Blog - Shouting health & safety from the rooftops!

Photo of the London Aquatics Centre built for the 2012 OlympicsLast Friday I attended a talk organised through ACC and given by Lawrence Waterman, OBE, about what we need to be looking at in New Zealand to improve our health and safety in the workplace.

A highly-regarded international H&S specialist, Lawrence was Head of Health and Safety for the 2012 Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA)– those in charge of building all the sports arenas, swimming pools and accommodation for the 2012 games held in London, and has been working with SCIRT (Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team ) over the past couple of years in connection with the reconstruction of post-earthquake Christchurch.

While he touched on some of his observations here, Lawrence’s talk mainly focused on his experiences and lessons learned on the ODA project, and how, over the four year period that it took to complete the build, they successfully achieved their ‘zero death’ target and a huge boost in health and safety awareness. There were however some near misses, and it was essential, both to demonstrate greater honesty and efficient reporting that these were still reported.

Changing a challenging workplace culture

So how did the team achieve this in the challenging area of construction, with a huge workforce, multiple sites to work across, and often a low regard for the importance of H&S?

In a nutshell, they achieved their goal by changing the workplace culture.

Rather than one of compliance, their focus was very much upon sharing information, creating strong leadership models and listening to what the workers themselves said they wanted. They proactively worked to change the culture to a stronger, more health-focussed one; they put effective communications in place together with clear contract procurement processes, and ensured that there were risk management and assurance programmes in place to assess effectiveness.

In essence they gave Health and Safety a high profile – shouting its importance from the rooftops rather than whispering about it below ground level.

Lawrence emphasised that health in the workplace is an investment; that workers are more motivated to work when they are working in a healthy environment, have some input into healthy choices in the workplace and are also able to make healthy lifestyle choices. Research carried out during his time working on the London Olympics build indicated that the shift in culture to a healthier one directly saved time and money spent on the projects, and increased quality of the work.

Additionally, programmes like this one with its healthy culture focus also leave a legacy that people working within these projects carry on with the same culture elsewhere in their working lives.

Start as you mean to go on

Lawrence stressed the importance of Health & Safety specialists being involved right at the beginning of a project, so that the safety culture is engrained right from the start. Very often there’s a stronger emphasis on the ‘safety’ side of the Health &Safety equation than on the ‘health’ side, but in fact, he also stressed that the two must be entwined together to achieve success.

Currently, Lawrence is Director of Health and Safety for the prestigious Battersea Power Station development in London. Reporting to the CEO and COO he is responsible for developing Health & Safety standards and their implementation on the design and delivery of this programme which centres on redeveloping this extraordinary site on the banks of the Thames with Europe’s largest brick structure at its heart.

Contributing to the Christchurch Rebuild

He is also a senior Partner in the Park Health and Safety Partnership,(a leading Occupational Health, Safety and Environmental Consultancy based in the UK) and together with some of his colleagues, as mentioned earlier, is currently working with SCIRT .

SCIRT comprises number of entities including the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, Christchurch City Council, NZ Transport Agency and several of the major construction firms and Lawrence has been really impressed with how these various bodies, normally working in competition with each other, have joined forces to help raise health and safety standards in the construction industry as a whole, starting with the Christchurch rebuild.

Shout about health and safety from the rooftops

We are very lucky in Christchurch to have the opportunity for input from someone of his calibre with so much experience, particularly at a time of rebuild, when many of our operators in the construction industry (particularly the smaller firms) find H&S somewhat challenging, so can put it into the too hard basket.

To sum up the essence of his experiences, if we are to continue making in-roads and build positive cultural change in the workplace, whispering about health and safety does not work – it’s time to start shouting it from the rooftops. So if like me you care about making a positive difference, please spread the word – the more we talk about it, the more people will take notice…so come on, join me in making some constructive health and safety noise, and let’s affect some positive change!