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March 19, 2024

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SHP’s Highly Commended Trailblazer in Health & Safety: Dr Shelley Stiles on her ‘Choose the Safe Path’ training innovation

The partner director at Gateway HSW Consultants developed a bespoke and interactive training solution for a client that resulted in more than a 50% reduction in the number of falling object incidents over 12 months.

It was back in August 2021 when Mike Webb, Health, Safety & Environment Director at UK construction group Galliford Try got in touch with Dr Shelley Stiles to ask her business Gateway HSW Consultants for help. 

Dr. Shelley Stiles

Webb had been looking over accident data and root-cause analysis outputs across the UK-wide business and had identified falling objects as a potential risk factor for front-line workers.  


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As a result, the business wanted to prioritise the prevention of falling objects and approached Stiles to collaborate on an innovative solutions-based training programme that offered an enhanced learning experience while also improving compliance.   

Stiles had a longstanding relationship with Galliford Try that stretched back more than 10 years. The construction firm was one of her earliest clients when had set up her first consultancy business in September 2009 after eight years in the industry. Over the years, she’d collaborated with Galliford Try on a number of innovative training projects, one of which involved using virtual reality. 

This collaborative relationship continued after 2019 when Stiles became joint director of Gateway HSW Consultants with business partner Clare Richardson and Webb approached them, initially with the idea of producing a safety video.  

Drawing on more than two decades of experience in health and safety management, Stiles advised the client that any training solution would need to change employee perceptions around risk; give its employees a greater understanding of their role in deploying the necessary controls; and ultimately deliver an effective safety culture.  

“From my early career I could see lots of good ideas and interventions around health and safety and I was fascinated why some worked and some didn’t,” she explains. 

Having worked across a diverse range of building, civil engineering and rail projects, Stiles became increasingly interested in leadership and its role in shaping an organisation’s culture.  

Industry and academic insights 

As a co-owner of a consultancy, she makes sure that she regularly visits construction sites to “keep in touch with the real world”, as she puts it. 

At the same time, theory, research and academic practice are also really important to her professionally.  

Having started out in a very male dominated industry in her early 20s, she soon became aware that her “CV needed to shine and stand out” and added some impressive academic credentials to her career portfolio, achieving a Masters in health and safety and a PhD in human factors before she was 40.  

It is this integration of “on-site” experience supported by academic and theoretical knowledge that has shaped her solutions-focused approach to industry challenges and sits behind the “Choose the Safe Path™” training. 

“It’s about understanding the current problems in the industry, understanding theory and then combining that together with some practical experience, saying ‘Could we try this intervention to see whether it will make a difference?’ It’s not just, ‘I’ve had an idea, let’s go with it’,” she says. 

“With my academic background I look to test and evaluate whether it’s really making a difference. That’s why my interventions generally do a good data capture. We can spend a lot of money in industry on things that sound a good idea, but do they actually make a difference?” 

As noted earlier, Gateway HSW Consultants and Galliford Try had previously collaborated on a VR project, which had given Stiles a good insight into how staff retained information using innovative technology.  

Drawing on the lessons learned from this experience, together with her industry/academic insights, Stiles came up with the solutions-based training that won her the SHP accolade alongside a Princess Royal training award. 

Decision-making learning experience 

NHS - Accident Emergency Department“The training solution takes the concept of a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book and converts it into a film. It is a choice-based scenario based around health and safety decision making,” she explains. 

“The idea was that we could go back in time on a construction project and start with some elements that weren’t perhaps planned and go right through the design implications, through the planning, the mobilising of work, doing the task and then through to the frontline teams doing the work.” 

In other words, the training allows the learner to see a single scenario and examine the multiple decision points that precede an incident. They then choose their own path where the correct choices will turn an incident into a non-incident. 

As Stiles explains, the plan was for the training to connect with as many people as possible across the Galliford Try business, so everyone could see and reflect on the role they could play if they were ever in a similar scenario.  

“It was meant to be realistic to real life while it was a story and to pick up on many of those everyday challenges,” she explains.  

“A lot of it was written from my own experience of the company and the industry, but we did do some consultation with a people around specific scenarios and got their input into the story.” 

Once the concept was finalised, a film was designed and shot on site. The story, which was tweaked at various stages, was then built into the software and subsequently the training package that followed. 

“I’ve done lots of safety films in my career, but the difference with this one is the decision-making tree,” she continues.  

“The story starts at the top. You make a decision and then go down different pathways and you can end up with multiple outcomes at the end. It’s quite complex to make sure that the essence of all the key learning points is built in, so that it makes sense to the viewer and lots of different people with different roles. However, it’s never been done before in that context, so we’ve had it trademarked.” 

When it came to rolling out the training, Stiles explains that it was important for Galliford Try to deliver it themselves.  

“It comes across much better if it is owned by the business and they deliver the intervention as part of their health and safety arrangements,” she explains.  

“We put all of the resources into a webpage – a platform – there is a tutor video, some photographs, guidance notes and a lesson plan. It’s a one-stop shop. Their health and safety advisors log into the portal and have all the resources they would need.” 

Training launch 

Launched in January 2022, the first stage of the training ran until Christmas that year and involved 118 sessions. All of these sessions were logged, together with the number of attendees and details on their respective roles. Attendees also provided feedback on the training as did the course facilitators.  

The training was really well received from the get-go, says Stiles, in large part because it was so user friendly from a facilitator’s perspective, but also because the structure of the training prompted an engaging discussion from participants.  

Throughout this period, Gateway HSW Consultants supported Galliford Try remotely and also provided quarterly reports and performed checks on the data. 

“We also did a knowledge comprehension test to validate some of the messaging in the training and also to inform ongoing improvements and the next element of where they might go as a business on falling objects,” she says. 

Due to the positive staff engagement, it is perhaps not surprising that the training has also led to an improvement in how planned works, involving work at height and falling object risks, were subsequently designed and executed. 

Data analysis 

This is reflected in the data comparisons that Stiles did before and after to evaluate the training’s impact.  

“We looked at what their incident rate was 12 months before, then we applied this intervention and then we looked at the incident rate post-intervention,” she says.  

“It showed a massive reduction in the number of falling object incidents. It was a 57% reduction over 12 months.” 

The assessment data also reveals that participants had a clear understanding of the training objectives and the critical safety message behind it, a further reflection of how effective this interactive training solution has been to date. According to Gateway HSW Consultants, no one who has attended the training session has subsequently been involved in a falling object incident.  

Galliford Try continued to roll out the training last year, with 2023 data showing the same level of improvement maintained over the two-year period since the training was deployed. 

Although “Choose the Safe Path™” was very much tailored around the client’s procedures, the learning is transferable. 

For example, Gateway HSW Consultants is exploring working with another construction company, but applying the training to a different risk profile. They are also working with Galliford Try on the next version of “Choose the Safe Path™”.  

“This is around how we can apply the same learning style and the same type of intervention, but to a different activity or risk,” she says. 

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Corinne
Corinne
29 days ago

Incredible inspiring!!

Karl Simons
Karl Simons
29 days ago

Great work!