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Wellbeing – stop tossing it bananas

Lawrence Waterman

The Olympic Delivery Authority Health and Safety Standard, outlined in 2006, marked the first time a public project had set out its commitment and strategy in this way.

It stated that our aim was not only to prevent accidents and work-related ill health, but also to enhance the wellbeing of everyone working on the London 2012 programme.

At the time this was radical, but recently it has become ordinary for employers to speak of the wellbeing of their workers. As wellbeing becomes business-as-usual, the approach we take to it needs to mature.

Wellbeing programmes have been around for a while, but I’ve seen too much goodwill from directors and senior managers dissipated into unevidenced, random acts.

Cereal problem

I can remember meeting a manager and a safety rep from a cereals company at an awards ceremony some years ago. They told me that their new approach – holding a team briefing every shift where the supervisor could outline the day’s work and the workers could flag issues such as malfunctioning equipment – had reduced stress and anxiety while boosting productivity.

But when the company was cited for its award at the ceremony, the presenter spoke of a special events week on stress with Indian head massage as a key element!

If we want to improve the wellbeing of our people, we need to be as professional, as focused and as evidence-based as anything we do for safety. Things like ‘Free Fruit Fridays’ may contribute to staff morale, but don’t kid yourself that such measures are making a real difference if the same people continue to be exposed to dust, noise and fumes while working.

Hear more from Lawrence

The former Olympic Delivery Authority head of health and safety will be delivering the opening address of the health, safety and wellbeing seminar at this year’s Construction News Summit. To book your place, go to

To avoid your people becoming cynical about your ‘caring’ policies, sort out the health risks you have real control over long before you start talking about what they eat, whether or not they smoke or how much they exercise.

Recently I have been impressed by the way many construction organisations – their leaders and the workforce – have been changing the story.

“Wellbeing isn’t a substitute for good health and safety; it’s at the heart of an effective, integrated, well-resourced health and safety programme”

When once it was usual to maintain housekeeping standards by getting young workers to sweep up, we have seen campaigns such as Ban the Broom tackle exposure to wood and cement dust. Similarly, better companies and projects are exploring how they can reduce reliance on vibrating tools.

For some time, making work quieter rather than glibly issuing ear defenders has become the common approach in manufacturing, so it’s about time we tackled these issues at source on our sites.

Being hard-headed

There are real opportunities to make a positive contribution to wellbeing, and with the uncertainties of Brexit making it ever harder to recruit and retain good people, it’s obviously good business sense. But we need to be as analytical and hard-headed about what matters and what is worth spending money on as we have been with safety.

Free bananas are no substitute for effective supervisor and manager training, bullying and harassment policies, support for those in demanding roles, integrated mental health programmes and control of workplace hazards.

Wellbeing isn’t a substitute for good health and safety; it’s at the heart of an effective, integrated, well-resourced health and safety programme.

Lawrence Waterman is a founding partner of Park Health & Safety and served as head of health and safety for the Olympic Delivery Authority. He will be delivering the opening address of the health, safety and wellbeing seminar at this year’s Construction News Summit, 20-21 November. To book your place, go to

Readers' comments (1)

  • So very true and I’m also very suspicious of the “ resiliance” bandwagon. Trying to teach individuals how to cope with endless pressure has no part in wellbeing. Tackle the issues at source and be realistic

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