UCATT (Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians) has been a regular critic of the construction company Laing O’Rourke over safety issues. Recently UCATT took aim at the “safety differently” approach to occupational health and safety (OHS) of which the Laing O’Rourke’s HSE Director European Hub, John Green, has been a leading advocate. UCATT has been one of the few organisations to be critical of the “safety differently” approach.
In another media release in August 2016 the UK trade union’s Acting General Secretary, Brian Rye, stated that
“The high accident rate revealed in this report underlies why the new ‘safety differently’ policy being adopted by Laing O’Rourke which only concentrates on fatalities at work, is such a retrograde and dangerous step for construction workers.”
The “safety differently” perspective has been reported on several times in this blog but the criticisms were sufficiently pointed for some specific questions to be put to John Green. Below are his responses.
SAWB: On 16 August in a press release UCATT says that Laing O’Rourke’s “new health and safety policy focusses entirely on preventing fatalities” at the expense of less serious injuries. My understanding is that “safety differently” does not focus on one type of injury over another. Am I right in this perception?
JG: The approach prioritises risk management. It recognises that all risks are not equal and that organisations should focus on tasks that can kill or seriously injury. It recognises that there is no correlation between low consequence, high frequency events and high consequence events. This does not mean that other events are ignored. We will continue to investigate all accidents and deal with these matters as we always have done. This approach does not replace all previous safety programmes bur rather this is an evolution of traditional approach.
SAWB: Manual handling injuries are specifically mentioned by UCATT as an example of minor injuries that can lead to months off work. How does “safety differently” reduce manual handling injuries and risks in comparison to sudden fatalities?
JG: The new approach listens to the experience of front line workers by involving them in the planning and risk control of the tasks that they are involved in. This allows tasks to be designed around risks as experienced and not simply as envisaged. The use of work as planned v work as done assessments allows this to remain real, current and relevant. Risk controls are constantly being reassessed by those actually doing the work.
SAWB: UCATT implies that “safety differently” erodes the trust that the trade union movement has built up on OHS issues. How important is trust to this new approach to safety management?
JG: Trust is essential in all forms of safety management and the new approach is far more successful in producing trust that any previous form of safety programme. This approach is built upon engagement and empowerment, it gives frontline workers a voice in creating safety and in the management of the risk that they face every day. No other programme comes close in engaging workers.
SAWB: Shaun Lee, UCATT’s Midlands Regional Secretary, says “safety differently” can “wreck” the construction industry’s approach to OHS. (The full quote is:
“This policy of ‘safety differently’ could potentially wreck health and safety provision in the UK construction industry, which has taken years to develop. Small injuries are not small concerns for workers. By neglecting basic safety, we put workers’ health and futures at risk. Small injuries can mean significant loss of pay and significant psychological stress for the worker and their family. If we don’t have zero tolerance in the work place, then standards will slip and the number of injuries will increase.”)
Have you had this type of criticism from other industry sectors? Is this wrecking simply part of the transition from an old to a new perspective on OHS management?
JG: Far from it. Everyone else we have spoken to and explained our approach has been highly complementary and show great interest in this. We have never been approached by UCATT to explain how this works in practice but I would welcome the opportunity to do so.
SAWB: Are there any industry sectors where the “safety differently” approach is so incompatible that it should not be considered?
JG: No – but it does work best in organisations that already have a more mature approach to safety.
SAWB:· I have also aired Mr Lee’s criticism of “safety differently” as “an academic theory without practical foundation”. Safety Differently changes the way that safety is managed and reported and measured but does it also reduce injury and illness more than the current OHS management approaches?
JG: This is much more that an abstract, academic programme although it did begin in that way. We have taken these concepts and operationalised them. This is the way we create safety in Laing O’Rourke and in a number of other organisations. There is real interest in this from other organisations and sectors. This is a very real approach that is gaining momentum. Our experience is that not only do rates on incidents decrease other factors such as engagement, enjoyment and retention improve
Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is on a pathway to an election. On March 21 2016, the Prime Minister wrote to the Governor-General to continue a convoluted process sparked by the Senate’s refusal to pass laws that will allow the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). One of the justifications for the need to pass the laws is to improve workplace safety, as in the excerpt below for the Prime Minsiter’s letter. This position is unjustified.