Achieving powerful change

25 July, 2014  |  News

A series of "watershed incidents" in which workers died forced UK energy company Scottish Power to "radically shake up" its health and safety operations, the company's director Doug Wilson told the Electricity Engineers' Association conference in Auckland last month.

Wilson, also chairman of the UK Energy Networks Association's safety, health and environment committee, said that after a succession of fatalities spanning some 20 years, the company resolved to set itself very high standards to bring about the changes that were needed.

"We needed absolutely clear expectations across all our operations about what was acceptable and what wasn't, so there would be no ambiguity. We also needed to develop a fair and just health and safety culture, with responsibilities and accountabilities."

What made the transformation possible was a strong level of commitment at leadership level, Wilson said. "We had a meeting where we all sat there and said: You know what? We're here to deliver the safest and best service we can to our customers. We're also here to make a return on investment, but in a very mature and safe way."

This ethos has become the company's core focus. "It just stretches through everything we do. We came up with a list of items we saw as Scottish Power's DNA, but really what it was all saying was: Don't cheat yourself. Make sure we've got all our issues on the table, warts and all, and deal with them dispassionately."

Good leadership is fundamental to this strategy, he said. "Nobody gets selected, recruited or promoted in our company unless they have a health and safety ethos. I've seen some very successful managers stall and leave our business because they don't get how important health and safety is - to our business, our brand and our people."

A strong governance structure ensures that details don't distract from the overall focus. Wilson meets with the chief executives of the four business streams every quarter to take a helicopter view of governance.

"We have corporate manslaughter legislation in the UK, and we know the HSE would love to have a blue chip organisation pinged for that. We make sure it's not going to be us by resourcing our business proportionate to the risk."

The company's top level health and safety team was hand-picked by Wilson. Most of the half-dozen team members were not previously in OHS roles, but have now achieved qualifications in the field.

"I shamelessly went after the best talent in our organisation. One of them was the manager of largest coal-fired power station in Europe, which was a prize capture for me. The deal was: Come and work for me for a couple of years and then go back into an operational role. I win, you win, because you get a health and safety qualification, and I get a top calibre individual who, when you go back into operations, becomes an advocate."

The next strata in Scottish Power's OHS hierarchy is a team of 65 people with relevant job skills, including engineers, occupational hygienists and OHS professionals. "The purpose of this team is to sell the message within the business, so we can be in around the table rather than kept at arm's length."

Positive relationships with union OHS reps are also important. "We're heavily unionised so we want these guys on board to stop meetings becoming a list of moans and woes. We get them involved in the programme and train them, so we can utilise their experience."

At the frontline a behavioural safety programme - primarily focused on getting managers to interact with their work teams - and a campaign to share OHS information in interesting and innovative ways help foster awareness, build morale and promote good attitudes.

"In the past our communication strategies were dreadfully dull and technical - a cottage industry of well-meaning people - when at the same time we were spending lots of money on professional advertising for our retail customers. It was a mess, so we got some professional advice and came up with a new Health and Safety Matters brand that we now use in different ways, with a little bit of humour where we can, to give our people the information they need."

While the strategy aims for innovation in its delivery, the key to its overall success is the consistency of its message, Wilson said.

"I don't want the executive board to be knee-jerking every time there is an incident. It's my job to make sure we stay focused on what we said we were going to do, what our strategy was going to be."

Source: Alert24 Safeguard Update 28/7/14