August 13, 2020

Singleton Birch Ltd – Centuries of success

In order to amass nearly 200 years of operation requires a company to move with the times and this is exactly what the UK’s leading independent lime supplier, Singleton Birch Ltd, has demonstrated since its creation in the early 19th Century. Its forward-thinking approach is reflected in the fact that the firm not only holds ISO 9001, OHSAS 18001 and ISO 14001 accreditations but also has an enviable health and safety record, as was underlined by its success in achieving a Sir Frank Davies Trophy at the Mineral Products Association (MPA) Awards.

Aimed at SMEs that have less than 1,000 employees the annual Sir Frank Davies Trophy is awarded to nominees that have shown outstanding performance in health and safety by clocking up at least a year without any loss time injuries. “After qualifying we were contacted by the MPA and given the opportunity to submit an award submission and were ultimately successful,” explains Richard Stansfield, Managing Director. “You don’t get to these sort of standards by accident and there has been a great deal of hard work involved by everyone within the company, coupled with an absolute commitment to driving safety performance forward in order to reduce the number of incidents onsite.

“An incredible amount of work goes on behind the scenes so it’s really pleasing to receive recognition for the efforts of the company and all our staff. Gaining praise from your industry peers is also extremely rewarding as we’re being measured against companies that operate in similar environments and which fully understand the challenges associated with working in quarrying. Being judged as the benchmark for the sector is very satisfying.”

Singleton Birch Ltd1

As for the reasons behind the continued success, Mr Stansfield attributes it to a combination of factors but ultimately believes the key has been encouraging every member of staff to buy into what the company is trying to achieve. “At the end of the day everyone’s got to follow all the procedures and protocols, whilst at the same time fully understanding why they’re doing it. It’s not just about laying down the rules and imposing them. If your employees appreciate why the regulations are in place and that they’re there for the protection of themselves and their colleagues then the process is so much easier. We are continually bringing through initiatives to get people involved on the safety side and give them the opportunity to raise any issues and suggest further improvements. The goal is to achieve a blame-free culture.”

Training is a fundamental part of Singleton Birch’s approach and it is constantly conducting refresher courses, as well as looking at any new legislation that is coming through to ensure that it is fully compliant with the latest regulations. “We also set ourselves proactive targets so we’re not just measuring incidents and accidents, we’re actually putting some positive measures in,” outlines Mr Stansfield. “For example we have Green Hat Days where everybody has the opportunity to take a day out from their normal duties and spend their time instead talking to people across the site about health and safety. This provides the opportunity to look at our activities with a different set of eyes and enables our staff to engage with their colleagues about their perceptions of health and safety. This year we are targeting 50 per cent of the workforce to do this. We also have monthly health and safety meetings where we have representatives from all our departments and again we actively encourage people to be active in those and come up with suggestions.

 

“An incredible amount of work goes on behind the scenes so it’s really pleasing to receive recognition for the efforts of the company and all our staff. Gaining praise from your industry peers is also extremely rewarding as we’re being measured against companies that operate in similar environments and which fully understand the challenges associated with working in quarrying. Being judged as the benchmark for the sector is very satisfying.”

Richard Stansfield, Managing Director

Reaching the highest standard on health and safety is challenging but maintaining it is harder still and the key to maintaining this level is ensuring that complacency never sets in. “The aim of all organisations should be to not have any accidents at all onsite and the industry has a ‘Zero Harm’ ethos, so there is always room for improvement and leeway to have ever higher targets,” adds Mr Stansfield. “Normally you have a push in a certain area before reaching a plateau so it essential that we keep working and continually reviewing the situation in order to come up with new ideas that help keep health and safety fresh in people’s minds. The key is to always set new more challenging targets rather than just getting into a comfort zone. Maintaining standards is the most difficult challenge we have.”

Established in 1815 by William Singleton Birch, a mineral merchant based in Manchester, today Singleton Birch produces up to 400,000 tonnes of lime and over one million tonnes of chalk annually. Its product range includes quicklime, hydrated lime, natural hydraulic lime, graded chalk, aggregates and other specialist products and services. Products are supplied to many industries such as steel, building, chemical and environmental. Waste management is another growing area of its business and its non-hazardous landfill is engineered to the highest standards to prevent any possible contamination of the local environment. It has proposals to build a state-of-the-art Energy from Waste plant, which it hopes will be the solution to the non-recyclable waste in the North Lincolnshire area.

Its products are used in the production of steel, various chemical processes, waste and water treatment, purification of flue gases, production of lightweight building materials and various other sectors of the construction industry. Lime is a natural and ancient material with a history going back thousands of years. It is also a modern industrial chemical produced to strict quality control standards and which can be developed to meet new challenges.

“We quarry up to 1.5m tonnes of chalk a year and the majority of material we quarry is used for its chemical rather than physical qualities,” says Mr Stansfield. “We’re fundamentally a lime producer and we have gas-fired kilns that burn the chalk at 1,100 degrees centigrade and convert it into calcium oxide, which is otherwise known as quick lime or burnt lime. We then sell this into various sectors such as steel and construction. We also hydrate the material to produce calcium hydroxide, known as hydrated lime or slaked lime, and this goes into the water treatment sector as well as having other various uses.

“We supply all over the country, whilst we also do some exports as well. We have around 100 directly employed staff spread across two sites: our head office in Melton Ross in North Lincolnshire and a kiln down in Cheddar in Somerset. We also employ sub-contracted staff as well.”

As it looks to build on its latest Sir Frank Davies Trophy Singleton Birch’s ultimate aim is to not have anyone injured whilst they’re working for the company. The same applies for those sub-contractors that it works with and it applies the same strict standards to everyone working onsite, whether they’re directly employed or sub-contracted staff. “Our regular sub-contactors, of which we have a core team, attend our safety meetings and are also able to enter our monthly safety awards scheme. Everyone also has the opportunity to highlight any issues or near miss incidents that have taken place around the site so that we can take steps to eradicate them.”

It is this constant desire to improve further and not grow complacent, regardless of what accolades come its way, that has set Singleton Birch in such good stead in all areas of its operation including health and safety.