Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

November 18, 2016

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Pioneering health – In conversation with Deborah Edmonds, HS2

Deborah Edmonds. Staff Portrait. HS2 Ltd.

Deborah Edmonds, HS2 Ltd.

This month SHP is focusing on the British construction industry, looking at some of the biggest projects, and what makes them leaders in health, safety and wellbeing. Here, Deborah Edmonds, Head of Occupational Health & Strategy at HS2 Ltd, talks to us about the foundations of a sound health culture.

Can you tell us a bit about your job role?

I am responsible for ensuring  HS2 Ltd’s strategic health commitments are delivered. That means defining and developing new health standards for HS2 and its supply chain, and always looking to the next generation of technology and innovation to improve health outcomes.

What is HS2’s vision in terms of the health of its employees?

We believe that good work is good for health and we’re implementing a strategy that helps our people flourish.  The strategy also sets out an expectation from our supply chain to create healthy working environments.

As part of our health and safety programme, we have Safe at Heart, that sets out some clear health-orientated strategic commitments to:

  • View health like safety;
  • Eradicate wherever possible, and then minimise exposure to the top five causes of long term occupational health disorder- including occupational cancers, respiratory diseases, vibration impacts, noise induced hearing loss and skin sensitisation;
  • Build the resilience of our people to enable them to cope with the ambiguity of a changing and evolving programme.

How can you ensure that vision is communicated at all levels?

We are currently launching our occupational health strategic approach within HS2.  A roll out  will be communicated across the organisation which will be supported through a cascade from senior leaders- who will be equipped to start good (physical and mental) health conversations and who will be helped to understand the impact of their leadership upon their teams.

What are the foundations of a sound health culture?

Without health we don’t have anything- we need our people to be in good health to deliver the programme and all its challenges. As an employer, we have a moral duty to ensure that work is a fundamental part of  everyones’ health and wellbeing, and we support their recovery from any underlying health conditions.

Safety is traditionally given more prominence and air time than health, so success is where health is given equal status to safety- if not more!

Creating an environment in which people feel able to talk about mental and physical health issues and where they are equipped to manage their health.

It is means that we design an environment and infrastructure where people can work well for longer.

Looking more long term how do you plan to help staff manage their health?

We are giving people access to a range of work-focused preventative and rehabilitation services for both mental and physical conditions.  They can access and manage this for themselves so that they can remain in work or return to work sooner following illness or injury.

Within HS2 do you feel health, and safety sit on an equal footing?

Yes. It is discussed in depth at every level of the organisation, right up to Board level and we have included robust specific health requirements into our tenders to our incoming supply chain.

What provisions do you have for helping workers suffering mental ill-health, and how is that communicated?

We have signed up to an innovative digital platform, the Big White Wall, which offers an anonymous creative and personalised  service that is supportive  in a crisis but also offers ongoing bespoke assistance programmes to support our staff  on an ongoing basis.

What is HS2 doing to engage staff at every level into health and wellbeing, are there any particular systems, strategies or initiatives that you can share with us?

We approach health engagement in the same personalised and innovative way we undertake all staff engagement.  We use a variety of methods- from lunch and learn sessions to roadshows and workshops and  interactive sessions . We are currently carrying out a survey  with  our staff, to let them inform the health and wellbeing programme and the proactive health interventions on offer for the coming year.

When a member of staff is looking to return to work following ill-health, how do you go about supporting them through the return to work procedure?

We are  working on equipping our line managers to have the tools to have constructive  and positive conversations with their reports so that they can design a return to work programme specific to that individual.

How do you ensure people are protected from the risks posed by their working environment, e.g. noise, dust or vibration?

We are actively working with Business Information Modelling (BIM) to implement health by design ie to design out health risks and hazards during HS2’s construction, operation and maintenance. Our supply chain is also expected to implement a new standard, developed by HS2 Ltd, to incrementally reduce the hazard exposures to individuals  over the next five years.  We know this is a major challenge but we believe it is achievable and has been validated by the Institute of Medicine.

Finally, what is the future of health at HS2?

The future is exciting!  We are creating a legacy that is not just for HS2 but for everyone.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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Ray R
Ray R
7 years ago

Nice rhetoric, but if HS2 is anything like the safety culture on Crossrail which has been dogged with problems which I have seen at first hand it will all come to nothing.

7 years ago

I think similar to Ray R below. Ultimately the day to day running of the project sits with the PC, I have seen problems before where the client thinks they are the PC and imposes their thoughts and processes on to the sites. It does not end well

Nigel Dupree
Nigel Dupree
7 years ago

Mmmm, whilst I am sure as, with any work-stress related ‘adaptation’, the following commitments are well-meaning in terms of building a system more resilient, better able to cope and be more tolerate of exposure to work stressors accepting, of course, it is a construction industry nevertheless, with a title like “Safe at Heart” I thought someone has “got it” like, you know, the link in the chain of causation between health and accidents. Especially as they have used the magic word “exposure”, just avoided any mention of the number ‘1’ risk, work related stress, MSD’s and Wellbeing (Mental Health) manifesting… Read more »