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Converting pound notes into morals

PILING

IT TAKES a brave subbie to shift the emphasis of its bonuses away from productivity.

Until recently, up to 25 per cent of a Stent Foundations operative's take-home pay was down to numbers (or metres) of piles installed.

But, in a radical policy rethink, the company has restructured its bonus system. Since June payments have given health and safety behaviour precedence over productivity.

This caused raised eyebrows from the company's own foremen, for whom output was always the most crucial goal.

'It is an emotive issue.We've always paid productivity incentives to our workforce. But it was becoming the sole topic of discussion. It was getting in the way, ' says Mr de Waele.

The new bonus is based on a weekly audit conducted by a foreman, works manager or engineer and is a score sheet on site safety.

The system relies on peer pressure. If someone is spotted carrying out an unsafe act, or not wearing safety gear on site, bonuses for the whole team can be docked.

'This is encouraging workmates to intervene.We're putting the pound notes where the morals should be, ' he says.

The reaction of the workforce has been mixed.'A few people were unhappy that the whole team would be docked for one man's safety breach.They weren't sure why they should be punished, but it's all adding to the peer pressure, ' says Stent charge hand Robert Anderson, one of Stent's new safety reps.

Mr de Waele admits that the concept has not only been challenging for operatives.

'Some of our older foremen will struggle to get hold of it as a concept. But our managers were also worried.There was a great fear that productivity would be affected.'

Luckily for those who have to face the board, this has not been the case.Mr de Waele says that it has even worked in the opposite way on occasion by boosting morale.

He adds that the bonus has been designed so that it will return on average the same amount as the production bonus.

The heaviest deductions are only made for reportable accidents, of which Stent usually has around seven a year.

Minor accidents or near misses are not affected.

Workers may also find their pay packets bolstered for putting forward new safety ideas.The company pays around £30 for each.'In general terms they'd come up with the idea anyway, but it underpins the fact that this is what we want people to do, ' says Mr de Waele.

And this change has not just affected site workers. Stent's managers' bonuses are dependent on their proactive approach to safety, and whether they have conducted their quota of safety audits throughout the year.

But Mr de Waele admits that the new policy can still cause consternation among main contractors.

'It can be a bit frustrating, especially when they want us to pay a production bonus because they think it will benefit the scheme. But we stand firm on this. It really is too important.'