent company, have had to be completely wiped and reconsidered in the light of a new and unprecedented situation. "It was an effort of creativity and having a mostly female team certainly gave us extra drive in terms of pragmatism and problem-solving" continues Micheli. "The sanitizers are a case in point, we started to produce them in-house due to the lack of availability on the market. This idea was thanks to our chemical expert who, within a few days, was able to map the resources available internally and activate the production line based on the specifications of the World Health Organization".
In recent months, the EHS team has operated according to a logic of learning by doing because no emergency we've faced in the past comes even close to the one we are currently facing. New skills have had to be developed rapidly in order to enable dialogue with health organizations and trade union representatives and to find new forms of assistance for our employees, such as new medical screening services (e.g. measuring oxygen levels in the blood) when returning to work after a period of illness. All this, on production sites in Piedmont, Campania, Apulia and Poland, where the number of cases has differed greatly.
"The sanitizers are a case in point, we started to produce them in-house due to the lack of availability on the market and hanks to our chemical expert who teamed up with laboratories internally"
"On some sites the emergency was anticipated, I'm talking about Pomigliano and Sangone where there have been a few confirmed cases, allowing us to implement the new protocols extremely quickly (at the same time as the official document was issued) and to test their effectiveness while maintaining the operational continuity of the plants" Micheli continues.
Another skill that we have honed during this crisis for all of those in the EHS team was definitely the cross-functional collaboration, also because our team (together with the Aviation team based in China) has become the reference point for the Italian and international crisis management panels in the GE group. The local EHS department was therefore also able to act as a bridge with America, transferring important knowledge and know-how to a country where the virus then arrived.
"Even in situations of crises, human ingenuity always finds a way to emerge and the resilience during traumatic events gives us the strength to reorganize our lives positively"
Not only that, but we worked in anticipation of redefining the spaces in view of Phase 2 of the recovery, side by side with the Facilities department (which basically deals with infrastructural interventions in Avio Aero offices and factories). The priority of the EHS division today is in fact to understand how we can structure the full return to work within the company and to ensure the social aspect of work, a fundamental component for all companies and the real challenge of the coming months.
"This emergency has taken a lot of energy but it has also left us something", Micheli adds. "Most definitely more respect for rules which is essential in our profession and which, as of now, has become essential for everyone. Also, the awareness that even in situations of crises, human ingenuity always finds a way to emerge and, lastly, resilience which during traumatic events gives us the strength to reorganize our lives positively. Even our working life."