Writes Steve Wiskin

Generally speaking, initiatives are designed to solve a problem in the short term and then they disappear. Considering how important safety is, when Atkins developed the Safe by Choice programme (SbC), it was conceived, not as a short-term solution, but as a way to change people’s behaviour, so that safey would be at the forefront of people’s minds. While it has been a challenge, four years on, SbC has proven to be successful, not just in Atkins, but the in the wider industry as well.

Creating a safety mindset?

SbC is a behavioural-based programme which challenges staff actions to reduce the chance of accidents occurring. The aim for Atkins was to create a safer working environment, the ultimate goal to embed a “do something” attitude, or being Safe by Choice. The programme works by giving staff a “tool kit” to challenge unsafe acts effectively so that they take ownership and responsibility for not only their own safety, but the safety of those around them.

Making SbC a sustainable idea

The SbC programme was initially delivered to Atkins’ UK rail business. To ensure buy-in from all levels, a series of workshops was developed and rolled out to everyone from site operatives to the leadership team so that everyone could play their part. It was important that everyone was on board to bring about a real cultural change.

While each workshop differs, the core emphasis of all four are the same – bringing about a “safety first” philosophy. These workshops actively challenge the reasons why unsafe choices are made by exploring why people take short cuts or risks at work. It has been found that this is much more effective than just telling staff to be safe. The workshops cover safety leadership, key influencers, developing influence and an overview of the SbC programme.

Of course, workshops were just one part of the strategy. To reinforce the SbC message and to maintain awareness of the programme, an internal communications campaign was undertaken. This included comic strip style posters and emails highlighting everyday choices about safety, such as wearing high visibility clothing. The programme has also been further reinforced by the introduction of job descriptions which give ownership and responsibility to key influencers across the business. This enables them to consistently raise awareness of any potential dangers in the workplace and report accordingly.

Safety is a choice

The SbC programme has proven to be very successful, with a major increase in the number of close calls being reported in the business since the programme began in 2007/2008. A close call is an unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness or damage – but had potential to do so. This increase in close call reporting indicates that staff and contractors to whom the programme has been delivered so far, now numbering around two thousand, are much more aware of safety and are actively taking steps to prevent accidents.

SbC Safety Award

Having successfully communicated the SbC message to all rail staff, Atkins has also introduced the annual SbC Safety Award. Now in its third year, the award recognises staff who put safety first by reporting close calls. Previous winners of the award have included a member of staff who helped two children to safety after they tried to take a shortcut to a playground through open train tracks. Another Atkins employee asked a member of the public to move to a safe place on a train platform after he noticed her sitting on the platform edge, oblivious to the fact that a train was approaching.

Winners of the award receive £250, plus £250 for their chosen charity. By recognising staff who report close calls, this award is just another way in which we have been able to embed the SbC campaign throughout the business.

Keeping the momentum going

To keep SbC at the forefront of people’s minds during the second and third year of the programme, the workshops, SbC Safety Awards and internal marketing campaign all continued. But it was now time to challenge the supply chain on their approach to safety.

To do this, a number of key suppliers were invited to a safety forum during which the SbC programme was introduced to them and they were asked about their own programmes to ensure that staff work safely. Those suppliers were then sent a formal letter, encouraging them to take the next steps in embedding safety in their own businesses.

Both the forum and letter were well received, with some suppliers such as BCM, VGC and Kelly deciding to roll out their own versions of SbC. Likewise, the success of SbC has also been acknowledged by industry partners including Network Rail and London Underground.
While the industry at large has taken to Atkins’ SbC programme, the delivery of the programme is not designed for profit, just safety. Any financial reward stemming from its delivery is reinvested in the development and improvement of the programme itself.

The future looks safe

Workplace safety is not just limited to staff who work on railway tracks, it involves everyone from administration staff to designers and the management team. While safety has always been a part of Atkins’ design and management processes, in 2012 the safety team is establishing two other distinct approaches: Safe by Design (SbD) and Safe by Leadership (SbL). SbD will ensure that safety is embedded within the thought process of designers and that risk is actively identified and managed. SbL will make certain that senior managers and directors lead by example and engage with staff and contractors, as well as seek to influence industry to improve standards.

So, SbC is not an initiative. During the past four years, the message has been constantly reinforced and is now very much a part of every Atkins employee’s mindset. Behavioural change takes time, but is well worth the effort.

When thinking about work practices, the question is: “Do I work safely?” The answer is usually always “yes”.

The next question is: “Am I safely working?”, meaning – does safety have equal priority to production? It’s certainly something worth considering, after all, safety is everyone’s responsibility.

For more information contact Steve Wiskin at steve.wiskin@atkinsglobal.com