Richard Wheeler delivering make safety personal training

A key part of my role is delivering make safety personal (MSP) training to projects we’re involved in.

I’ve delivered MSP training to over 200 people on projects across the country since January 2020. They’ve included the M4, M6, Lower Thames Crossing and A63. There is a lot of travelling, but it’s really important to VGC and to me personally.

Why?

Looking after each other is one of VGC’s key values – it’s a fundamental part of the way we work. And we passionately believe that awareness will prevent accidents. It’ll give people confidence to address issues they see that aren’t right.

Make safety personal training helps to ensure everyone in the workforce stays focused, and feels empowered to address any unwanted behaviours or unsafe conditions they may encounter. We’re working collaboratively with our clients to make sure everyone knows they will be supported by project and VGC management if they raise issues. This helps to reduce the chances of injury or harm, and keep everyone safe. I do believe that behavioural safety training is why our accidents have gone down year on year.

It doesn’t always show on the balance sheet – because it’s hard to count accidents which don’t happen. However, we’re very aware that the cost of each accident is enormous to the people involved, physically, mentally and often financially.

Make safety personal training on the M4 in November 2020
Make safety personal training on the M4 in November 2020

Last year, we achieved the Highways England and Balfour Beatty challenge to reduce lost-time incident rate by 50% six months ahead of schedule. That’s really positive in terms of people going home safely each day.

Make safety personal is about three fundamental concepts:

  1. Critical decision-making
  2. Being open to change
  3. Having the confidence to speak up

Critical decision-making

This is really about making safety a key part of your decision-making – automatically.

It’s not about eliminating risk. It is about being open to the possibilities, identifying hazards and the risks, and then acting accordingly. For example, if you’re walking down the high street and want to cross, you’ll look at all the factors and decide when it’s safe to cross. However, your thought process changes completely if you’re holding a 5-year-old by the hand. Having a toddler with you changes the way you think about the possibilities and the risks.

In the same way, I know that to use a strimmer at work, I need to wear full site PPE. When you’re at home in your garden, do you automatically think about PPE? I may not need full PPE in my garden, but shouldn’t glasses and gloves be an integral part of my decision-making when I’m thinking about the task? That’s identifying risks and taking a view on the protection I need.

So, fundamentally, it’s about ensuring that everyone considers their own and other people’s safety – not just at work, in the whole decision-making process, whatever the task at home or at work.

Make safety personal training to operatives on the Lower Thames Crossing
Make safety personal training to operatives on the Lower Thames Crossing in December 2020

Being open to change

One of the other critical parts to MSP is being open to the fact that other people may see something you don’t see. You need to respect people’s right to challenge you about an unsafe act or condition that you might be blind to. That might be because ‘it’s always done that way’ or maybe you just don’t see it any more.

For example, there may be a tree root sticking out of a footpath. If you walk down that path every day, you become blind to it. Can you be open to change if someone else sees that root and speaks up?

Having the confidence to speak up

The third part of make safety personal is caring enough to think about what you see and then speak up. It’s about being confident enough to say to someone: “I can see a potential issue here. Can I bring a fresh pair of eyes to the situation and make you aware of what I see?”

You need the confidence to raise it if something isn’t right. You know enough on site to be able to trust your instincts. If your gut says something isn’t right, there will be a reason for that.

The number of times I’ve investigated and heard comments “I knew that was going to happen someday” and I think “why didn’t you say something at the time?” MSP training is about giving people the confidence to know they can speak out and be heard.

Client feedback

I really like working with client Balfour Beatty on behavioural safety. Their ‘golden rules’ are very similar to VGC’s be safe rules and their management believes that nothing is so important that it can’t be done safely. I agree.

M4 project award
Last year I was proud to receive an M4 health, safety and wellbeing award from project director Steve Jagger for building a positive health and safety culture on the project

They are always on the look-out for good behaviours to commend, as you can see from the number of awards on the M4 project. They include an award which I was delighted to receive for ‘exceptional performance in building a positive health and safety culture on the project’.

Balfour Beatty’s project director on the A63 emailed a thank-you to VGC for delivering MSP training:

The MSP programme is key to keeping our workforce and projects safe, so your input is extremely valuable and appreciated. In particular, I received a lot of positive comments on the delivery of the sessions themselves – ‘engaging’, ‘thought-provoking’, to mention a few – so please pass on our thanks to Richard, as that was down to him.

Send in observations

I encourage anyone who sees any safety issue or good practice to tell their labour manager. Or, if you prefer, email me at besafe@vgcgroup.co.uk – I will need your name, but I will keep your identity confidential if you wish. And if you have any questions about behaviour-based safety or make safety personal, please get in touch.

Main photo: delivering make safety personal training to operatives on the A63 in March 2021

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