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Health and Safety Executive to consider Crossrail 'negative spy culture' claims

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is to consider claims that parts of the Crossrail project were subjected to heavy handed safety management including spying on workers.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is to consider claims that parts of the Crossrail project were subjected to heavy handed safety management including spying on workers.

The watchdog has been made aware of a leaked report that revealed criticisms of the safety culture on two sites within the £14.8bn project.

Contractor BBMV commissioned safety consultant Mind- Safety last year to investigate workers’ views of safety at its Whitechapel and Finsbury Circus sites. This appeared to include at least one visit to the project.

Sections of the draft report, published in The Observer last weekend and confirmed to NCE as correct, were damning of the project promoter.

“The intention of the client [Crossrail] is to get the job done safely, on time and with a healthy financial position on completion,” says the report.

“The reality is that the methods used on-site are almost entirely counterproductive to this,” it adds.

“A common theme throughout the visit surrounded the idea that the client was ‘policing’ the contractor – trying to catch them out at every turn. Reports of spying and underhand tactics came flooding to us.”

The report adds that the consultant was told of people videoing safety incidents and emailing them to others.

“The negative spy culture is hard to understand and even harder to justify,” said the report. “To actively watch people who may be in danger, photograph or video it and then email it around with unmasked glee is not the way to keep the project safe.”

An HSE spokesperson said: “HSE continues to monitor the health and safety performance of the Crossrail project and will take action where appropriate. We are now aware of the claims made in the [Observer] article and will consider further.”

Meanwhile construction union Ucatt has demanded an urgent meeting with Crossrail staff to discuss the report. Ucatt general secretary Steve Murphy said: “Crossrail and its major contractors need to provide urgent answers about how this climate of fear has arisen.

“The client and the contractors need to sit down with Ucatt in order to ensure that morale and confidence is restored on the project to improve safety.”

Crossrail health and safety director Steve Hails insisted the project had a strong safety culture.

“We require all our contractors to put in place honest and open reporting of all incidents however minor,” he said. “Contractors are also evaluated on their workforce engagement. We’re determined to drive up standards for the whole industry. Crossrail has worked closely with the HSE since the earliest stages of the project with dedicated HSE inspectors allocated to undertake regular inspections of Crossrail contractor sites.

“By pioneering new ways of approaching health and safety we want to leave a legacy that will help to make the construction industry safer, long after Crossrail is complete.”

BBMV – comprising Balfour Beatty, BeMo Tunnelling, Morgan Sindall and Vinci Construction – is working on two Crossrail contracts. Contract C510, worth £250M, covers station tunnels at Whitechapel and Liverpool Street stations; contract C512 is for the £110M redevelopment of Whitechapel station.

The MindSafety report focuses solely on the two main sites for C510, at Whitechapel and Finsbury Circus where a ventilation shaft is being created for Liverpool Street station. NCE understands that the joint venture felt the draft report was based on too small a group of respondents.

A further report was written by the same consultant late last year. This shows a more positive view of working relations on the sites.

BBMV said: “The report commissioned by BBMV 12 months ago does not reflect a poor safety culture at that time. The draft report only contained contributions from a limited number of people and was not sufficient to give a true and accurate reflection of our Whitechapel and Finsbury Circus sites.

“Safety at all our sites is of paramount importance and it is essential that we have an accurate understanding of individual perceptions towards safety and where improvements can be made to ensure that we deliver our contribution to the Crossrail project to the highest standards of safety possible.”

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