Safety concerns us all

Lieke van Hoven – Safety Behaviour Specialist bij Heijmans

Safety concerns us all. But how can we make sure that we are on the same wavelength when it comes to safety?

At Heijmans we do this by focusing on two aspects. On the one hand, we focus on knowledge and identifying risks, and on the other, we pay a lot of attention to attitude and behaviour. The Safety Culture Ladder is one of the methods we use for this. We are not only investing in our own employees, but also in our clients and subcontractors.

Knowledge & risk identification

In order to identify the safety risks of an assignment and initiate the risk assessment, or ‘RI&E’, we engage with our clients and subcontractors at the earliest stage possible. The RI&E thus becomes increasingly more detailed as preparations progress.

During the design phase, provided we are involved in it, and the pre-work phase, we exchange ideas on any risks and the practical measures we can take to ensure optimum work safety. This prepares us well for the implementation phase, minimising the need to improvise, and reducing any failure costs. The risk process is a common theme in our work: we use the RI&E as input to start our daily and weekly operations and as input for the LMRA.

Safety culture

Of course, identifying unsafe situations is very important, but how people act on this can make all the difference. Do we try to resolve an unsafe situation as and where we detect it, or do we report and register it, so that we and others can learn from it? It might even be necessary to go back to the drawing board to modify a work plan and reconsider the safety risks. This takes time, but it will also help to prevent accidents.

Responsibility for safety always remains with operational staff and their direct superiors. It is not uncommon for management and board members to visit workplaces and talk to operational staff about safety and about how they can contribute to a safer working environment. This is done in an atmosphere in which people really listen to each other and everyone is open to suggestions for improvement. This is not something that has evolved all by itself, but is the result of significant investments in leadership and of creating an open culture where everyone is equal. This investment is paying off. People feel safe and able to report any issues.

Safety ladder

The Safety Culture Ladder consists of five steps; the higher the step reached by a company, the more deeply safety is rooted in its culture.

From step 4 onwards, clients and subcontractors become more involved in safe working practices. Just like many other companies, Heijmans often liaises with subcontractors. This often involves challenges since people’s safety perceptions tend to differ. The Safety Culture Ladder helps us see what we can do to bring parties with different views around to our culture. We make explicit agreements with each other to ensure that we are on the same wavelength, and, if subcontractors hire additional subcontractors themselves or if we only find out at the very last minute which of a subcontractor’s employees will actually carry out the work, we make sure that everyone knows what we expect of them when they start their work.

Heijmans Infra is already operating on step 4 of the Safety Culture Ladder, and it is also Heijmans Bouw & Techniek’s ambition to be certified to operate on this step this year. To do so, we will have to break through a kind of “glass ceiling”. All the resources to reach step 4 are at our disposal and we have the focus to use them correctly.

Last year, Bouw & Techniek assessed its safety culture by means of the online questionnaires (compact version) offered by the NEN Safety Culture Ladder web tool. In retrospect, it transpired that the statements were open to several different interpretations, as a result of which incorrect conclusions were drawn from the answers.

Nevertheless, the SCL is a very good method for assessing and reflecting a company’s safety standing. It sheds light on how safety is perceived at different levels and what good leadership entails.

Working together and risk management are common themes in the standard and the 2.0 version now distinguishes between preconditions, and attitude and behaviour. A distinction is made between identifying an issue and whether people act on this. This is a great development!