The Mr Motivator guide to safer sites

Motivating the workforce has been the key to some award-winning health and safety projects, as Carillion Construction¹s H&S advisor Robert Hartland explains

North West Waters’ mighty Shell Green sludge incinerator is a project of some significance. In terms of health and safety the site is exemplary, literally, having earned its constructors a record 100% score in a British Safety Council (BSC) audit. Proving this was no flash in the pan the same company went on to receive 99% in another BSC Five Star Health and Safety Management System audit, this time at the Finham sewage treatment works in Coventry.

Could you give us some background on your involvement with the projects?
The overall value of the Shell Green project was £110M, Carillion was the principal contractor, overseeing all health and safety matters. It was North West Water’s largest project and they demanded very high health and safety standards.
Carillion’s management, and subsequently workforce, was very focused on delivering a quality product ­ on time and within budget. Every regard was paid to health and safety but this was insufficient to satisfy the client¹s agent, Bechtel Water Technology. Being an American company Bechtel had a different approach to health and safety. They wanted to comply with UK legislation but also expected contractors, with justification, to work to the best international standards.
Finham was a £32M project to upgrade an existing sewage treatment works to comply with the EU water quality directive.

Getting everyone involved was key to the H&S regime¹s success. Was this difficult?
Yes. We had to take into account local attitudes towards safety. Health and safety culture and awareness on Merseyside, for example, is different from attitudes in Scotland. What might improve standards on one project could have a detrimental effect on another.
To get things started I looked for the most basic and common denominator, motivation. What motivates the workforce? Money. But that alone is not the answer, the workforce wanted to be in a fit condition to spend the money they earned.
I talked and listened to the workforce. We considered various health and safety incentive schemes, but I left the final say on which scheme we ran to them. The workforce agreed to zero tolerance on health and safety discrepancies and a ‘don’t walk by’ philosophy.
Various schemes were discussed, from weekly cash incentives to a celebratory drink or two when a safety milestone had been achieved. In the end, we decided to support a local charity, the Widnes Cancer Support Group. If we went one month with no ‘lost-time’ accidents, Carillion would give £150 to the charity, this was matched by North West Water. In all, £15,000 was raised. Once the motivation to be part of an unprecedented safety project kicked in, it was a question of keeping hold of the reins. One accident, unrelated to Carillion, did occur, but the reaction to prospect of the charity losing out was amazing.
The workforce said the money should still be paid, and a collection was arranged so the charity did not suffer because of a failure to adhere to the zero-tolerance regime.

The health and safety regime was clearly effective, did you make an exceptional effort, or did you apply your usual standards and methods?
As I have said, the management was committed to delivering a quality product on time, within budget. I introduced several initiatives; procedures, pro-formas, etc, to make everyone¹s job easier. I kept it simple, user friendly and workable and the management and workforce took it on board.

Was there anything about Shell Green or Finham, which made the establishment of outstanding H&S regimes easier than other sites?
There was nothing special about the sites, just a dedicated workforce which wanted to be the best. Once Shell Green had been completed, it was time to turn to the Finham project to try to equal what had been achieved at Shell Green.

You sought advice from the Cheshire Fire Brigade and the Health and Safety Executive. What sort of input did they have?
The use of the Health and Safety Executive (H&SE) and Cheshire Fire Brigade were new initiatives. The workforce, and some of the management, regarded the H&SE as the authority with the big stick. Working with the local H&SE inspector and inviting her and the principal inspector for the northwest to the site, helped break down deep-routed barriers which exist within the construction industry. Allowing Cheshire Fire Brigade to carry out joint training exercises with our workforce and contractors in return for fire awareness training opened up avenues new to most people.

What changes turned the sites’ safety regime from good to outstanding?
After the change in attitude to one of: “We want to be the best.” I had to find a way of benchmarking what we were achieving at Shell Green against other Carillion projects. I used company statistics and learned from North West Water that Shell Green was achieving far lower accident frequency rates than their other sites.
Next we wanted to benchmark against other UK construction projects. With the help of the H&SE, we established that Shell Green was achieving exceptionally low accident frequency rates. We then chose to be independently assessed by the British Safety Council (BSC).
To prepare for the audit I appointed 'champions' from different trades, professions, and levels of supervision and management; they were responsible for various elements of health and safety management. I explained BSC¹s star rating to the management and workforce; three stars, a 70% score, was considered the norm for a good first-time audit. I then put it to them that we may be able to achieve a five-star audit, score 92% or more. To a man and woman they wanted the five-star rating, which entailed being perfect not just on the day of the audit, but all day every day.
Prior to the audit, I was stopped by a group wanting to discuss the five-star rating. I thought they were going to say they could not achieve the BSC standards, instead they said why stop at 92%? Why not try for 94, 95, 96%? I told them achieving 92% would be outstanding for a first audit, but they wanted to go further. Who was I to argue? I was only holding the reins, they were the’horsepower’ behind the health and safety achievements. They went on to achieve 100%.

Was it a costly regime to undertake?
I live in the real world. I fully appreciate project managers have tight budgets to control, and throwing money at safety problems will not resolve anything. But demonstrating health and safety is cost effective makes any project manager worth his salt take notice. A motivated workforce will turn out quality work. If there is an accident on a site, morale is affected and production falls.

You have said it was necessary to change peoples’ perception of some H&S matters, how hard was this? One perception I had to change was: ‘We pretend to work so they ­ the employer ­ pretend to pay us.’ By demonstrating that no accidents means no lost time and consequently, no loss of earnings, it was easy for the workforce to come to the conclusion that, although accidents and injuries hurt you, the biggest pain is felt when it hits your pocket.

You took a lot of notice of what the workforce had to say. Did they ever feel the safest practice was not the easiest to adhere to on a day-to-day basis?
I have explained that by and large it was workforce driven. We had safety forums and informal discussions. Many good suggestions come from the workforce, if you are prepared to listen.

Was it difficult to organise, promote and enforce a safety regime with workers from so many different companies on site. Did safety cultures differ greatly between companies?
We experienced varying standards from our contractors, and helped weaker firms by making our health and safety procedures and pro-formas available to them. I encouraged contractors who did not have health and safety systems which matched ours to use ours.
Once the accident free initiative started, individual workers and contractors did not want to be the ones responsible for the first incident. Our first accident free incentive goal was 250,000 man hours without a lost-time accident. We achieved this and aimed for 500,000 then 1,000,000 man hours. By project completion, Carillion and its contractors had achieved 1.2M man hours without a lost-time accident. As a whole the project achieved 2.1M man hours without a lost-time accident.

What was the most difficult problem to overcome?
Apart for the initial challenge of changing peoples perception, the other main stumbling block was the ‘I¹ve done it this way all my life’ merchant. It was hard to explain that the way they had been doing things for donkey’s years, may not be the safest or indeed the best way of doing them. We had to say: “If we agree to train you, give you health and safety awareness, you must agree to give it a go.” It worked.

Has the success had implications for the rest of Carillion?
The achievements at Shell Green has had impacts through Carillion plc. The then chief executive visited the site and decided the company should roll out the practices adopted at Shell Green to all its sites. The managing director of Carillion Infrastructure Management, Rowan Sharples, has visited the projects on a regular basis to gain insight into the change of attitude and see what motivates people into wanting to get the job done, but more importantly, get the job done safely.
I had tremendous support from my operational director Peter Forsyth. It is reassuring to know you have the full backing of senior management.

What would you say to others trying to follow your success?
Set your stall out, get everyone from the office cleaner to the most senior person involved. Appoint champions, individuals with responsibilities. Most important of all, don¹t walk by.


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