The Safety Ripple Effect

Rachel Corbett and Shona Paterson, Associate Director from Shirley Parsons, met with Duncan Aspin, Head of HSEQS for VolkerStevin, to discuss his approach to safety management. They asked Duncan to tell us about the way he is driving a positive approach towards health and safety across his organisation.

The Safety Ripple Effect

He is currently in his third and final year of an MSc in Behaviour Change at Derby University and is utilising this knowledge, along with his extensive site experience, to develop an industry leading behaviour change programme in VolkerStevin.

Shirley Parsons aim to promote best practice and share success stories across the industry. Duncan’s initiative is demonstrative of how dedicated Health and Safety professionals make a positive impact every day; not only upon employees of the organisations in which they operate but upon every individual they influence. Duncan realised that behavioural safety programmes often fail to maximise the benefits that can be achieved by focusing on specific behaviours, in a positive environment and engaging in active participation. This is what he had to say to us:

A move towards a positive approach to health and safety

“As focusing on the positive side of human behaviour is gaining traction in psychology, so too there is a movement towards a positive approach to health and safety, encapsulated by Sidney Decker’s, “Safety Differently”. It seems almost incomprehensible that we would look to improve behaviours and culture by concentrating only on what people do wrong, and yet for decades, this is exactly what has happened. Even with the progression from a blame culture to a just and fair culture, it is still focused on what went wrong, usually by recognising the differences between unintentional and deliberate acts and assessing accountability for actions. Whilst there is merit in this approach, in terms of recognising that the reasons for things going wrong rarely rest in a single act, human error is still the focus. There has been a steady increase over the past decade or so of construction companies introducing behavioural safety programmes, with some anecdotal evidence of success. However many of these programmes start with the premise that we need to fix the person, leading to some now starting to say that behavioural safety has had its time. Perhaps it is not that behavioural safety has nothing left to offer, but that it is time for such programmes to take a different direction.”

Embracing change rather than restraining it is key to success

“In taking a different direction, it is worth recognising that during construction activities, change is not only inevitable, but often desirable in-order-to benefit from the most effective means of carrying out a task. Projects are completed successfully because businesses employ people who are able to use their skills and judgement to deal with variability. Yet, when something does not go as planned, it is that very behaviour that we try to eliminate. Behavioural variability needs to be embraced rather than constrained, creating an innovative team environment where the desired behaviours are continually reinforced, accidents are reduced, and the business becomes more profitable.”

“Not only do we need to embrace people as the strength in any organisation, but we need to create a learning environment that treats both failure and success as an opportunity to improve, and puts those that do the work at the centre of making the decisions. Enabling those that do the work to have greater control increases motivation and commitment. There is clear evidence supporting the statement that “you own what you help to create”, and that the best ideas and decisions rest with those closest to carrying out the task. It is a lesson that was learned in Toyota many years ago, and led to the development of lean techniques.”

People are the solution, not the problem

Duncan continued, “The VolkerStevin behavioural change programme is designed around these principles, developing a positive environment and putting more of the decision making with the skilled construction workers actually carrying out the work. It is a programme that recognises that people are at the centre of successful solutions, and building on these strengths can help develop both individual and organisational resilience. Not only do I believe that this will lead to a safer, more efficient and more profitable business to be part of, I believe that it is businesses with a built-in resilience that will have a sustainable future by having a workforce that is energised, passionate, and working together.”

“Some may question a focus on positivity as being unrealistic in a construction environment, however, a balanced approach must surely be the answer. In taking a new path, it is important to recognise that we must continue to ensure we have a robust foundation on which to build. Therefore, in VolkerStevin we are also focused on ensuring consistently high standards. With systems and procedures that are fit for purpose, with an assurance approach that strengthens compliance, whilst developing a culture of learning and innovation that encourages people to go beyond compliance.”

A positive and engaging programme

“We called our behaviour change programme the “Safety Ripple effect”, in recognition of the positive influence everyone in the business can have on others by their own actions and behaviours. The foundations of the programme were developed in 2015 by our C2V+ Joint Venture Head of Health and Safety, Bill Cain, and it is from these strong foundations that we have continued to develop a positive and engaging programme. Since the start of the programme, there have been some 450 employees attending introductory 1-day sessions, followed by 170 supervisors and managers going through more extensive training in the tools to make the programme an active part of daily site activities. This is all supported by 47 trained safety champions acting as advocates of the Safety Ripple on site. Our safety champions have developed their own community through WhatsApp, and offer each other advice and share best practice. Through this forum, they have taken ownership of the programme and developed it even further.”

Don’t relax, success now is no guarantee of success tomorrow.

Duncan concluded by saying, “The danger with any programme, even when successful, is that we fail to monitor progress or listen to feedback, and miss the opportunity for continual improvement. We have our plans in place for 2018 to continue to engage at every level of the organisation, listening to feedback and developing people’s skills to take the Safety Ripple programme from strength to strength.”

Duncan’s message to businesses and the safety profession is that we must continue to develop, tell the positive story about safety, and build behaviour change based on sound psychological theory.  In October 2018, Duncan will be delivering a talk at The SHE Show North-West, detailing his experience with behavioural safety and cultural change. As the programme continues to mature, Duncan is able to contribute crucial research to the industry and inspire positive change.

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