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February 3, 2016

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Highways England: your safety in our hands

Highways England 1

Mike Wilson, Chief Highways Engineer for Highways England, talks about the organisation’s vision for health and safety on the roads and in the office.

The new approach

As the operator of England’s motorways and major A-roads, we’re proud to say that the safety of our road workers and road users has always been the top priority. Add to this our own office employees, and you’ll start to see where we’re going at Highways England: creating an organisation where health and safety is more joined up than ever before and ensuring everything our workforce does ensures they – and our road users – get home safe at night, every night.

By implementing a step change, and setting ourselves new goals, we’re ensuring we maintain a culture where safety is embedded deep within our daily operations and those of our supply chain. This is vital because more than 90 per cent of the work delivered on our roads is carried out by our contractors so we need them on board. Then there are our own traffic officers (in high-vis jackets) clearing incidents in support of the emergency services and as a further example, civil engineers and project managers out on site.

Yes, the risk on-road and on-site is obvious – but that doesn’t mean the health, safety and wellbeing of those working in our depots, offices, and regional control centres should warrant less consideration.

While we deliver thighways england2he government’s Roads Investment Strategy, with £15 billion of projects across the country until 2021, we have to ensure we’re on top of health and safety at all times and constantly improving it as we work to deliver on time. As a newly-formed government-owned company there is even greater emphasis on improving the experience of everybody who uses our roads. But we’re adamant this should absolutely never come at the expense of safety.

The goal

We recently published our overall health and safety approach which now provides clarity over the interaction between road users, road workers and our staff.

It’s our starting point that no one should be harmed when travelling or working on our road network and we’re committed to reducing the number of people killed or seriously injured by 40% by the end of 2020.

But there’s a wider array of goals that feed into this including improving the safety, health and wellbeing of our workforce. We’re looking at innovative and safer ways of working across the country, driving improvements in health and safety management so we’re even more proactive and less reactive.

The action

To do this we’ve given each executive director the ownership of different goals at the highest level so they can drive improvements through their teams and report back regularly to our executive and board safety committees. Then there are the road and construction workers on the ground and we’re ensuring they take personal responsibility for their safety and the safety of others as well as encouraging managers and workers alike to have open dialogue about any further risks they identify.

My point is that safety is an integral part of everything we do, from recruitment to procurement and from performance management to stress management. For example, we certainly want to make our occupational health services at Highways England more widely available to support our own people so they remain fit and healthy at work – for themselves and for our customers. We’re doing more to identify the best ways to measure office based employees’ health and safety and developing new wellbeing programmes.

As an example, in relation to our supply chain and apart from the normal controls, our executives, non-executives and senior team are visiting sites and offices every month across the country to ask questions and engage with the workforce to understand what’s being done to improve safety, health and wellbeing.

To improve road user safety, we’re focusing on improvements in three areas: safer roads, safer people and safer vehicles.

For safer roads and safer people we’ll be delivering the record levels of investment to modernise and maintain the network including a range of safety measures: including removing bottlenecks and widening junctions, upgrading barriers and verges, improving signage and delivering a new standard of A road, referred to as expressways. We’ll also be improving our roads so that 90 per cent of travel will be on those with a safety rating of EuroRAP 3* or equivalent by 2020. We’ll even be working closely with vulnerable road user groups, such as cyclists and motorcyclists, to ensure their needs are met in the design of schemes.

We’re also committed to new research and with regard to safer vehicles for example, we’ll be looking more closely at how roadworthy vehicles are on the roads to see how some are falling short and what we can do to affect standards.

To make workers safer, we’ll be working closely with our supply chain to improve standards and develop new ways of working. We recognise that consultants and contractors at every tier of our supply chain have a role to play in ensuring that safety is the primary consideration. We want to work with suppliers who share our ambition.

As an example, we’ve already managed to virtually eliminate the need for road workers to cross live carriageways following trials.  Working with our suppliers, the findings removed the need for signs in the central reserve for many roadworks saving an estimated 3.7 million live lane crossings – whilst still ensuring the safety of the road user.

Mike Wilson2Mike Wilson has been the Chief Highways Engineer at Highways England since September 2013. His responsibilities include technical support to enable the organisation to deliver the Roads Investment Strategy, a six-year programme.  

Previously Mike led the development of Smart Motorways for the then Highways Agency and was Regional Director responsible for the maintenance, improvement and long-term development of motorways and major A roads in the South West, East Midlands and East of England. Mike led for the Highways Agency on all aspects of operational policy including for maintenance, incident and emergency management. His early career was spent on maintenance and improvement of the network.

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