Author Bio ▼

Freelance writer, editor and speaker and former head of Regulatory Magazines at Lexis Nexis.
June 19, 2024

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources

training and development

Reducing accidents through immersive training  

Louis Wustemann profiles SSE’s immersive training programme which has helped reduce workplace accidents and injury. 

How can you produce a step-change in safety performance when accident figures are already low? And how can you ensure that complacency doesn’t creep in to let incidents spoil a creditable record?

Those are the challenges that face any organisation trying to maintain and build a strong safety culture.

SSE believes it may be taking a step closer to answering that question through its investment of over £2.5 million in an immersive training programme. This programme gives employees and contract partners a visceral impression of what is at stake in a serious incident; to arm them with the techniques to help reduce workplace risk.  

The FTSE 100 company, which builds and operates wind farms and operates power stations in Scotland and England is in an expansion phase, adding around 1,000 new employees a year to its 13,000-strong workforce.  

“If it’s not safe, we won’t do it”

The Safety Family programme, launched in 2017, helped reduce the recordable injury rate by a third and the number of serious injuries by three-quarters in its first four years.

The programme is based on a set of Safety Family principles, which were formulated from discussions with employees about how they saw the organisation: We take care of ourselves, each other, and our environment. We take pride in our work and environment. We plan, scan, and adapt. We see, sort it, report it. All these tenets flow from a core dictum, which SSE calls its Licence “If it’s not safe we don’t do it”.  

Though safety performance for SSE remains strong, SSE’s Safety, Health and Environment Director Mark Patterson says there is always room for improvement and the Safety, Health and Environment function was keen to maintain the performance built up over previous years by reinforcing the existing approach while finding new ways to engage employees. 

The Safety Family principles had helped reinforce the sense of community in the company and mutual responsibility to see everyone remains safe, while doing important work such as maintaining electricity supplies to homes and hospitals.

“We were looking at how we could keep re-energising and reinforcing our language because we know it’s not broken,” says Liz Tessem-Cotton, Head of Safety, Health and Environment Communications and Engagement. “But we realised that we need to keep people engaged on an ongoing basis, so we were looking to underpin the culture we have.”  

“We were thinking, well, what’s going to really shift the dial without changing any of that?” adds Patterson. He says he has always been struck by the way exposure to a serious incident profoundly changes any individual’s view of the importance of safety. “People who have been through that are different,” he says.  

Replicating safety failures and its impact

In 2022 they heard about a new training programme that had been developed for the project to build the 25km Thames Tideway sewer relief tunnel in London. Active Training Team, which uses professional actors and trainers to produce powerful safety messages, had worked with the Tideway safety team to create a safety induction, appropriately named Epic, involving multiple stage sets and interactive training in small groups.

Patterson went through the training many times to gauge the impact that it had over a wide range of attendees – he saw how strongly it replicated the emotions of being close to a genuine safety failure and the impact that has.   

SSE worked with ATT to repurpose the concept for its own staff, dedicating £2.5 million and space in its existing training centre building on the edge of Perth in eastern Scotland, where SSE is headquartered.

The day-long session at the new Faskally Safety Leadership Centre uses a scenario involving two dock operatives loading wind turbine parts on to a barge. Trainees witness a serious incident at close quarters and then watch as the consequences unfold for the victim’s family and colleagues and for the businesses involved. The scenario explores fatigue, the need for an inclusive workplace, mental health and the challenges of getting work done in a fast-paced environment.   

All levels of the organisation work together 

In the second half of the day, the actors and trainers help attendees unpick how the incident might have been avoided. In the process, the trainees learn and practise techniques for challenging others they see behaving unsafely.  

The course accommodates groups of 39 at a time and will operate four days a week. Tessem-Cotton says SSE will make the facilities, which employ 60 actors and trainers, available to other companies on the days when it is not training its own staff and contractors.

Using spare capacity at an ATT training centre at Immingham in Lincolnshire coast and the original Tideway centre in London for its employees in the Midlands and the south of England, SSE expects to be able to put 12,000 employees and contractors through the immersive training each year.  

Patterson says it is important that that the groups mix all levels within the organisation from senior managers to apprentices, both so that they learn more about each other’s perspectives during the day-long sessions and because it reinforces the point that everyone works in the same team and everyone is responsible for making sure they and their colleagues get home safe.  

“At points, when confronted by the impact of an incident people can feel uncomfortable in the training, because it feels so real,” he says. “I’m quite happy to lean into that – we have a supportive and safe environment that replicates a real-life situation. Tapping into our emotions can change how people act in the future and we should all feel uncomfortable when confronted with the reality of what happens when things go badly wrong.”   

“We’ve been talking about this from the very get go; that we want people to have a deeper level of emotional connection when something goes wrong,” Tessem-Cotton adds.  

Feedback from participants in the training shows this approach is effective; the emotional impact, along with the simple techniques that trainees learn and practice should help get everyone home safe.   

Though the Faskally centre has been open since mid-April, SSE’s use of the Immingham and London centres has allowed over 3000 employees and Contract Partners through the immersive training.

“Powerful and positive”

Patterson and Tessem-Cotton say word-of mouth about the experience has created a keen interest in the workforce. As well as emboldening more reticent individuals to speak up when they see activity that puts anyone at risk, the scenarios have also made some who are at the other end of the spectrum reflect on their own behaviour. “This training really helps people practice some small changes that can improve their interactions with others, to really listen to people, to get a point across in a powerful and positive way,” says Patterson.  

He says they believe it will help foster a culture in which “every single day where people just get a wee bit better at challenging each other. And also probably a wee bit more generous with other people who challenge them.”  

Over the three years that it is scheduled to run, the SSE SHE team hope that the new addition to their safety family will keep employees and contract partners energised about ensuring everyone gets home safe each day.

“I think it will be something that will make a lasting change for people,” says Patterson, “I’ve no doubt that people will be talking about the sort of training that they’ve had for a considerable period of time. And they’ll be able to articulate what they’re doing differently.” Tessem-Cotton said that SSE are proud to have created the first Immersive centre of its kind in Scotland: “It’s a legacy that will help SSE employees, and those who work with us get home safe.”  

The Safety Conversation Podcast: Listen now!

The Safety Conversation with SHP (previously the Safety and Health Podcast) aims to bring you the latest news, insights and legislation updates in the form of interviews, discussions and panel debates from leading figures within the profession.

Find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts, subscribe and join the conversation today!

Related Topics

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments