Thanking people for doing things right can have a profound effect on safety culture, award-winning Storengy UK discovered.
A rigger new to the Stublach gas storage project near Northwich in Cheshire was moving a pipework spool. He checked a webbing sling and then wrapped it around the pipe and attached it to a teleporter hook. He had done everything by the book. All safety procedures had been followed. Then he realised he would be travelling over rough ground and his load could swing about. So he went back and secured both ends. This was just common sense.
While he was doing this, health and safety manager Joe Askew happened to be watching.
“He tensed when he saw me approaching and I could see that he was getting his defense ready,” says Joe. But, in fact, Joe had gone over to tell him he had done everything exactly right and to thank him for taking the trouble to tie down the pipework spool. “His frown turned into a smile,” Joe says. “He stood taller and his chest stuck out. For him it was an unusual experience. He had probably never before had anyone at work thank him for doing something right.”
“It’s all about people: if the people don’t buy into it, you won’t win”
This was one tiny incident in a huge drilling and construction project. But it is emblematic of the approach taken to safety by Storengy UK, the company building the gas storage facility. Managers have a rota for safe site visits to show visible management commitment to health and safety. They don’t carry a clipboard and they don’t consider themselves safety policemen. Their aim it to specifically look for safe behaviour then talk to the people doing the work and give them positive feedback. This approach is changing the perceptions of the workforce and also the way directors and managers look at construction activities.
“It’s all about people,” says Joe. “If the people don’t buy into it, you won’t win.”
Despite a focus on the individual, the Stublach gas storage project is a massive undertaking. It began in 2008 and will start to store and supply gas in 2013. Twenty wells were drilled deep underground and rock salt is being solution-mined to leave gigantic gas-tight caverns. Almost 70km of pipework has been put in place and nine huge pumps have been installed. By 2018, it will be able to store up to 400 million cubic metres of natural gas (enough to supply the entire UK for a day).
Since the project started in January 2008, nearly two million man-hours have been expended, yet a delivery driver trapping his thumb in the tailgate of his lorry in the first few months has been the only reportable accident.
Meeting regulations was the starting point for Storengy and it is still important, but the aim has always been to have no accidents and that meant going much further — striving for teams where people look out for each other.
“I’d rather people behave safely because of the risks than because of the rules,” says Joe. Empowering the workforce and linking this to a just safety culture is playing a big part in the process to continually improve project safety.
“You only ever get one chance to make a first impression so we have done a lot up front to show that the facility is well managed,” he goes on. “using a Dupont maxim You will achieve the level of health and safety that you demonstrate you want to achieve.”
“Peer pressure has the biggest influence on behaviour”
“Nevertheless I still feel that peer pressure has the biggest influence on behaviour,” says Joe, “and you only get truly positive peer pressure when all the other elements are in place.”
Storengy UK won the Most Inspiring Team or Organisation category at the Inspiring Safety Awards 2012 in June for its work in creating an inspiring safety culture at the Stublach gas storage project.