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Workplace Wellbeing is the new Health & Safety

Mark Hansford

 It has become quite fashionable for our industry leaders to talk about the need to transform its approach to health, safety and wellbeing.

And it seems there is cause for concern. New research from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has found that almost half of Britain’s industry leaders feel that not enough is being done to tackle the causes of work-related ill-health.

The research also found more than two-fifths of businesses are reporting a rise in cases of long-term ill-health with most stating that tackling this growing problem is a priority within their organisation.

This news came as HSE figures showed that 30M working days were lost due to work-related illness and non-fatal workplace injuries in 2015/16, and construction is one of the worst offenders.

The received wisdom is that, largely due to more stringent legislation, workplace safety has improved, but that at the same time health has stagnated.

Further improvements in both will now only be achieved by driving behavioural change and gaining a greater understanding of underlying issues – things that are much harder to address.

In our world, good things are happening, starting with the clients. Tideway is striving to lead the charge. Early last year its Right Way programme was getting into full swing. Designed to be transformational it features its extraordinary EPIC safety induction, as well as other initiatives including family boat trips for all staff to make them feel united.

As chief executive Andy Mitchell told us then: “If we want people to feel differently about the job, we have to treat them differently”.

Network Rail and Highways England chiefs Mark Carne and Jim O’Sullivan respectively have been similarly vocal about the desire to change safety and wellbeing cultures in their organisations and supply chains. The former went so far as to dub his organisation’s culture “macho” and in drastic need of change when speaking in 2015, after one year in the job.

Screen shot 2017 10 10 at 17.03.48

Screen shot 2017 10 10 at 17.03.48

Carne then targeted boosting diversity within the rail industry as key. He spent years in a variety of roles with Shell, said that when women started becoming a much more visible presence on the oil and gas platforms in the North Sea 20 years ago the difference was “profound” and that the extreme macho, “and frankly unsafe”, culture changed dramatically “and forever”.

So fast forward to today, and where are we? Diversity in the industry is improving, but incredibly slowly.

And in an industry with such a fragmented supply chain and where lowest bid still nearly always wins, efforts to address deep-rooted cultural issues are always going to come second to driving down costs.

So this month we seek out those who are striving to go above and beyond and address some of the deep-rooted issues.

One of the main findings is that here, of all places, technology is really lending a hand. Many of the initiatives that are working are powered by some kind of technological solution – whether it be an app, a virtual reality cave, or some other digitally-enabled solution.

Pleasingly, some of this great thinking was actually shared, live, with the industry at New Civil Engineer’s recent Festival of Innovation and Technology – TechFest. One of the biggest gripes about our industry is our unwillingness to share our great ideas. There is, of course, intellectual property to protect. And there is, of course, the inherent conservatism and shyness in your average engineer.

Technology isn’t going to be the whole answer, clearly. But what we saw at the event was an expression of hope: hope that the industry can do better; hope that the industry will do better; and hope that the delegates were the people to make this happen.

What we need now is for the rest of the industry to get behind this cause.

  • Mark Hansford is New Civil Engineer’s editor

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