Getting both sides

19 September 2016

In mid-August the construction union UCATT issued a statement saying that Laing O’Rourke’s new safety policy ‘safety differently’ could erode the foundations of health and safety culture. It further argued that the company’s new director of health and safety for construction, Andy Sneddon, wants to impose detrimental views from Professor Sidney Dekker “who advocates sweeping away a lot of the detail in health and safety provision, and just concentrating on saving lives”. This, it said, neglected the impact of more minor workplace injuries on workers’ lives.

A Laing O’Rourke spokesperson said it was the fi rst the company had heard of UCATT’s comments, that the group had not approached the business with any concerns prior to reading about them in media.

The company then gave an unusually detailed response to the accusations for journalists. Typically a response runs to “we reject this accusation and will make no further comment at this time”. So it’s refreshing to actually see a company come out and state its case when it comes under attack.

The spokesperson said that the Group’s health and safety director returned to the UK from Australia last year having been working with the operations and management teams there to change what was apparently the worst performing part of the business in terms of accident frequency rate into the best.

The actual change claimed by Laing O’Rourke is 3 per 100,000 hours worked down to 0.7. This was apparently achieved by applying European techniques for leadership engagement, technical controls, better equipment and better training to Australia. However, the statistics eventually plateaued and the company decided a change was needed.

“There is a focus at many organisations on lowconsequence events, like twisted ankles, in the belief that they prevented high-consequence events. In other words, the prevention of all harm means the prevention of serious harm. We do not believe that is true. There is no correlation between the number of times people twist their ankle and whether or not someone’s going to get killed by falling from height, for example.

“There’s also a new emphasis on seeing our people as the solution to health and safety challenges by involving them in deciding how hazardous work should be approached. Instead of being all paperwork and process, we want health and safety to be at the very core of what we do – and how we do it. Safety is an ethical responsibility not a bureaucratic activity."

It seems a number of companies are entering a new era of health and safety processes and controls. Readers may also be interested in the recent health and safety changes at Joseph Gallagher.