Surviving economic storms of recent years meant tough cutbacks for many of us. And when internal budgets were squeezed, health and safety felt the effects too.

Biffa's logo

“Culturally, we’d made huge strides, but during that period of restructuring things appeared to go backwards. We soon realised that we needed new momentum.”

Matt Humphreys took the lead as head of safety, health & quality at Biffa following that period of change. He now oversees their waste processing and recycling operations at 250 sites with a 6500 strong workforce.

“Picking up the reins was quite daunting. But since our latest campaign re-launch we’ve had a successful 43% decrease in lost time injuries leaving me in no doubt that the behavioural safety route is the right way to go.”

Focus your leaders

Biffa originally began with a three year strategy including a top-down approach to make sure leaders share a consistent message about safety:

Biffa's poster that reads 'I want us to go home in one piece' above an illustrated worker's head

Biffa's iforsafety campaign poster

“Safety meetings in the past felt like ‘us and them’ between managers and workers, so we made it clear they were about safety improvement… that we’re ‘in this together’. This fundamental change has had a huge impact on our culture.”

These days safety is even higher up the agenda:

“Every Monday, the first thing our operational directors discuss is the previous week’s incidents, before other targets like production or finance.”

By encouraging leaders to seek out safety information at the start of the week, it actively engages them in putting safety at the front of their minds and the minds of the staff they manage.

Relaunch regularly

After the early wins of Biffa’s original strategy, Matt acknowledges that their safety programme reached a lull and needed re-energising.

“Safety’s a constant marketing campaign. You’ve got to come up with new ways to capture people’s attention and avoid becoming stale.”

With help from JOMC, Biffa are now on their second relaunch of their successful iforSafety programme.

“We needed behavioural workshops that fit in with our business model and the way we operate, rather than something off the shelf.”

Their latest campaign uses video and Intranet, workshops for all managers and staff, health & safety focus weeks as well as familiar techniques like stickers and newsletters to reinforce the underlying principle:

“… that staff take personal responsibility for how their behaviour affects other people. So everyone goes home safely at the end of the day.”

Engage people

Matt believes that if you get leaders involved early and engage your workforce you’ll be successful. One way they demonstrate that is by running regular ‘back to the floor’ days to help leaders understand day-to-day issues for staff:

Illustration of a worker surrounded by a circle of five critical safety behaviours

Biffa's five critical behaviours

“It shatters the perception that managers sit in ivory towers because they take time to go out and be on the shop floor… our workforce really appreciate that.”

It’s about seizing every opportunity to capture the imagination of your workforce too. Matt recalls how one member of staff climbed up a lorry to unload it, fell and suffered a serious head injury.

“After he recovered, he helped us make a video about the steps that led to his injury. I think it was cathartic for him as well as helpful for his colleagues because it revealed why unsafe behaviour happens and how it affects your personal life as well as work.”

Matt argues that Biffa has a ‘fair blame’ culture rather than a ‘no blame’ culture. If you break the rules, you’ll be dealt with appropriately yet constructively, when traditional management practices would’ve ended with a disciplinary or dismissal.
This honest and open approach to safety works in other ways too:

“We’ve created a much better open door culture at Biffa; where people aren’t afraid to speak up about safety.”

You can find more evidence of that belief in a recent episode of Channel 4’s ‘Undercover Boss’ on YouTube where Biffa’s chief executive uncovers safety issues.

This article was written by Chris Kenworthy