We held an engagement party

Listening to frontline workers and engaging their knowledge and skills in creating safer workplaces was the theme of our first One Percent Safer community session held at the end of August. The aim of the online session was to gather safety and health practitioners who had expressed an interest in bringing the One Percent Safer principle of marginal gains alive in their workplaces together for an hour to exchange ideas. Twenty-five people from nine countries joined in an exciting discussion about the potential to generate a positive safety culture by tapping into the workforce’s intelligence and experience.

Amjad Awwad, Operational Integrity (HSE) Business Partner at certification agency SGS in Houston, Texas, started the session by updating us on the progress of his “walking the talk” initiative to encourage managers to get out among the workforce and start two-way conversations on safety and health issues. Amjad said the idea had been taken up by SGS’s human resources department and turned into a mixed health and engagement programme to encourage walking for fitness, mental health and better communication for staff stretched by heavy workloads during the pandemic. “It’s been nothing but positive,” said Amjad, “and hopefully this will be the turning point in our cultural change in the US.” He said that the employee engagement was helping embed a safety programme that had spread from five to 40 sites in the company in four months and that in the area of driving alone the introduction of peer observation had begun to push down incident numbers to the point it was reducing SGS’s insurance premium.

Road risk was also the focus of Fethi Mecheri’s one-percent-safer idea, first outlined in the community panel at our April conference, which concerned persuading employees to knock a few kilometres per hour off their driving speed to reduce the likelihood and severity of road accidents in the Kuwait operations of oil field services company Baker Hughes, where he is Senior HSE Manager. Fethi said talking to drivers, understanding the pressures they are under, not simply imposing rules, was improving driving performance. Asking open, positive questions was critical he said, for example: “’You have been driving this route for six years without an incident. What can we learn from you?’ Rather than waiting for the first incident, the first near-miss then jumping on them.” Feedback from the drivers was “amazing” he said.

Dr Andrew Sharman, who masterminded the book that launched One Percent Safer (see here for more details) gave a quick update on the organisation’s work since the April conference, moving from a non-profit company to a charitable foundation and fielding applications for funds using the profits from the book and the conference, including sponsoring memberships of the IIRSM professional body  for practitioners in Nigeria, Egypt, India, Pakistan and Ghana.

We opened up the session to community members to share ideas and views and Ken Woodward OBE, a motivational speaker and consultant on OSH issues who lost his sight in an industrial accident in 1990, carried on the theme of engagement set by Amjad and Methi. Ken said he encouraged senior leadership teams to spend less time online and in meetings and more time “hands on” with their workforces. “All the answers are on every site around the world,” said Ken. “It’s how we manage it and how much time we give to it. That’s what will breed success.”

Richard Elliott, Unit Safety Manager at engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald in the UK, said his company’s incidents reporting system had an extra layer on top of incidents and near-misses, to note positive interventions. “Just in the past 12 months or so we have been really pushing positive intervention reporting culture,” Richard explained. “We are trying to give as much feedback as we can and turn the interventions into safety moments, to share some of the good stuff that we are doing as well as things that go wrong.” He said the 1600 staff in the transport unit he works in reported 600 positive interventions last year, but that in 2021 that number had jumped to 900 with a third of the year still to go. Many of the interventions were design solutions that removed risk, working at the top of the hierarchy of controls. “It’s starting to make people shift their mindset about what they do on a daily basis, when they get a positive response,” he said.

Richard Davison, Consultant at Thrive Health and Safety, said that culture change was a goal for most companies but that it depended on the employee engagement Ken, Amjad, Fethi and Richard Elliott had emphasised. “We can’t just decide we want culture change and enforce it … to my mind how we get people engaged positively is the real key.” He said examples like Richard Elliott’s showed the way.

“I was also excited by Richard Ellliott,” said Andrew Hornby, Global Programme Health and Safety Assurance Specialist at design and engineering consultancy Arcadis. “We started off with project managers and safety advisers who go on site recording the things you record on a site inspection but classifying them as positive interventions, it gets recorded, whether it’s a trailing cable or a badly completed scaffold. We are now encouraging the workers on site to record them themselves and they are being praised for picking up hazards.” Andrew said the interventions were entered on to a database used to produce a dashboard for each site, helping identify areas where improvement would be beneficial.

Charles Fidler, People Safety Culture Manager at UK supermarket operator Tesco said his home-grown programme to encourage personal responsibility for hazard spotting and management – using the acronym STAR (see, think, act and report) – was designed to “create leaders within stores” and to build safety communities. “It’s something positive to push back to our colleagues and say it’s not something you have to do from a compliance point of view, we want you to lead this culture change we are trying to implement.”

Philippe Delquié, Associate Professor at The George Washington University School of Business and, like Ken Woodward, a contributor to the One Percent Safer book – if you haven’t bought a copy, it’s the best safety book on the market – had joined the group and kindly rounded off the session with his thoughts. Two things struck him from the discussion he said. One was the difficulty of accounting for safety when success was represented by the absence of a negative result. “The examples we have been given are really good, how we get people to see the dividend, the positive effect of safety. This is something we have to work on. But just bringing about awareness of this is important.

Philippe’s other takeaway was that “Just changing behaviour is probably the hardest thing in all of this and even incremental change can go a long way … what you have brought up in a lot of what you said is that knowledge is a good thing but it’s not enough. What has really been brought into focus here is how do we act on behaviour?”

The group agreed that the discussion had created a real buzz and that we should hold another one later in the year. We have pencilled in 25 November, so if you are interested by what you have read why not come along? Simply add your name to our free mailing list here. And while you are doing that why not tell us your idea for making a change in your workplace and contributing to making the world one percent safer? We would love to hear from you.