Whether working in Spain with DOGA, Italy with Ferrari, or Germany with Fujitsu, Maria Antioneta Martinez has learned how to effectively share the OSH message.
If more than 20 years’ experience in health and safety across different sectors and different countries has taught Maria Antioneta Martinez anything, it’s that understanding language and culture is key to communicating your health and safety message. Maria speaks five languages – Spanish, Catalan, English, Italian and German, and can also understand French and Portuguese – and that ability has been crucial to her success.
‘If you speak the language, even if not perfectly, you can start to understand the culture, how people think and why they think the way they do. With that, you can start to transmit the values of your company to the structure of health and safety,’ Maria says.
‘In Italy, for example, the passion for results is amazing. They say what they want to do, and they do it. In Germany, though, you need to really structure the project before you start to deliver. If you spent as much time structuring a project in Italy, people might get a little nervous because they want to see solutions and results. In Germany, it’s the other way round.
‘In Spain, the relationship between people is really important, and it’s the same in Portugal – soft delegation is vital. In France you need to understand the roots of the company, not just how it works. I cannot say one country is better than other, they are just different. It’s like saying which country has better food – I’ve never eaten badly in whichever country I have lived. The food is different, that’s all.’
Maria started her career with Gas Natural in Spain, and from very early on she recognised that communication was vital. But even in her native tongue, she understood that the language is more than just accurate vocabulary and grammar – to deliver a message effectively, it has to be tailored to the specific situation.
‘You have to communicate things in an accessible and easy-to-understand way. What I think is really important is you have to use the language that the other person uses in their daily life. If you speak with top management, you need to speak about results, about KPIs. If you speak to a person in a factory – a worker on a line – you need to speak about his or her individual life.’
'We have an overarching OSH system at Fujitsu, but this system is implemented in each country to suit the language and culture of each country'
As she moved to work with companies with a global reach beyond Spain – initially with Ferrari based in Italy, and then Fujitsu based in Austria and then Germany – Maria discovered that there are other practical issues that come with dealing with different countries and different cultures. For example, even something as apparently straightforward as measuring accidents isn’t easy.
‘The problem is that each country measures accidents differently,’ she says. ‘There are countries where a lost hour counts as an accident and needs to be reportable to the government. There are other countries – and I’m speaking about just within Europe here – where only after three days where a worker is at home following an accident do you need to report it to the government. So you can take the same number of accidents even from two countries in Europe and they’re not truly the same.’
One thing that is significantly helping to eradicate these international disparities, though, is the adoption of OSH global norms. Maria played a major role bringing Ferrari to OHSAS 18001 certification and is now leading the drive with her Western Europe division to bring Fujitsu’s individual country-based branches to ISO 45001.
‘When I started with Fujitsu, I managed India, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Portugal, Benelux, Germany; and in the past, I worked in Colombia and China. Years ago, we had several standards or norms, not in terms of legislation but in terms of different regional systems for managing health and safety,’ Maria says.
‘However, it became apparent that these separate systems really don’t work because what they have in France cannot be compared with what they have in, say, Germany. They were not talking about the same thing. So if two companies from two different regions or languages or cultures want to collaborate, and the logic is not the same, it is difficult to compare. But with OHSAS 18001, and even better with ISO 45001, we have the same language and the same structure for all companies across all cultures.
‘Fujitsu is a huge company with a lot of activities in a large number of countries across the world, involving really different cultures. We have a vast range of customers – from public sector to private, and in almost any industry you can think of. We also depend on a massive number of contractors. Therefore ISO 45001 is our meeting point where we can all speak about the same goals, the same requirements, in the same kind of health and safety language. This is very important.
‘But while our big umbrella country is of course Japan, each country has the opportunity to express themselves with their own values and points. We have an overarching OSH system at Fujitsu, but this system is implemented in each country to suit the language and culture of each country – in Spain it is more Spanish style, in Germany it is more German style, in UK more UK style. So the impetus comes from the top, and ISO 48001 binds us together, but to be effective it is still very much informed by each country.’
Riding with the prancing horse
‘Before I worked for Ferrari, I worked as the head of health and safety for the DOGA Group in Spain. DOGA Group is an automotive parts manufacturer that works for SEAT, Volkswagen, Nissan and so on, and it has activities across the world – in China, Brazil and in six big factories in Spain, where the company’s headquarters are,’ Maria says.
‘After that, it was the time of the last big financial crisis, so I decided to change and I studied an MBA in Italy. Then I started my time at Ferrari. It wasn’t a career move that I expected, but my time at Ferrari was really amazing. In size terms and in the number of workers, it’s not a really big company, but it’s a huge company in terms of its name and its passion. The enthusiasm and the levels of pride among the workforce is unbelievable. I worked across all the departments – Formula 1, the Ferrari museums, the road car factory – but the mentality is the same across the entire company.
‘What I helped to show at Ferrari was that health and safety really matters. And that was also the message promoted by the CEO at the time, Amedeo Felisa. The CEO was present in meetings and he had a personal interest in the topics we were talking about, and he understood the big picture. That was really a big change for me: from carrying out small independent activities such as training and assessment, and audits and inspections, to seeing things from the top management point of view.
‘At Ferrari I learned a lot. It was my first direct experience with Formula 1 and I learned so much from being part of an international company involved with an international activity. For example, if we think about managing chemicals, for Ferrari, that’s an issue that needs a global understanding. You need to be compliant with legislation in Singapore, Australia and Brazil. This is what Ferrari did for me: it opened the door for me to understand that all the topics in health and safety need to be viewed together – they work together and there is an influence from one topic to another.’