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Safety: raising expectations and standards

Health & Safety on site: Mike Evans was BAA’s head of health and safety on the Heathrow Terminal 5 site before moving to the Capital Projects division. Here, he discusses the sheer scale of BAA’s health and safety regime and the challenges ahead.

Airports need to be safe to use and operate at all times. Our construction work must never put that at risk

Mike Evans

The fire alarm test went off just as the interview with BAA capital projects head of health and safety Mike Evans kicked off. “Was it staged to demonstrate BAA’s dedication to safety?” was the first question. Yet joking aside, this is a man who takes health and safety very seriously indeed.

Evans took Heathrow T5 through the entirety of its construction and on the back of this success has been overseeing health and safety on construction projects across BAA’s UK operations since January of this year. So what exactly does the head of health and safety do for BAA?

“Essentially, I’m responsible for health and safety on the construction side of the business. That breaks down into two main components; the safety of the workforce and the safety of passengers during construction,” he explains. “Airports need to be safe to use and to operate at all times. Our construction work must never put that at risk.”

Evans maintains that in comparison to other big construction clients, BAA measures up very well in health and safety terms. “I think there are some clients out there who are acutely aware of the risks that construction can bring to their business, for example oil refineries,” he explains. “These are businesses that, as a matter of course, are better equipped to deal with the risks involved and I would put BAA in that category.”

BAA’s Capital Projects division is, he points out, in the business of building complex facilities in difficult environments. He accepts that the massive £6.6bn programme of work planned across the BAA airport portfolio will, without question, be even more challenging from a health and safety perspective than the £4.3bn T5 project.

“I’m looking forward to starting on our next big projects,” he says. “Heathrow Eastern Terminal and the extension of Gatwick’s northern terminal will be the upcoming headline projects for us.”

The biggest challenge has to be the scale of BAA’s plans. At the height of T5 construction there were 8,000 people working on site but with the constantly changing trades something like 62,000 people worked there in total. That’s an awful lot of health and safety inductions – and a significant proportion of these also underwent detailed health surveillance.

Moving forward from T5 the challenge will be bigger with more work going on across a greater number of locations. The number of individual workers is high, not just because of the inherently casual nature of many construction jobs, but because, as work progresses, the various skills and trades required change.

Terminal 5 broke safety records by working for a million man-hours without a reportable accident on 18 separate occasions, including 3 periods of over 2M man hours. But there were also two fatalities – in October 2007 and August 2005 – which came as a huge blow to everyone on site.

“Our safety record at T5 was at least four times better than the UK national average and we changed the culture and the expectations of our workforce ,” he says. “Fatalities are always tragic and it shows that we can never be complacent about the issues surrounding health and safety. The danger is that we can sit back and give ourselves a pat on the back when things are going well.”

Evans’ new wider role gives him the opportunity to spread the T5 learning around the whole business. “Obviously, I was right in the thick of it at T5, whereas at Capital Projects, the work is spread over all of our airports and there are more people to influence, “ he explains. “What we’re trying to do is raise health and safety above the role of a competing imperative such as bringing the job in on budget and on time. Health and safety is not just a priority. I think we’ve elevated health and safety to the level of a core value for BAA.” He adds: “We’ve worked hard to create a culture of safety leadership with the twin aims of influencing leaders and supervisors as well as raising the expectations of the workers themselves.”  

18

Number of times T5 project went 1M hours without a reportable accident

62k

Total number of T5 workers who received safety induction  

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