Tideway’s health and safety training, which involves actors and simulated environments, aims to cut the incident rate to zero ©ATT
Tideway’s health and safety training, which involves actors and simulated environments, aims to cut the incident rate to zero ©ATT

Tideway super sewer tackles safety with theatre contract

28 February 2017

The head of internal procurement at the Tideway super sewer project has described how he partnered with an SME to provide health and safety training for the £4.1bn construction project.

Dermot Doherty, category lead for health, safety and wellbeing at Tideway, approached an SME-heavy market in search of an interactive and innovative health and safety training provider with the aim of bucking the construction industry’s health and safety record.

“We don’t want a major incident, we don’t want one major incident – that’s our starting point,” he told SM.

This is something that eluded Crossrail, a project of comparable size which Tideway is measuring itself against. The Health and Safety Executive recently announced the prosecution of a number of Crossrail contractors for three separate incidents that happened during its construction, including one death.

“For a long time health and safety has all be about the word ‘zero’,” said Stuart Pollard, head of health, safety and wellbeing at Tideway. “And we are very luck in the fact that we are supported by the exec team here at Tideway who say, ‘We need to do health and safety in the right way to have a very different result’.”

Through initial market engagement, Doherty said his team learned the training Tideway was looking for, both interactive and innovative, was most likely to be delivered by the artistic and creative sector. In some ways this was good, he said, because “we wanted to reflect those creative ideas from the market and that innovation from the market. But those kind of industries don’t lend themselves particularly well to a very robust performance-managed contract.”

The tender specifications were largely outcome based, said Doherty. “We knew what we wanted to achieve… We wanted people to be empowered to challenge health and safety on site. If they were the one dissenting voice on site, if they were the one person saying, ‘This is wrong’, they were right to be challenging health and safety.

“Those were the outcomes we wanted to achieve. In terms of how the provider delivered those outcomes it was pretty much open book.”

Bidders were asked to submit high-level ideas. “Tell us what you would put in that [training] day? Tell us what sessions you would fill? Tell us what sessions you would complete and what would be the focus, content and the outcomes?” said Doherty. These ideas were then refined in partnership with the winning bidder, ATT, an SME specialising in drama-based training.

The programme ATT is now providing for Tideway, at the dedicated Employee Project Induction Centre (EPIC), is an interactive all-day workshop involving actors and environments simulated by audio visual equipment.

The day is about getting workers to ask the right questions. “We have to take things out of context and use things from other industries, other sectors, to get that message across and to achieve a set of behaviours that mean everybody looks after one another,” said Pollard, “rather than the traditional health and safety approach of, ‘You’re doing that wrong, go back to the start and do it properly.’”

When it came to finding the money for this more expensive project, “it was a very, very easy conversation to have with the exec because they are fully supportive of it,” said Pollard. The project has invested a seven-figure sum – it would not disclose exactly how much – on developing a dedicated training facility. “For us to create essentially a theatre in the middle of an office block, and a whole set of scenario rooms around that central area was very, very easy,” said Pollard.

The other major risk when working with an SME was the danger of the provider becoming insolvent part way through the contract. This was a particular concern for such a strategically important contract. “If [health and safety training] falls over and we can’t get people on site, then the whole programme goes to pot,” said Pollard.

This risk was identified during the initial market engagement. “We saw a lot of providers in the market that were living hand to mouth, they were living on whatever business they could earn within the next month,” said Doherty. To manage this risk, tideway has been working with ATT to help the firm grow and find new business.

As well as the usual service level KPIs, ATT has to report quarterly on other indicators including what it has done grow its business, what industry days it has attended and what it has been doing to promote itself. “We also put provisions in the contract – that possibly are relatively new to the market – around establishing a quality management plan, more robust quality inclusion plans, more robust employment plans,” said Doherty.

“If the provider that we employ is going to win more business beyond Tideway, these are the sorts of things that other companies tendering for business will be asking for.”

So far, Doherty said Tideway has achieved a better safety record than Crossrail had at a similar, early stage of the build. Exit questions from people attending the training also show more 98.6% feel “better able to challenge unsafe behaviour”.

Tunnelling of the 25km sewer is due to begin next year, and Doherty said the “true indicator” will be Tideway's safety record after the project is finished, which is expected to be in 2024. “But we are confident – we feel we are on the right path,” he said.

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