Jonathan Neale wanted a better way to train people in health and safety at the Highland Spring water plant in Perthshire, Scotland. So he took them to a safari park.
It’s a clever idea. You see we can learn a lot about safe behaviour by watching what animals do instinctively. But more than that, as a way of training, it is memorable and it is inspiring. And that can save lives.
Since Jonathan has been taking people to the Blair Drummond Safari Park, near Stirling, the accident rate at Highland Spring has reduced. Since the training started, it fell 30%. This year (2012) it is on target to fall another 20%.
“It is a bit mad going on a safari park trip,” says Jonathan, “but the figures speak for themselves.”
All for one – the Meerkat way, a Lattitude film, was the seed of Jonathan’s idea and he uses it within his training programme. With footage shot by the BBC in the Kalahari desert, the film follows meerkats in their everyday lives and discovers there is a single reason why they survive in such a hostile environment. They have learnt to co-operate.
“When I set up my course, I was determined to make it interesting and dynamic,” says Jonathan. “With the meerkat video they learn about teamwork, interdependent behaviour, communication.”
But Jonathan goes a step further. After he has shown them the video in the classroom, he surprises them with a visit to the safari. Here they get to see meerkats in real life.
“As soon as strangers turn up, the meerkats are on their guard, so we get to see them exhibiting the same co-operative behaviour we see in the video.”
“It is a bit mad going on a safari park trip but the figures speak for themselves”
Highland Spring has the capacity to produce 700 million litres of bottled water a year and employs 480 people in five bottling
plants around the British Isles. The training at its head quarters in Scotland is given to safety reps, machine operators and supervisors. Gradually, they are all getting to meet the meerkats.
“The feedback is brilliant,” says Jonathan. “I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me they thought it was going to be boring but it turned out to be inspiring.”
But things didn’t go smoothly at first, he admits.
“The first group I took to the safari park didn’t quite get it. So I changed the structure of the training to reinforce the learning points. This is where the Lattitude video was invaluable.”
There is a danger that people become more involved in the day out than the training, he says. It is important to manage that balance with good training aids.
“The training gives people a lot of confidence. It helps them realise that is mostly about applying common sense.”
Health and safety is often portrayed as being frustrating, about making things difficult to do, says Jonathan. “But actually, once you understand how to work safely, it allows you to do more. I wanted to get across that positive message.”
Jonathan Neale is Health and Safety Manager, Highland Spring Group,
Blackford, Perthshire. For more info visit http://www.highland-spring.com
If you want to see meerkats in action, find out more about the Blair Drummond Safari Park near Stirling at http://www.blairdrummond.com/
Or watch them from the comfort of your own office with the inspiring film from Lattitude All for one – the Meerkat way