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SAUNIER DUVAL: ''Concorde'', a promising project

Ageing workers and numerous restrictions of work abilities: the company, Saunier Duval decides to react. Ergonomics at all posts and contracts for older workers extended to everybody… All workers benefit from the new prevention policy.


Branch of industry : Industry

Activity : Manufacturing of boilers and water-heaters

Workforce : 600 employees

French region : Pays de la Loire

With 385 000 boilers and 59 000 water-heaters manufactured during a year, Saunier Duval worked its way up to the first place in France. However, in 2004, the company realizes that the number of incapacities and medical restrictions is very high and that it is necessary to anticipate the ageing workforce issue. Despite musculoskeletal disorders and premature wear and tear, these workers stay at their posts: the turnover is low and the average age of workers is 45. New products to be manufactured (heat pumps or solar panels) will not create new jobs; thus, there will be no renewal of the workforce. For the management, the equation is simple: it is essential to maintain workers in employment and to adapt workstations. 

Concerted and corroborating actions

Saunier Duval starts a project called “Concorde”. The objectives are: answer both to workers’ wishes for occupational mobility and to organisational needs while giving answers to medical restrictions. The project is structured around a pluridisciplinary work group who defines a three-axe action plan…

First, the management of incapacities with the creation of a posts’ map, a follow-up of restrictions and the creation of adapted work posts. When linked to a map of workers’ state of health, these pointers enable the identification of possible correspondences. Several posts have thus been adapted and some activities, previously subcontracted, reintegrated within the company.

Then, internal occupational mobilities with the creation of a “jobcentre”, an update of the profession reference base and a personal support for all workers. Proposals are made for professional evolutions in order to develop staff loyalty and maintain the motivation among older workers by avoiding a too long exposure to the same constraints.

At last, the development of ergonomics to sustainably improve workstations. Three objectives are to follow: reduction of strenuousness at all workstations, increase of adapted workstations and decrease of assembly constraints as early as the design of products. To ensure the control and continuity of these actions, an ergonomist is employed full-time.

The contract for older workers

To perfect its action towards older workers, the company proposes them a contract: five years before their retirement, workers might work at 90%. The decrease of salary is partially compensated with an employee share ownership programme, which allows them to keep the pension contributions at a full rate. After a slow start, the contract now attracts workers: there are more volunteers and they appreciate the flexibility of the disposal.

The action has been huge and event though the “Concorde” project stopped in 2006, its main actions are now systematically integrated in the company projects.

An assimilated and cheap strategy

Sébastien Conte, Human Resources Manager

“Henceforth, it is difficult for me to make the difference between what the company does for older workers and what it does for other workers. Everything merges in one global action, which brings improvements for all workers. The strategy is assimilated. The only real extra cost is the employment of an ergonomist at full-time. For the rest, it is not more expensive to do well than to do nothing! Prevent premature wear and tear is above all a way to design products and organisation without any additional cost. We know today how not to restrict our reflections to specific posts for such or such population. For example, the contract for older workers has been extended to other workers who wish to work at 90% and benefit from four additional weeks’ holiday. Paradoxically, the rate of incapacities is not lower: workers and the occupational health physician knowing that we take them into account do not hesitate to have recourse to them! However, the issue of older workers’ employment in industry is real. Additional possibilities are not rich and the expenditure for prevention needs to be borne by the company. Today, an older worker in industry is 52, 55 or 57. Tomorrow, he will be 65… with the wish to leave. How to do? It is thus necessary to define priorities and get down to keep all workers in a same work dynamics.”