SHE2013 – a focus on trust, leadership and the individual

As an industry with significant risk to be mitigated, keeping the workforce and the public safe is a constant endeavour, one that the electricity industry has made a priority. Coming together last week to address issues and share best practice, health and safety practitioners from across the electricity networks, generators and contractors focused on one of the most difficult parts of managing this complex topic - personal responsibility.

The industry's 5 year initiative, Powering Improvement, is focusing on what this means and how companies and unions can help the workforce feel empowered to take ownership of the health and safety of theirs and their colleagues' work environment. The focus was on the individual, but rather than an historic position in some industries that the individual is simply to blame, the electricity industry is looking at the role of every individual in a company from the CEO, through the management and across the workforce.

Steve Johnson, Chief Executive of Electricity North West, told the conference that his shareholders "pour over health and safety data" and last year at the SHE Conference, Basil Scarsella, Chief Executive of UK Power Networks, set out the view that "safety is the golden thread that aligns the interests of employees with shareholders." This kind of commitment to health and safety would not be seen in some industries and it is this sort of leadership from companies that has contributed to this drive in improvements.

However, none of the work on this challenging area would be possible without the support and cooperation of the unions and this partnership approach is critical to Powering Improvement and delivered successes in recent years. Mike Clancy is General Secretary for the union Prospect and a Champion for the initiative's 2013 theme. He highlighted how vital it is that a culture of trust is maintained between companies, unions and the workforce. Clancy is clear though, he expects responsible and constructive engagement from his members and in return, trust and a commitment to listen from companies. Trust here is a method of enhancing the personal responsibility for all and a better way of learning from incidents. He also highlighted the crunch points for this trust where investigations are necessary. These should be seen as an opportunity to "learn not lynch" and to have its priorities as "improvement rather than blame."

Gerard Hand, President of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, gave his view on the approach many take to health and safety. He explained it isn't about restricting business by setting out a huge list of potential risks that must be protected against by looking at the worst case scenario, instead it's about looking for the reasonably foreseeable and proportionate. Frank Mitchell, CEO of Scottish Power Energy Networks and also a Champion of Powering Improvement's 2013 theme echoed this by emphasising the importance for people not to go into auto-pilot and recognising the need for individuals to step back and check if the risk has changed.

Mitchell also highlighted his commitment to a strong leadership in health and safety stating that, "management gets the culture it deserves" and that it is the leadership that sets the environment for good practice. He believes, "it is far too easy to go straight to the coalface rather than look at the leadership that has lead to the situation occurring." Mitchell is also particularly concerned about corporate memory with four out of five employees retiring in the next 15 years. The overriding and powerful message that reoccurs during every conversation on industry health and safety is that families have a right to expect that their family members will be coming home at the end of the day.

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