Training and careers: can health and safety training really be truly EPIC?
By Lauren Applebey
What comes into your mind when you think of a day of health and safety training? A day in a cold room, surrounded by disinterested hungry, grumpy colleagues annoyed that they are being taught to ‘suck eggs’ by a salesman in a cheap suit with his array of mid-90s videos exhibiting unforgivably cringweworthy scenes a of naughty man who got hit on the head when he wasn’t wearing his hard hat?
Well, not any more. Health and safety training is transforming from the stale, beige, ‘bend your knees and keep your back straight’ – tick box exercise, to something truly epic – and I do not use this word lightly.
Last month Tideway, the company delivering the Thames Tideway Tunnel to tackle sewage overflows into the River Thames, invited me to take part in their EPIC induction training day. Every single person working on the Thames Tideway Tunnel project, from the crane drivers to the river divers, to the site managers will attend this course -and I was lucky enough to get a chance to take part myself.
And I say take part, rather than attend, as the training is both engaging and interactive, totally captivating and like nothing else I have ever been a part of.
The day is centred on the death of Michael Clarke; which happens before your eyes, thanks to actors from the Active Training Team (ATT). Michael, a young site worker and father to a new-born baby is enduring fatigue when a set of circumstances leads to him suffer fatal injuries on site, on a Friday afternoon.
Under pressure to meet targets, with his supervisor on his case, Michael makes some fatal errors – which have huge consequences for his colleagues, family and friends – left behind following his death.
Transported into Michael’s life and immersed in the factors leading to his death participants learn first-hand that a fatality on site is a fatality at every level of the job – from the boardroom to the workers on the ground. It is simply not just one single factor that leads to someone not going home at the end of the day; but a ripple effect of many situations, circumstances and occurrences – many avoidable and preventable. The immersive training brings the incident alive, making you really open your eyes and pay attention, and also strikes some very raw nerves as the familiarity of work pressures, communication errors and simple mistakes, hits home.
In feedback to date, over 95% of participants said they would be more confident in challenging poor health and safety practice, as a result of the induction.
Once you have spent your morning involved in every part of Michael’s life, and tragic death – the training gives you a chance to think about how this learning journey will translate on site – while being a part of the team building the tunnel under the Thames. Every participant is told of Tideway’s vision to be the safest, cleanest construction project, with top welfare facilities, catering, health, safety and wellbeing. But it can’t all happen from the top.
EPIC attendees, current and future Tideway workers are asked to enter into an agreement for their own health, safety and welfare and that of their colleagues. It is a real chance to understand that when you are part of a project that truly invests in you – you have to actively invest in yourself.
An unexpectedly emotional experience. Some quite unlikely members of our party were almost moved to tears at points! Remarkable achievement. Well done. – EPIC participant, March 2016
And, with this sort of training, it really is only effective if you throw yourself into it, use your imagination and demonstrate some willingness to look a bit foolish. Some people really gave it their ‘all’ while I think others, especially those without English as their first language, found the roleplay a little awkward and the session on communication got slightly lost in translation.
Talking about the unique induction, Steve Hails, director of health, safety and wellbeing said: “At Tideway we are aspiring to reach transformational health and safety standards. This starts at the very beginning with every person attending our EPIC induction programme.
“Traditionally, inductions have been rather dull, transactional affairs – generally via PowerPoint presentations and the continual repetition of site requirements or industry standards. EPIC is different.
“Every attendee is immediately immersed in the experience and all play an active part throughout the day. EPIC focuses on behaviours and our expectations for every individual working on Tideway – starting on day one.
“Active involvement and participation is a key part of successful completion of the induction day. EPIC is unique and sets a new benchmark for industry. It is our intention that EPIC becomes the basis of future induction programmes.”
What training such as this does, is make us stand up and be counted – recognising that health and safety is part of everyone’s job and it’s everyone’s responsibility. Through drama, participation, workshops and discussion people become involved at a much deeper level then they would sitting in front of a two dimensional presentation, or being told formulaically what is wrong or right.
I wish I could say so much more, but don’t want to give away everything about this training, as the ATT actors performing this scenario six days a week over the six year Tideway project deserve to keep much of their incredible experience a secret. What I can say for sure is that I have never left a health and safety training day with a real sense that I will always do things differently in the future.
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