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February 21, 2017

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Leading safety at Gatwick Airport


Recently Laura Cleaver, HSE Recruitment, made the journey to Gatwick Airport – alas not for a long overdue holiday – but to speak with Gatwick’s EHS Director Steve Howells who leads the airport’s stellar Environmental Health and Safety team.  She discusses what she found out.

As advocates of positivesafety, HSE Recruitment are always keen to speak to specialists in the market place who have had notable success in promoting progressive safety ideas within their companies – and Gatwick Airport is definitely on that list.

Gatwick Airport has a much more diverse risk profile that you might think, with over 43 million passengers, 2,700 direct employees, 24,000 indirect employees, commercial property, air traffic control, a logistics function, a huge team of security officers and other airside operations. As you can imagine this is a challenging environment to develop a far reaching safety culture.


GAT H+S 25-5-16-JL-49

Steve Howells

Steve Howells, EHS director at Gatwick, is keen to promote the idea across the airport that “anyone can be a safety leader”. When he talks ‘safety’ he always refers to “the safety of our people, our assets and our environment”.

He feels it is important to empower people to have the passion and the permission to address safety concerns, creating a community of safety coaches. They have had many recent successes with this approach, with operational teams feeling committed to safety, and raising issues as they come across them. For example an issue with broken metal riveting on seating was raised as a potential danger and when this issue was not rectified quickly the employee felt confident enough to escalate the issue.

As part of this approach Gatwick has also implemented regular safety engagement tours with senior management which has allowed them to work more closely with their operational teams, given them a better understanding of the issues and the ability to quickly implement solutions.

One great example of this came from the security teams who reported that passengers were coming through with liquids in glass bottles that often smashed, causing them to have to shut down lanes for the cleaning crews. This was having a huge impact on employees and passenger wellbeing, causing significant delays and upset.

By listening to the security team and using their knowledge of the industry, a solution was found by making spill kits available at the lanes – which shortened closure times and disruption and increased employee safety and passenger satisfaction.

Gatwick Airport are very keen on the concept of safety as a core value, and as a result they have a twist on the traditional safety moan of “we have always done it that way” with their slogan – “It’s the way we do things around here”. This enables their teams to think of safety as just the norm, and something that should be embedded in everything they do, creating a real culture of ownership.


Gatwick are keen to keep abreast of modern safety and embrace new techniques, and as a result they are focusing on moving forward by focusing on leading indicators. This is for the whole of EHS and includes their ever growing wellbeing programme.

Gatwick’s wellbeing focus is interesting and innovative and is very much focused on utilising the space and facilities afforded to them by their site. Walking is massively encouraged, to make use of the outdoor spaces they have at their disposal. Gatwick, you may be surprised to learn, covers 756 hectares, of which 10% is actually green space, so it only makes sense to enable people to access these during down time as well as undertaking ‘walking meetings’.

Because employee wellbeing feeds directly into the customer experience it is therefore doubly important to develop a culture of care and concern.

‘Lunch and Learn’ events are a great way to make people aware of some of the key wellbeing issues faced by the workforce. One example Gatwick has seen was around their patrol officers who, due to the scale of Gatwick Airport, can quite easily walk up to and over 19 miles a day.

During a ‘Lunch and Learn’ the emotive issue of their uniform footwear was raised. Such a small thing like ill-fitting boots can massively affect wellbeing and in turn, the customer experience – I’d like to see anyone try to be cheerful and helpful to a customer after 10 hours in pinching shoes!

Steve explained that if they can make wellbeing issues like this a priority then there is an almost instantaneous change to employee attitude, and engagement with the EHS agenda.

The main thing I took away from our visit with Steve at Gatwick was a genuine feeling that they care for their people – and that they are open to listening and engaging at any level.

This is only further demonstrated by their communication across site, ‘Lunch and Learns’, drop in sessions and more. Gatwick’s safety attitude is refreshing and people centric, and they are definitely creating a culture that will attract the best talent and retain them for a long time.

In fact – where’s my suitcase?

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