Women In Health and Safety – Michelle Rice the Safety Coach
Titles can be important. The fact that Michelle Rice is not a Safety Manager or Officer, but is instead a Safety Coach (a title which came from a strategy dreamed up by her boss Simon Walker), informs everything she does. Mount Anvil, like many other forward thinking health and safety departments, are trying to empower and enable the business to own health and safety – and this is their route.
I spent the day with Michelle at Mount Anvil’s site in Hammersmith learning how the site operated and was struck by how literally everyone we met, she greeted by name – and asked after them with genuine interest. There are 300 or so of them, and she knows them all.
I started by asking Michelle why she is called “The Safety Coach”.
“Safety is still separate whether we like it or not, but it should be integrated, part of every conversation, seamlessly. The reality is that people within every industry still see it as being an addition to their role. This is partially defined by the title – when you have a safety manager the title conveys that they are responsible. As a coach, I am responsible for getting the best out of people when it comes to safety, an element of education but encouraging them to really own it.”
What is Mount Anvil’s approach to health and safety?
“I joined Mount Anvil 2 and a half years ago from the recycling industry which is a really tough and high risk industry and it was a real culture shock. Construction is ahead of the recycling industry – they don’t have their version of CDM for example, which is really needed. My previous company was all about compliance and completing forms not about embedding a sustainable safety culture so I was quite shocked by the cooperation I got from the business. They genuinely believe in it, and place a business value on it.”
What has your biggest achievement in the last 2 and half years?
“Supporting developing the hazard reporting side of the business. Hazard spotting and awareness is the core of the success of safety which Mount Anvil hangs its hat on. Too much focus on near misses and incident – they are too late. We should be more proactive not reactive. Recognizing the precursor –the unsafe condition e.g. the brick perched on the top of the wall. The key to this was getting every operative to recognise them, remove them and log them.”
How have you motivated them to do that?
“I listen to them and value their opinion. They are important to me and I care about them as individuals – when they believe that you care they are far more likely to listen and do something rather than just doing it because you are asserting your authority.”
“I can’t do my job without the subcontractors, the guys on the ground are the experts, and my job is to combine my expertise with theirs to get the bet possible outcome for safety.”
I heard you have made some Health and safety video tool box talks and posted them on YouTube! Could you tell me about them?
“The most significant would be around dust campaign. A massive issue in the construction industry – a big killer, masses of ill health, doesn’t look dangerous. Not the same as someone on the 28th floor cleaning glass. Because it doesn’t look dangerous people don’t think they need to heed it – comes back to hazard awareness, and there hasn’t not been enough education around dust. The key when we talk about education is that the way you educate them is key – you can’t treat them like they are children – and death by PowerPoint totally dilutes the message. Educating them around dust was to find a language they understood – talk to then the way their mate would talk to them down the pub. Used statistics carefully, you have to use a relatable context. Use story telling etc.”
“The success of it can be judged by the fact you can see people are engaged and 6 weeks after giving the talk to subcontractor, I walked into a plot and there was a guy wearing a filter mask – the eact one I had been promoting – and he had written his name on the side of the mask.”
How do you coach?
“Coaching is very personal, lots of people do it in different ways. The way I do it is that safety is not the first thing I talk about, How are they? How is their wife, how are their kids. You have to naturally be very interested in people to do this job and I pay attention to the people, not just the conditions they are working in and around. The minute I see someone has an old injury I ask how they got that which can be quite disarming, when people talk about trauma they open up. It shows you are genuinely concerned. Good memory – try to remember stuff about them. Not always easy with a transient workforce – being amiable and approachable is important. I encourage people to speak to me about whatever is important to them and I value their opinion – if they raise a concern I always thank them – that is what it is to be approachable. I will always action what they raise, tell them and thank them again.”
“If I walk round a corner and I see trailing leads, never tell them off for having leads on the floor – try to remove the negativity which comes with safety, replace it with encouragement and positivity. The more you can remove the better off you are.”
You’re always on site, how do you manage that when we know there is lots of paperwork to complete for health and safety professionals?
“One of the most important aspects of being a safety professional is time management – you need to make time to get your paperwork done, but you should be able to do both things in the course of a day, a month, a week. The key to good safety is getting out on the ground. What saves lives or stops accidents is not paper (whilst that is important) it is culture and culture is created by being out there and talking to people.”
Talk to me about how mental health is handled at Mount Anvil.
“There is rightly a massive push in the industry as a whole on this issue and Mates in Mind is great for starting the conversation.”
“We have moved on from that in terms of helping to address some of the key causes of mental health issues. When we talk about suicide killing people more than working at height that is a scary statistic but we need to understand how that breaks down in terms of our workforce. It is very difficult to isolate a single factor which would lead someone to take their own life. Certainly as a very male dominated industry, you could argue that as more men commit suicide that could be a key factor, but construction has to look closely at itself and ask itself what are the ways we do things which could be contributing to poor mental health. We know that one of the key factors is money and there have been studies which show that a lot of operative in construction are only a pay check way from being homeless. There are a lot of factors which can contribute to this – for example, they get paid weekly rather than monthly also a real lack of education even at school level around budgeting, money, finance, and banking. We recognise that money is a stress so we provide an independent, confidential financial adviser “The Money Doctor” who comes to site and offers free sessions one to one with whoever wants it for contractors and subcontractors.”
“The industry tends to be one in which guys are working long hours, and living away from friends and family – not necessarily from overseas but from one end of the country to the other and we know that that creates stress and loneliness. We built separate areas on site which are warm and colourful and secluded where we provide computers with free Wi-Fi to allow anyone to use Skype and talk to their families.”
What do you think the future of the safety profession is?
“Individuals create a collective – without individuals looking at how we tackle issues, the clipboard mentality will prevail and we will struggle to get buy in from the people who need us the most. The safety profession relies on really good safety professionals. The future of safety professionals and the profession is moving away from hiding behind systems and procedures (we do need them) but focusing far more on people – recognising that people are not the problem they are the solution. There are a lot of very good knowledgeable subbies out there who know far more about safety than we give them credit for – we should be tapping into that and cultivating that. Ultimately it comes down to what we already know which is the three Cs – collaboration, cooperation and communication.”