Safety first

When
Cottam Power was privatised it was feared that safety would be compromised. But
a restructuring programme put this vital issue firmly at the top of the agenda.  By Julie Stevens

Cottam
Power Station is a 2000MW coal-fired plant, employing 188 staff and
approximately the same number of contractors. When the company was privatised
in 1989, the unions raised fears that the new structure would have a
detrimental effect on safety.

Despite
these initial concerns, Cottam’s safety performance continued to improve after
the industry was privatised. In 1994 the company made a "step-change"
in management, by giving the opportunity for middle management to take
severance.

This
produced a much flatter structure, giving the company the opportunity to improve
a wide range of parameters that had previously placed constraints upon it.
Improvements occurred not only to the communication routes but also in
ownership, enabling Cottam to develop a positive and progressive safety culture.

Safety
first

The
main challenge has always been to maintain the momentum needed to keep the
safety culture active and Cottam achieves this with a wide range of
initiatives. Everyone who comes to work at Cottam must attend a safety
induction and pass a test before going on site. Contractors must have, as a
minimum, the ECITB Safety Passport and have suitable qualifications for their
levels of competence. This is established at the tender stage and checked
regularly throughout the life of the contract.

Cottam
staff recruitment includes the requirement for a level of safety competence and
where this does not meet the criteria the company encourages staff to build on
their safety knowledge.

To
date that has resulted in over 80 per cent of staff having either the NEBOSH
certificate or the IOSH (five-day) certificate. The remainder have levels of
safety competence suitable for the tasks they perform.

To
improve communication, Cottam actively encourages its contracting colleagues to
train with permanent staff so that everyone understands each other’s needs. To
ensure that safety remains paramount in everyone’s mind, it is the first thing
on all meeting agendas and is enthusiastically debated.

Reporting
"near hits"

The
reporting procedure for accidents has been fine-tuned so that every opportunity
for improvement can be maximised. The system works in a triangular formation,
where the base of the triangle shows what the company calls "near
hits". Everything that could have caused an accident – but didn’t – is
reported here. The idea is to pre-empt accidents and encourage employees to
become aware of the environment they work in, making sure it remains safe for
themselves and others.

The
next level of the triangle is "no treatment required", where a minor
accident occurs, followed by first aid accidents, and "medical
treatment". Right at the top are the "lost time" accidents. The
main idea is to make the reporting of incidents a positive rather than negative
practice.

Employees
know that even though there is a "no blame" culture, they are responsible
for their own safety – and that of others.

The
procedure for reporting is simple but effective. The company has introduced a
computerised programme where "near hits" are logged and the
appropriate people are notified. The information is visible for all to see and
the incident remains active in the system until the situation has been dealt
with properly.

Currently,
there are about 600 entries under "near hits" each year. This does
not mean it is an accident-prone company, it means people walk around with
their eyes open. Employees are much more aware of things that could go wrong,
and are happy to draw attention to them.

Since
introducing the reporting system, the increase in "near hits" has
actually reduced the number of "lost time" accidents at the top. This
is because people are much more aware of incidents, and potential danger spots
are made apparent before an accident occurs.

Of
course, a reduction in the numbers of employees who are off sick due to
accidents is positive for the company’s finances, but there is a deeper motive
at play. Cottam Power knows that its industry has the potential to kill people.
On a daily basis it asks its employees to work with high voltage electricity,
so there is always the potential for harm.

Everyone
understands the need to increase productivity, but they also know that everyone
has the right to get home safe and sound.

Contractors
are included

Because
contractors make up half the workforce, Cottam Power makes no distinction
between them and its full time employees. Everybody knows that safety is
important. From their induction on day one, safety is at the top of the
contractors’ agenda.

When
contracts are put out for tender, a company such as Cottam would usually just
look at health and safety policies, assuming the potential contractor will have
a competent workforce, but Cottam goes further than this. All its contractors
are required to have a contractor safety passport, which is a two-day safety
course.

Traditionally,
contracting staff resist reporting accidents as they might jeopardise their
future employment, but at Cottam this situation is reversed.

If
an accident occurs without being reported, and the company finds out, the
contractor runs the risk of being dismissed from the site and blacklisted for
future work. This might sound harsh, but in reality, this has happened only
once, as most contractors appreciate the company’s efforts to ensure they work
in a safe environment.

Moving
forward

The
safety programme at Cottam Power is ongoing. There is always someone to take to
the next level or to retrain, or new information to share.

One
of the main drivers to keep up momentum is Cottam Power’s health and safety
committee. Reflecting the importance of the subject matter, the committee is
made up of 19 team members, team managers and also representatives from all the
long-term contractors.

The
group meets every month to help generate ideas that keep pushing the safety
culture forward.

The
sharing of ideas is very important. If a major accident or incident occurs, the
company will always share the details with other utilities that might be
affected by something similar. This selfless approach means that other
companies can carry out their own risk assessments and hopefully prevent the
same accident happening elsewhere.

The
members of the health and safety committee also try to call upon knowledge from
other industries, so they themselves can learn from other people’s experiences.

Following
privatisation, safety standards have dramatically improved thanks to the
efforts of all employees at the plant. The company has won three RoSPA
President’s awards, representing 13 years of continued improvements in safety.
The accident rate has dropped from 1:12 (which meant that someone had a serious
accident on an annual basis) down to zero. The work that continues at Cottam
Power has revolved around maintaining this figure. It is a never-ending
journey, but one that everyone is committed to making.

Top
tips


Plan any safety initiatives carefully to ensure you have defined goals and a
proper strategy to implement them


It is vital to get support from top management. They have to want to do it as
much as you, as you will not be able to succeed without their backing


You need to invest in quality training. It is expensive in the first year, but
you soon recoup the money in improved productivity


Good communication is essential. Audit your communications so your messages
really do reach the people they are intended for


Let individuals help by encouraging them to put forward ideas. In turn, make
sure that they get feedback, or their input will quickly dry up

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