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l to r Ian Loughlin, Vantec, Tony Alabaster, Uni of Sunderland, Alison Rutherford, Uni of Sunderland, Martin Kendall, Vantec, Sarah Pickup, Uni of Sunderland, Cllr Graeme Miller, Sunderland City Council, Adrian Cooper, Vantec

Vantec building Health and Safety Training Innovation Centre in Sunderland

A safety and training innovation centre being built at Vantec HQ in Sunderland will create a UK-first ‘living warehouse’ focusing on accident prevention in the logistics industry, drawing on the latest innovation in training and health and safety.

The innovation centre is the result of a unique partnership between Vantec and the University of Sunderland brokered by Sunderland City Council. The centre will be housed in a dedicated 9000 sq ft building currently being refurbished at Vantec’s Cherry Blossom Way site in Sunderland, and will open its doors in March 2019.

The centre will house a new living warehouse in which 3D immersive training will take people through all the potential causes and consequences of a single lapse in safety prevention, to increase insight and enhance the company’s capabilities in continuous improvement.

Cllr Graeme Miller, Sunderland City Council and Martin Kendall, Vantec
left to right Cllr Graeme Miller, Sunderland City Council and Martin Kendall, Vantec

Martin Kendall, managing director of Vantec Europe said: “Our accident rates are very low, but our aim is zero. There are 600 Vantec forklift truck drivers in Sunderland and another 100 in our other UK bases. Our challenge is to make the forklift driving activity as safe as practically possible.

“The innovation centre is a completely new way of tackling safety awareness and accident prevention. Because it brings the consequences of a single lapse in safety to life it engages and involves every individual who takes part.

“It is an effective method of keeping safety to the front of the mind long-term. Employee well-being is at the heart of this initiative. Bringing down accident rates through better awareness will also support increased productivity and staff motivation at Vantec.”

The centre will use the University of Sunderland’s expertise and resources in paramedics, nursing, law, behavioural sciences and psychology to create a world class interactive training environment. A realistic, potent film will cover every aspect of a potential accident at Vantec, from the impact of the initial event to the arrival of the ambulance, the stay in hospital, effects on family, colleagues and employer, and will even include mock law courts, with student lawyers enacting the trial with a jury.

It blends technology and interaction throughout to create a life story of an accident. Actors, university students and lecturers will act out parts of the programme to bring it vividly to life for participants.

The film will be shown on a three-wall projection, and is central to the safety training programmes. Aspects of the film will be used to create in-depth segments to improve understanding about accident prevention, and boost leadership, communication, and worker involvement across the entire Vantec workforce.

The living warehouse came about following senior level discussions between Vantec and the University of Sunderland at the Faculty of Health Sciences and Well-being’s simulation suite. The suite is part of healthcare provision for training nurses and paramedics.

Professor Tony Alabaster, Head of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Well-being, and programme leader Dr Sarah Pickup, then worked with Martin Kendall and his team at Vantec to create a bespoke programme to suit the logistics industry.

This facility will be developed under the investment plans of Hitachi Transport Systems (Vantec’s parent company) as a part of HTS Global Innovation Centre.

Vantec handles over 20 million containers every year, 24 hours a day for Sunday to Friday and employs over 1000 people in Sunderland.

The company already occupies over a million square feet of warehousing in Sunderland at its Cherry Blossom, Turbine Way and Hillthorn centres. Sunderland City Council has provided advice and support for Vantec’s innovation centre.

Detailed discussions about the project took place with board level representatives of both Vantec and Hitachi Transport Systems, both in the UK and Japan, when the City Council was showcasing its automotive and advanced manufacturing sector.

Cllr Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “The innovation centre is a great example of Vantec’s forward-looking strategy and its excellent approach to continuous improvement, innovation and employee welfare. It also shows Sunderland’s dynamism and ability to lead in key sectors. The knowledge economy eco-system is growing across the city, and the innovation centre will provide a focus for new ways of training.

“Our ambitions for Sunderland as a leading automotive hub requires the long-term commitment of our skilled, motivated workforce. We have the best, most productive workforce in Sunderland and their safety is paramount. It will be strengthened further by this development.

“It also illustrates the close relationships between the city’s businesses, council and university, which together help to secure major investment and new opportunities. This leads to job creation and a robustly strong automotive sector. We look forward to seeing the new innovation centre open its doors in 2019.”

Dr Sarah Pickup, lecturer in Environment Health and Safety at the University of Sunderland, commented: “This collaboration is very exciting, it allows us as academics to work closely with a global business situated on our doorstep and through internal cross-collaboration, apply a wealth of knowledge and skills to a very real-world challenge. For Vantec to engage in such a collaboration is a strong statement that signals their motivation to enhance the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees in new and innovative ways and we are excited to be involved with this”.

Professor Tony Alabaster, academic dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing added: “The relationship with Vantec has changed our own approach and given us a broader scope – it’s an excellent example of how this university adapts to support the North East region’s skills, technology and research requirements.”


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