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Case study: Skanska

The industry's worsening safety track record prompted one major contractor to carry out a root and branch examination of its safety management systems. Almost a year on, Skanska has rolled out its new safety battleplan which it says has already had positive effects.

'We started in March last year when, after a number of regional reviews with the managing director Alan Tweddle, we decided we could do much better, ' says Skanska UK civil engineering head of safety Eric Whitington.

'In three quarters of cases, accidents were triggered by some unsafe action by an individual. That presented us with a clear target for improvement.'

Although each accident will have different characteristics and causes, the firm identified attitudes towards safety as a key underlying factor.

'We wanted to get away from the macho culture which exists in the construction industry and which contributes to a climate where accidents occur, ' says Whitington.

Fundamental to the development of a new approach was finding some way of measuring the behaviour of the workforce and their attitude to safety. A model developed by the Health & Safety Executive and UMIST in the early 1990s was used as a basis for a system refined to suit the company's needs.

'It involves appointing frontline observers such as foremen who are sent onto site with a pre-set checklist. After inspecting the site, they then arrive at a percentage mark measuring the safety performance of the site, ' says Whitington.

An essential aspect of the approach is involvement of the workforce. Those in charge of safety inspections on sites are from the coal-face themselves, an approach which the firm says adds to the impact of their findings.

'After an examination of a site's performance, there's eyeball contact with the workforce who are given all the feedback on safety performance on their site. We then get the workforce to sit down and set their own safety targets on the site, ' says Whitington. 'It's about consultation and involving the workforce, and things do improve.'

Defining an individual's responsibilities is another key feature of the strategy. 'We have streamlined safety management. We give people at all levels a user-friendly step-by-step guide on their roles and responsibilities, guidelines on best practice in the industry, and a single source of information on company and statutory requirements, ' says Whitington.

But as well as individual responsibility, the approach has to be applied throughout the company. 'Site management and line management are made aware that safety is a key responsibility for them, and is not just the job of a safety manager, ' says Whitington.

'Over the last year, before the system was even finished, we have had a noticeable decline in the number of accidents, giving us optimism that with the system now in place this trend will continue.'

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