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Using armbands to boost safety

C Spencer has complemented its standard briefing system with an innovative colour-coded armband while working on London’s King’s Cross station.

Now it has now been rolled out across the whole of the company.

“The King's Cross project was high-profile, complex and particularly challenging,” says C Spencer health and safety officer Lee Daniels. His company had a large team was working on site, often simultaneously in several different areas. During this time-sensitive project the team had to remove hazardous materials and work in high risk areas.

Prior to King’s Cross, the firm had operated on a standard briefing system based upon the method statement. But, with several complicated and potentially hazardous actions taking place in different areas simultaneously, some method statements were running to more than 50 pages.

“We recognised the need for clear, concise and frequent briefings to improve operatives’ understanding of the work, controls needed and the associated risks,” says Mr Daniels.

“We needed to devise a system that would ensure that all personnel identified all risks. There were frequently multiple activities taking place at any given moment on site. It was essential that staff were informed of associated works and any cross-over of activities on a daily basis.”

So the company came up with a two-step approach. Every day, a meeting of all the supervisors, chaired by Spencer’s senior site supervisors, would prepare a daily briefing board for the following morning. The board detailed the key activities for the next day. It also included generic information such as emergency contact numbers, muster points, first aid and site maps to reinforce the health and safety message. At the start of every working day, the senior site supervisor would give a presentation to everyone working on site, highlighting scheduled work activities, events and associated safety and risk concerns. In this open briefing, personnel were encouraged to discuss any concerns they had.

Following the detailed briefing, and completion of the attendance record, staff were then handed out a colour-coded armband. Because armband colours changed on a daily basis and had to be worn at all times, it was easy for workers and supervisors to see whether their colleagues were up to speed with the latest developments on site.

The armband, which doubles up as a permit to work, is designed with a clear plastic pouch to carry individuals’ identification and competency details for audit and control purposes. Personnel sporting the wrong coloured armband are immediately recognisable as not complying with site access procedure and authority to work.

“The daily colour change provides an immediate visual reference to Spencer and to the client that each operative is aware, understands and acknowledges risks associated with works on that particular day,” says Mr Daniels. But he warns that the success of the scheme depends upon the effectiveness of the construction supervisors to provide correct daily information on the briefing board.

Since its introduction, Mr Daniels says the scheme has had several benefits. “As well as reducing the number of accidents on site, helping us to achieve on time delivery, it has also overcome resistance by the workforce to the cumbersome method statement,” he says, adding that the company has noted a marked improvement in attitude amongst operatives who now feel empowered to contribute constructively to safety on site.

“The scheme has helped to breach the language barrier too. We have a number of European employees and wherever they may have difficulty, information is provided graphically and transferred to the pro forma. Very simple, yet highly effective, the success of the daily coloured armband scheme has led us to expand the armband and daily briefing system across the company.”