Health & Safety Leadership
Client leadership at Thames Water
In 2013 Thames Water implemented a new vision, policy and model aimed at producing a seismic shift in senior management tone, employee engagement and supply chain intervention regarding Safety, Health and Wellbeing. The benefits witnessed have been stark and have led to a sustained reduction in injury, illness and incidents over many years. Gareth Mullen, Head of Safety, Health, Wellbeing & Security (Systems & Compliance) at Thames Water, takes up the story…
As a business, health, safety and wellbeing underpins everything we do. Without this we can’t deliver for customers. We have to be safe and well from a legal perspective, but we strive to go beyond what’s legal and it’s important that we ensure that we care for our employees and people as well.
Thames Water, is the largest water and wastewater business in the UK, with 15 million customers dependent upon our services, spread across Thames Valley and London, and yet over two thirds of our work activity is undertaken by our supply chain partners. Some are very large companies in their own right, with their own mature safety cultures and systems, while many are small to medium enterprises where safety systems are be haps still evolving.
Leadership without imposing
What is important is how we set the tone for health, safety and wellbeing across the whole of our supply chain without ‘imposing’ our views. With this in mind, we have created a Health & Safety Leadership Team (HSLT) within Thames Water. With a membership of 25, the HSLT is formed from people within operational leadership positions from a range of our major partner organisations alongside our own employees, who can directly influence the approach and behaviours of their management teams.
The chair is always a member of one of our supply chain partners and the remit of the HSLT is to challenge Thames Water’s performance, to develop initiatives, strategies and standards that will shape improvements in safety, health and wellbeing for all organisations within the Thames Water family. In this way, when the HSLT makes a decision it very quickly cascades throughout the business and its supply chain very quickly.
The HSLT own the set of 30 Essential Standards, these documents are contractual obligations that affect all organisations that work for and on our behalf. A key element of the groups work is to own and develop the essential standards to which we will all work within the Thames Water sphere of operations. There are now 30 of these standards that set out, not the legal or minimum requirements, but where we push the envelope and go beyond what is required to ensure that we send everyone home safe and well every day. They cover topics such as occupational health, the use of drones within our business, safe use of mobile plant and equipment, as well as avoiding services when excavating and how we work at height safely.
The huge advantage of having the membership of the HSLT as senior leaders in their own businesses, is that decisions can be made swiftly and often without referral back to their own management teams. Most of what we agree is non-statutory and thus not constrained by law and whilst we want to ensure the most appropriate solutions, cost is never the key consideration in the output.
For example, when selecting a solution for protecting employees, cyclists and pedestrians it would have been very easy to ‘gold plate’ and have every conceivable ‘gadget’ – however the team were able to quickly agree the right level of protection that we would install across the fleet of vehicles that we collectively use, not because it was a legal requirement because it’s the right thing to do for everyone we might come into contact with.
The HSLT is key in setting the priorities for the business and each year are one of five groups of individuals that input into the 21 objectives that we set annually for our corporate health safety and wellbeing strategy.
Our vision is to send everyone home safe and well every day, it is a daily vision that is achievable and thus believable. We tell our managers put your people to work safely and should they suffer zero harm and have zero incidents and have not compromised on their safety then you will send them home safe and well that evening and thus you’ve achieved our vision.
We focus on seven distinct Aims each year and we set three objectives for each aim. Each objective is there to deliver initiatives, tools or procedures to further remove or reduce health and safety risk across our organisation for our people, contractors and customers.
Past objectives have included making personal medical assessments available for everyone regardless of their position in their organisations, developed tools by which to measure the maturity of safety and wellbeing, changes to tools, systems and working practices not to mention ensuring that safety and wellbeing are the talked about subjects in the business through a plethora of communications campaigns through the years.
It’s now been five years since our vision change and our relentless drive in health, safety and wellbeing has led to a reduction in lost time injuries of 76% with lost time illness at 78% reduction. The HSLT has played a key and pivotal role in delivering that success and all of our organisations are able to share in the learning and successes equally.
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