Why health and safety should be brought into sharp focus again

Written by: Stephen Wise | Published:
Health and safety is part of Amec Foster Wheeler's DNA, says Stephen Wise

Over the past 18 months I have written a number of blogs and spoken at a number of events about the health and safety challenges that we face within the waste and recycling sector.

September saw the welcome release from the HSE of the proposed safety plan for the waste and recycling sector. However, just a few days later we saw the unfortunate accident at an anaerobic digestion plant which will again call into question health and safety within the sector.

At Amec Foster Wheeler I have seen first-hand at how health and safety can be successfully embedded within an organisational culture and how it contrasts with some of the practices that I see being undertaken at operational sites in the waste and recycling sector.

This has been put into even sharper focus as I have been spending a considerable amount of time at operational waste treatment facilities supporting clients in delivering improved health and safety.

Recently Amec Foster Wheeler ran a global health and safety week linked to our Going Beyond Zero which involved activities and events from offices and sites around the globe and culminated in individuals and teams making renewed safety pledges.

It clearly and powerfully demonstrated how health and safety is part of our company culture – a part of our DNA and not just a bolted-on policy.

This approach is in sharp contrast to what I have seen on a number of operational waste treatment facilities. It is quite clear that some organisations outside of the top tier of organisations health and safety is still in many cases not seen as part of the company culture.

It is seen as something that ‘must get done’ and something which ‘gets in the way of operations’. This view is not uncommon and must be challenged and changed.

One example is that an organisation we have been supporting asked us to undertake a health and safety gap analysis.

They had invested quite significantly in developing health and safety systems, policies and procedures, safe systems of work, risk assessments and standard operating procedures.

However, this all stopped once you left the office and headed out onto site. If a task required completing urgently no assessment was undertaken, no time taken to think of the safest way to undertake the task, it was just done as quickly as possible. This is an accident just waiting to happen.

I happened to observe one such incident and stepped in to stop it and challenge the staff on what and why they were acting as they did. I explained why I had asked them to stop and we had a discussion on how the task could be undertaken safely.

Having the confidence to intervene and not look the other way is critical in helping to challenge existing, unsafe, practices. This is now part of my own DNA after working for companies such as Amec Foster Wheeler where there is a very clear vision of how we should conduct ourselves.

We have now completed the health and safety gap analysis and are working with the organisation to develop a culture with health and safety at its heart. This type of independent assessment is important in providing an unbiased and clear picture to management.

It enables companies to clearly see why and how things are happening and the steps required to make a change. Changing culture and behaviour is never a quick fix but it is the right way to move forwards and provide a lasting foundation to providing a safe working environment.

And that was my own Amec Foster Wheeler Safety pledge: not just to protect myself but to help protect the safety of those I am working with both internally and externally. Not always easy- like most things that are worth doing.

Stephen Wise is the waste sector director and waste technical lead at Amec Foster Wheeler.

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