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August 17, 2015

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Interview with Lawrence Waterman, Battersea Power Station

Lawrence WatermanOn October 14 2015, Lawrence Waterman gave the Capita Safety lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons in central London. His talk focused on his work at Battersea Power Station.

Ahead of this event, we republished and updated Nick Warburton’s interview with Lawrence from March 2014, when he had been in his role at Battersea for just six months. 

It remains one of London’s most distinctive and iconic landmarks. Yet the colossus that is Battersea Power Station bears the scars of a recent, troubled past.

Forever synonymous in popular culture as the cover art of Pink Floyd’s 1977 album Animals, the decommissioned coal-fired power station ceased generating electricity in the early 1980s after output fell and operating costs soared.

In the intervening years, the Grade II listed building was plagued by a succession of failed redevelopment plans, including proposals to transform the derelict site into a giant theme park.

Europe’s largest brick building soon fell into disrepair; a process that was hastened when the power station’s roof was removed in the late 1980s, exposing the interior to the elements.

By the late 2000s, Battersea’s future looked bleak. That all changed when a Malaysian consortium formed of SP Setia, Sime Darby and Employees Provident Fund inked a deal in September 2012 to redevelop the 40-acre site.

Over the next 11 years, £8bn will be pumped into the huge regeneration project, transforming the iconic brick building and the surrounding land into one of London’s most desirable localities for living, working, shopping and leisure.

On completion, 15,000 new jobs could be created and a new tube station, part of the planned Northern Line extension, is due to open in 2020.

For the man who led the health and safety programme at London 2012, an offer to join the team behind Battersea’s regeneration couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment.

Appointed as director of health and safety at the Battersea Power Station Development Company last November, Lawrence Waterman has been completing his work with the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) over the past few months.

The ODA’s health and safety programme has an impressive track record. London 2012 was the first Olympic build to reach completion without a fatality. The development also garnered plaudits for achieving a low accident rate and improved worker wellbeing.

As a trailblazer in his field, it must have been tempting to replicate London 2012 in his new assignment. However, Lawrence is not content to simply take a carbon copy of his past achievements and sketch them on to the Battersea canvas.

“What we are not going to do is mindlessly do what we have done before because that means we could only achieve what was achieved before,” he explains.

“We don’t want in 2025 to still be relying on what was done at the London Olympics in 2010.”

While Lawrence acknowledges that he will tap into the knowledge and experience gleaned from London 2012, not to mention the ongoing Crossrail and the Thames Tideway Scheme, the team at Battersea, he insists, will create its own unique footprint.

‘Beyond Expectations’ is a vision that CEO Rob Ticknell, chief operating officer Philip Gullett and director of communications Sarah Banham developed as an aspiration to integrate into every element of the development.

“The idea of ‘Beyond Expectations’ was that everybody would be pleasantly surprised that their particular area of interest and engagement with the programme was even better than they could have expected,” he explains.

This collective vision means that health and safety management on site will aspire to be second to none in protecting safety, health and wellbeing.

Understandably, Lawrence has drawn on his work at the ODA to set specific benchmarks. At London 2012, for instance, his team broke new ground by developing a leadership programme that will be built on at Battersea.

“It isn’t an accident that we were the first public body to declare that we were going to build without killing someone, that we published a standard,” he says.

The health and safety standard in question was launched in 2006, some six months after he’d joined the ODA. It took a similar stretch of time to get an occupational health team up and running and a programme firmly in place.

If anything, he’s been able to speed up the timetable at Battersea. The development’s occupational health team mobilises this month and the leadership programme is also going great guns. Lawrence credits the support of his directors.

“As a health and safety professional, the first thing you want is for your leaders to get it, to really support you and to be really challenging and demanding of those high standards. I couldn’t really ask for more.”

Arguably one of London’s most eagerly anticipated developments, the Battersea Power Station regeneration is gargantuan in scale and will be delivered in several, overlapping stages over the next decade.

Preparatory work on the first phase began in earnest in July 2013 and will see an exclusive, private housing development pitched on the river front; luxury penthouse apartments with jaw-dropping views of the Thames an the power station.

The second phase covers the iconic building and will be a much more painstaking process to complete.

There are ambitious plans to inject life into the derelict power station — residential apartments are earmarked for the upper levels while the lower levels will house office space, leisure facilities and reportedly one of the largest atriums in London. But first, more than £100m will need to be spent in restoration work before such proposals become a reality.

“Part of the work is physically to protect the building from collapse. It’s real restoration work. The chimneys themselves are literally not physically sustainable,” confides Lawrence.

“They are going to be removed and rebuilt so that in terms of appearance and style they are going to be completely identical to what is there at the moment but they are going to be safe and secure and maintainable for the future.”

The development presented its latest plans and arrangements for the restoration of the power station to the Health and Safety Executive in mid-February 2014, including the painstaking process of dismantling and rebuilding the four iconic chimneys.

The restoration should boost the local economy — skilled tradesmen such as steeple jacks and brick specialists will be brought in to restore and protect the building’s damaged structure.

Mace, which is overseeing the enabling work, is using a cutting edge method to rebuild the chimneys; steeple jacks will operate special machinery that munches down the stacks to remove the old structure.

“This is a technique that is quicker [than putting scaffolding on the entire chimney] and therefore involves less work at height and is more controlled,” says Lawrence.

Not surprisingly, a power station of its size used an enormous amount of asbestos as an insulation material. Lawrence explains that much of this hazardous substance was stripped from the structure in years gone by. Even so, precautions are needed.

“We know that we are going to come across traces of asbestos so all of the workers in phase two have had asbestos awareness briefings,” he adds. “They are clear about what they might come across and although it’s precautionary we are doing a lot of monitoring.”

A month before his appointment, the development’s website announced that renowned architects Gehry Partners and Foster + Partners had been chosen to design phase three of the site.

To ensure the effective management of the site as a whole, a logistics contractor has also been appointed to take responsibility for all areas of the site not yet allocated for project work.

“Understanding who owns the work, who owns the site and who owns the area is the beginning of who owns the risk and therefore who is responsible for managing that risk,” says Lawrence.

“We are absolutely crystal about that. Once you are owning the risks and really trying to work out how to work safely onsite, you then want to engage everyone in that common purpose.”

Lawrence says that the workforce will be continuously consulted and views taken on board.

“I have worked for organisations that think that the dialogue of the deaf is the best thing when it comes to the workforce, that you talk at and you never listen to them,” he confides.

“When you do it the right way and you treat a workforce with respect, that workforce feels quite rightly that it is their project… Our aim is for workers to leave, saying, ‘It’s a shame it’s come to an end, that’s the best place I’ve ever worked’.”

In stark contrast to the early 1930s, when Battersea’s A Station was completed, tragically with the loss of six lives, today’s safety standards are thankfully in a different league.

Building on London 2012’s unblemished health and safety record, Lawrence has voiced the same commitment for Battersea and while he recognises that safety remains paramount, he is also determined to ensure that health is not sidetracked in the process.

“We harm many more people at work… in terms of their health being adversely affected than being injured in accidents,” he argues.
“If all of the effort is put in to safety to prevent accidents and you ignore health, you are missing 50 per cent of the story, so we’re going to have a balanced approach, which says, ‘It’s health and safety’.”

From his experience at London 2012, Lawrence knows that a more integrated approach that encompasses not only health and safety but also wellbeing can really raise the bar.

Interestingly, when workers on the Olympic site in Stratford were surveyed a year before the 2012 Games and asked what had made them most proud in terms of the development, the single largest response surprised the directors.

Beside the fact that nobody had been killed and that the build had had a low accident rate, respondents cited the “fantastic health programme”. Lawrence has taken this on board and it’s one baton that he’s passed on to Battersea.

“Here we are procuring on the basis that the occupational health programme includes wellbeing from the beginning because we recognised that the wellbeing engagement with the workforce opens the door to involving the workforce in achieving high standards,” he says.

One of the occupational health programme’s aspirations is that workers will have access to some of the best medical care available, a tacit acknowledgement that male workers are less inclined to visit a GP.

The Battersea directors have also insisted on excellent site welfare facilities, including healthy options in the site restaurants.

“We want healthy and fit workers to come here and be fantastically productive in the work that they are doing,” he says.

“To keep them healthy and fit, we don’t just want to not harm them, we also want to help them make better lifestyle choices.”

Lawrence confides that there also potential opportunities to broaden the health programme and link it to health and wellbeing in the local community, just as the safety programme has looked at cyclists’ safety with events on site for local people.

With so much going on at Battersea, it’s easy to forget that Lawrence is also in the process of fulfilling his commitments at the ODA. Then there is his work on the other side of the world in New Zealand.

In 2013, Lawrence spoke at a conference in Auckland and while there he paid a visit to Christchurch to see what was happening on the rebuild after a series of devastating earthquakes struck in 2010-2011.

The Accident Compensation Corporation has since contracted Lawrence and his colleagues at Park Health & Safety to develop a learning legacy from the construction work being undertaken. The idea is to develop high health and safety standards and performance during the build that can be then shared with and applied to other major construction projects in New Zealand.

His superiors have been supportive. “The directors here said, ‘Your engagement in other areas means that you are going to continually be fresh and bring new ideas and best practice and that’s what we want our health and safety to be like’,” he says.

“Battersea Power Station is going to be a leader in construction good practice; it’s also going to be a colleague of every other team seeking to develop good practice in construction so that together we can continue to raise the bar in the industry.”

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