The infrastructure, new homes and property services group United Living has harnessed hazard awareness, risk management and reporting as part of a health and safety transformation programme that has halved its incident rates in less than 12 months.
Hazards spotted by employees are known as “close calls” in the group. When Group Safety, Health, Environment and Quality (SHEQ) Director Sean Luchmun arrived in January 2022 there was a trickle of close call reports.
“We had a clear conversation at board level,” he recalls, “and said ‘we are a business with a turnover of £550 million and a direct workforce of around 2000 employees and we are getting 250 close calls reported a month. That’s not where we want to be’. The consensus was that we wanted to be closer to 2000 [reports] a month, one per person.”
The company launched a cultural change programme with several strands, one of which – using the slogan “Don’t walk by” - encourages employees not to see close calls as something stigmatising or worthy of blame but to act positively when they saw hazardous behaviour or conditions, fixing problems, challenging colleagues and notifying the group via EcoOnline’s Quick Report system, which had only been rolled out selectively in United Living’s divisions previously since the group had grown rapidly by acquisition.
Quick Reports can be filed by site managers and project managers via their laptops and site operatives can use mobile phones or submit paper slips if they don’t carry a smart phone.
“We reinforced the messaging month on month and we’ve seen the improvements as a result,” says Luchmun of the change campaign. Those improvements are impressive. The number of close-call notifications has risen steadily in 10 months from 250 a month to 2500. Significantly, over the same period, the group’s rate reportable accidents under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations has more than halved, as has the all-injury rate.
Rather than focusing on accident rates and remedial work to prevent injuries recurring, the change programme, including close call reporting, is creating a culture where everyone is focused on making the workplace safer.
“We have flipped it from a reactive conversation about incidents to a proactive one where we can drive performance through positive behaviour, through visible leadership and through people feeling empowered to step in at the critical moment, to identify something, fix it, challenge others in the right way.”
The changes made as a result of reports are fed back to employees via channels such as “you said … we did” boards on sites, SHEQ newsletters, SHEQ forums and town hall meetings.
Analysis of the Quick Reports, which integrate seamlessly with United Living’s EHS system, has given Luchmun and his team insights on how to improve protection such as mandating eye protection on the construction sites and focusing campaigns on the higher frequency, lower severity issues such as slip and trip hazards and on the rarer but higher consequence ones such as work at height or around electrical supplies. “We can target our interventions based on data that is ours and we know it’s real,” he says. The differing volume of reports also gives the safety teams a steer of where in the organisation to concentrate their efforts in developing the safety culture further.
The next step says Luchmun will be to extend the system to take in United Living’s subcontractors – who can make up 90% of the workforce on sites where the company is principal contractor. EcoOnline’s Quick Report offers the facility to allow guests access to the system by scanning a QR code with their phones. “Potentially we will display individual QR codes on each project and subcontractors, visitors, members of the public can log what they’ve seen.” He believes this extension could increase the number of reports fourfold. “I imagine we’ll take another huge leap forward,” he says.
Overall, the change campaign, including close-call reporting, has started a real shift in culture and produced meaningful results in incident rates. “I’m confident to say we have safer projects,” says Luchmun, “because we have people who understand hazards and risks better and feel more empowered to identify them and fix them. That gives the board confidence that we should go and do more. That it’s worth putting more energy and effort into SHEQ agenda, into more close-call reporting and inspections. And that’s a really good place to be!”