In 2012 Albis UK was awarded the prestigious Sword of Honour by the British Safety Council after their sucessful five star health and safety audit. But their journey to safety culture maturity wasn’t without early challenges:
“We had a strong safety management system based on best practice but what we missed was the human side. Without getting people involved you’ll only have limited success.”
Martin Jones is Health, Safety & Environment Manager at Albis UK where they compound and distribute thermoplastics. Back in 2009 their safety record began to plateau until they revitalised their ‘Be Safe’ programme by engaging their staff:
“You can see it in the stats; our incident rate drops like a stone from the day we changed our focus to a cultural and behavioural approach to safety.”
Inspire healthy competition
To stimulate interest and improve the quality of conversations about safety, Albis UK set up teams within their workforce and introduced friendly competition on different topics like ‘most meaningful safety discussion’.
“People used to feel uncomfortable saying ‘well done’ when they saw safe behaviour because it might sound patronising. But once they tried it they saw the benefits of sincerity and honesty, so they told others… Then they tried it too – interest grew and it became self-perpetuating.”
Martin’s goal here isn’t about targets, it’s about encouraging better quality conversations. And to help achieve that they share progress and results between teams so people learn from one another.
“Now everyone wants to get more out of safety observations because they understand that’s how you drill down into the root causes of what’s really going on.”
Cross-pollinate between departments
“I think better safety isn’t achieved by staying in your office, it’s about getting out there…”
In one memorable example of putting that belief into practice, Martin recounts when a senior manager visited the shop floor. A member of the manufacturing staff was to observe him carrying out a typical job safely:
“He did OK but forgot to hold the handrails as he made his way over. Because that’s second nature to our shop floor staff they spotted it straight away. The manager was struck by this and later said how every time he now uses a staircase he remembers the discussion and reaches for the handrail; its becoming second nature even outside the work place.
Martin’s example shows what success really looks like. It’s when acting safely becomes automatic wherever you are in life, and people feel confident enough to speak up to colleagues who listen, however senior.
Train and coach
One common misconception is to think training is enough to improve safety:
“We don’t just train, we coach people – staff ‘buddy up’ with more experienced colleagues and practice what they’ve learned in real-life situations.”
Martin believes that exposing people to what ‘doing the right thing’ looks like raises standards and makes expectations clearer:
“It’s about people getting familiar with what good safety conversations are about, drawing their attention to success and going beyond simple observations like wearing correct PPE.”
Use technology as an enabler
When you ask your workforce to record information about safety, they need feedback and results to justify their efforts:
“If people don’t understand the benefits [of tracking databases] they’ll quickly lose interest.”
That risks them treating safety observations like any other target. So to avoid that you must involve them in the process of building a safety tracking system that works for them, like designing reports:
“You’ve got to give people what they want rather than what you think they ought to have.”
Tracking software like JOMC’s Engage should be used as an enabler, quietly supporting safety processes centred on people by making data entry and investigation simpler and quicker.
Underpinning Albis UK’s achievement is complete management and workforce commitment. Martin has advice on how to get that:
“It’s down to priorities. Here we’re fortunate because our senior directors believe safety is as much of a priority as production rates, quality and customer satisfaction. You must have safety as a core business value that won’t be compromised, and a genuine belief that you can excel in all these areas.”