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Climbing above safety averages

Three safety managers from ROK, HBG and Bowmer and Kirkland tell how they are pushing for a greater reduction in accident rates


Mark Blundy investigated six fatalities in three years during his time as a safety consultant in the mid-2000s. He also remembers the industry of 20 years ago, when he became a Health and Safety Executive inspector.

“You used to see horrific accidents, even into the mid-1990s. If you interviewed people on a roofing accident, half of them had been on a site where someone had been killed,” he says.

He is now director of health and safety at Bowmer and Kirkland and credits the industry with huge improvements. “We’ve come a long way. The industry is doing more. But there are a lot of people who have never experienced what it used to be like and how do we get the message to them,” he says.

He credits retail clients, CDM regulations and the HSE for helping set the agenda. “The HSE is focusing on retail clients because of the speed of the build. But just because things are done more quickly or are more complex doesn’t mean they are inherently more unsafe.

“On a project we did last year we closed the store on a Thursday, totally refurbished it and opened it a week later. With £4.5 million worth of work we had one minor incident.

“Sometimes on small projects you don’t get the pressure to plan and organise as much as you do on the larger ones,” he says.

Key training

The firm has been running safety and health awareness days with the HSE covering personal protection equipment, occupational health, transport, work at height and scaffolding.

Chairman John Kirkland spoke at the event, which was held at the firm’s Roundhouse site in Derby in July. The expectation is that suppliers will take part in such events.

“We expect them to attend and resource it, it is part of working for us and it needs to be done. As part of our supply chain you come and join in with what we are doing,” Mr Blundy says.

And smaller companies that might find health and safety difficult could try harder, he says.

“They should have a go – the world’s a big and complicated place, get used to it. If you need help or don’t understand come and see us if there’s a problem.

“I’ve heard most of the excuses in the last 20 years,” he says. Mr Blundy says it helps that he reports to director Robert Kirkland. “Because we are a private company we have a small chain of decision-making and reporting. Rob sits next door,” he says.

This means that things can be implemented relatively easily. The firm is looking at its management systems and moving towards BS OHSAS 18001, which it hopes to achieve in the next two years.

Medium-term goals

Bowmer and Kirkland has also been working with Constructing Better Health to provide on-site health assessments on 10 retail sites. This has been working well, but isn’t without its issues.

“There is a lot of pressure from HSE to roll out some form of occupational health for the workforce,” Mr Blundy says.

“We don’t employ a huge direct workforce and it has been a difficult thing to get subcontractors to join in because they are fearful of being tested for drugs and alcohol, but that’s something we can do separately.

“But workers may not have access to healthcare and going to the doctors may be seen as a sign of weakness.”

Mr Blundy says an occupational health levy similar to the training levy for ConstructionSkills would help solve the problem and provide a secure framework.

The firm is also piloting drugs and alcohol testing. “Anecdotally we are hearing all sorts of extreme things, we know that people taking drugs for recreational use happens everywhere but it’s not identifiable by one particular group of people,” Mr Blundy says.

“But we are hearing about incidents and seeing patterns of behaviour that make you question people’s lifestyle,” he adds.

Random tests will be done on a site and then rolled out if the pilot goes well. It also plans further programmes.

“We haven’t embarked on a behavioural safety programme yet, we’re not quite ready for that,” Mr Blundy says.

“We try to promote a positive safety culture and that’s something that the directors are keen that we instil.

“In terms of behavioural safety, we want to do things right, we’re not going to do things quickly for the sake of joining in,” he says.

And doing things right seems to apply across the board. “Health and safety needs to be a given, that’s what we need to foster, it’s important but it’s nothing special. It is integral to what we do, it’s how we do things.”


Shaun Davis has been on a mission to encourage a mentoring and coaching approach to health safety all his career. The director for health, safety and environment at Rok starts many of his sentences with “I’m a massive fan of”.

For instance, he is a massive fan of safety coaches, shared vision and values, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and encouraging children to get involved in sport.

He says that while the perception of safety people is improving, more could be done.

“Safety professionals were seen as policemen or nerds,” he says. “It’s about educating within the business and further afield to dispel the myths.”

He adds that while safety could be seen as dry, “it doesn’t need to be as there are many facets”.

When he joined Rok in April 2006 there were two people in the team and there are now 35, including 30 safety coaches.

“I changed the name from safety ‘adviser’ to ‘coach’ because they are facilitators and drive improvement,” he says.

“The old-style safety adviser might have gone on site and said: ‘The scaffolding doesn’t meet the safety regs, sort it out.’ But a coach would go through it with them, walk around the site and say: ‘Do you know how it should be?’ and then get them to suggest a solution. It’s the arm-around-the-shoulder approach.”

Mr Davis also moved away from external consultants. “Coaches can wield greater influence in the company because they can build working relationships. Consultants cannot do that,” he says.

He wasn’t keen on consultants walking around a site and leaving a to-do list. “While they do a good job they cannot know your business,” he says.

But what about the controversial subject of the number of HSE inspectors?

“I value what HSE does and respect their level of technical knowledge but feel that if there were more inspectors they could get to know the business better and we could develop more lasting relationships,” he says.

On joining Rok, he looked at the SHE system that the firm had, moving it away from a ‘management’ system to a ‘toolkit’ one, which he felt was much more practical and involved fewer forms. He has introduced a telephone line for reporting near misses.

“It gets round paperwork, which – along with form filling – can put people off reporting accidents, incidents and near misses. We need to make it as easy as we can,” he says.

The firm has also brought in a confidential helpline for site workers to call if they have concerns. Lines are manned by a member of the SHE team, which ensures workers are listened to and action is taken.

Subcontractors are encouraged to use the help lines. The supply chain is offered training and Mr Davis feels strongly that managing subcontractors in terms of health and safety is something which can be done well.

Supply and demand

“To say that you can’t get what you want from the supply chain is a myth. If you have good relationships with them you can hand pick the supervisor that you want. We work closely with the supply chain,” he says.

He wants to lead by example. “We are health and safety professionals. You want people who live their values,” he says. “I am also keen on getting safety awareness on to the curriculum, getting them to understand hazard analysis to educate the workforce of tomorrow.”

The contractor recently won the International Safety Award as well as several British Safety Council awards and has also reduced its accident frequency rate to 0.27, down from 0.64 two years ago. The aim is to get the rate down to 0.15 by 2010.

But he adds that your average site worker might not understand AFR. “The run of the mill van man, it doesn’t mean anything to him – saying ‘four of your colleagues had three days off last year because of accidents’, that does. You’ve got to put it in real language,” he says.

He also sees safety as a key selling point for a firm. “I don’t think we sell safety enough, both inside the company and to our clients. We need to celebrate our successes. A good safety record is something we can sell our business on.”


When you have already experienced a dramatic drop-off in accident frequency rates and have a tried-and-tested safety strategy in place, what is the next step?

HBG safety director Frank Garnett says that is important to begin thinking outside the box. This is just what happened on HBG’s Newcastle-Under-Lyme College.

A Considerate Constructors Scheme site audit for the redevelopment reads: “The site was well presented and acts as a positive advert for the industry. Possibly the best site visited by myself in the last three or four years.”

It’s the kind of report card that would make any parent – or in this case, any board of directors – proud.

And with a final mark of 39 out of 40 – the industry average score is 30 – the firm’s Mr Garnett can’t help but beam over the strength of what he describes as a key area of HBG’s business.

After 19 years leading the department, Mr Garnett’s division has gone from a two-man band to a 16-strong team. It has also seen the implementation of a range of new schemes, not least of all his behavioural and cultural programme, which was implemented across the firm almost five years ago.

In order to improve further, he says: “It is crucial that we think outside the box.”

The £52 million Newcastle-Under-Lyme College job, which started on site in June, is being used to do just that. As well as a handful of new community initiatives – such as monthly window cleans for all neighbours and a 24-hour information hotline – project manager Ivan Gethin is running a pilot exercise for HBG: the appointment of an on site occupational nurse.

Health training

Each fortnight during building of the scheme, the nurse will complete a presentation for workers on topics such as noise induced hearing loss, skin cancer prevention and first aid awareness.

Also available are pre-booked appointments and drop-in sessions for private consultations, as well as general health screenings including blood pressure, diabetic testing and management of blood sugar.

“We want a healthy workforce coming on site. And while I know we have some steep hills to climb to better our accident rates even further, I think something like this can only help,” Mr Garnett says.

He says that, over the years, one of the most important things for him in progressing the company’s health and safety policies has been developing bespoke safety programmes and procedures.

“We always wanted to, in consultation with management, create our own systems. I never wanted to buy into anything,” he says.

“And not only have we been able to expand those systems but we are able to implement more and more innovative ideas to fit what we want to do, especially when it comes to engaging our supply chain.”

Garnett says he will be monitoring the progress of the occupational nurse pilot project very closely. If, after three to four months, it is viewed as successful then it will be rolled out on every HBG project across the country – ultimately offering health services to the some 4,000 subcontractors the company works with.

And, as Mr Garnett says, surely that can’t do those accident frequency rates any harm.