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Crossrail's success on safety can drive up industry standards

Everyone who works in construction will tell you that health and safety is their highest priority.

It’s an easy thing to say but much harder to do in practice – especially when you are Europe’s largest construction project employing more than 8,000 people across 40 different sites. 

At Crossrail, health and safety is not simply a priority – it is our number one value. Priorities change but our values, the things we truly believe in, do not. Holding health and safety so close gives us the starting point to embed a strong culture in everything we do.

Targeting zero harm

Our three ‘Target Zero’ principles are intended to guide everyone’s behaviour at all times, regardless of whether they are working in an office environment or 30 m underground.

They state that we all have the right to go home unharmed every day; that all harm is preventable; and that we must all work together to achieve this.

We seek to ensure these principles are rigorously applied throughout the project and its supply chain. As would be the case on any site, all construction work must be approved in advance and no work can take place without conforming with our standards, which include the application of the necessary risk assessments and method statements.

“Engaging with workers is crucial to creating the right cultural climate”

Engaging with workers is crucial to creating the right cultural climate. We have put in place a comprehensive, project-wide reporting system together with a number of consultative forums to allow regular feedback on how health and safety is being managed day by day.

Workers are actively encouraged to come forward with any concerns or areas for improvement so that they can be dealt with appropriately. Any injury, no matter how minor, or any near miss must be reported and investigated to understand the root causes and to ensure lessons can be learned and applied across the project.

Equally, promoting and communicating contractor innovation and success stories helps to spread good practice and is a vital part of continually improving health and safety practices.

Measuring safety performance

Performance isn’t just measured via traditional lagging indicators, such as accident frequency rates. We evaluate contractors on the measures they put in place to prevent incidents taking place in the first instance.

Our Health and Safety Performance Index combines a number of measures that score contractors on their safety processes and how they are managing the risks they will encounter on the job.

As a result, our health and safety performance is better than the average for the UK construction industry. But we can never be complacent. We believe that all harm is preventable and the fact that incidents continue to occur demonstrates that more work will always be needed.

However, it isn’t just about delivering a railway to the highest levels of safety: Crossrail has an important role to play in driving up standards for the whole industry.

By pioneering new ways of approaching health and safety, we want to leave a legacy that will help to make the UK construction industry safer.

That’s why we are exploring how our Health and Safety Performance Index can be applied to other large-scale projects.

We believe that a contractor’s safety performance on this project should be taken into account when they bid for work on future infrastructure projects, ensuring that good performance is incentivised and rewarded.

Steve Hails is health and safety director at Crossrail

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