June 21, 2018

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Alternative Working

Conversation, not compliance, the key to driving H&S improvements

A collaborative approach to finding alternative ways of working brings better results and a happier workforce, says Malcolm Bryce-Stafford, EHS Manager at Gatwick Airport.

Gatwick serves some 45 million passengers every year, with over 450 departures taking place every day. But it also in a state of continual development. Since 2009 there has been investment of over £2 billion, and £1.1 billion more is commitment before 2023, a significant chunk of which is on infrastructure projects.

safety & health expo gatwickThis means that Bryce-Stafford’s team is faced with the challenge of delivering this infrastructure change (consisting of over one million construction hours every year) in a 24/7 operational environment, protecting passengers, staff and contractors.

The key approach that makes this possible is ‘conversation, not compliance’, a way of working that relies on collaboration to drive improvements. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t work on compliance,” Bryce-Stafford told the Safety & Health Expo “but it means always looking to approach those we work with from a positive stance. Having a positive approach leads to a positive relationship on site.”

Gatwick hosts a monthly EHS Forum, where representatives from contractors meet to review and discuss incidents, with a focus not on blame but on learning from both mistakes and successes.

“Over time we realised there was an opportunity to look beyond the main safety line. We’re now looking at environment, health and safety. The contractors have the knowledge and experience. We have presentations on HAVs, dust control, stress and our project timescales.

“In EHS we tend to do a lot of measuring and checking. The greatest thing that we can do is access learning from outside our own sphere. We have contractors and individuals from all over the world, and if that knowledge can prevent an accident on our site we should use it and benefit from it.”

Safety improvements are based around the cultivation of The Gatwick Family “setting decent standards for the family and providing a decent working environment. It means breaking down silos of them and us: be that client/contractor, management/employee, EHS profession/other member of staff. It means respecting others as individuals and having a conversation with them. Shouldn’t we as health & safety professionals be making ourselves as friendly and approachable as possible?”

Health & safety is focused on finding processes that are dangerous or risky and then coming up with alternative solutions. When dictated to workers this is often met with the response: ‘I preferred it the old way’. And this might be because the old way was better.

Bryce-Stafford listed the four main things that he has learnt from construction colleagues. The first two: ‘Investigate the alternatives’ and ‘Really investigate the alternatives’. He gave the example of a safer alternative to Stanley knives. Though they might greatly reduce the chance of cuts, sometimes they just don’t work as well, or aren’t suited to particular applications, and it is the workers themselves that can provide this information.

Empowered by the collaborative approach, one of Gatwick’s contractors, Balfour Beatty, did an in-depth study into utility knives, looking at the alternatives, classifying the levels of risk and application – “a really thorough piece of work”, and a proactive approach that has made “a real difference on site”.

Third was ‘Run it like a campaign’. When the Gatwick EHS team wanted to minimise dust on site after identifying high levels as a risk it was not an edict but a prolonged campaign featuring workshops, advice and organisation-wide messaging.

Fourth – ‘Persevere, it will work’. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” says Bryce-Stafford, “and neither was Gatwick.”

To end, Bryce-Stafford recalled a quote from British Safety Council Chair Lawrence Waterman (named in SHP’s Most Influential list for 2018): “People aren’t the problem… they’re the solution.”

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