The UK’s #1 Company for Health and Safety: An Interview with Simon Walker

In 2014, Mount Anvil underwent the British Safety Council’s 5 Star audit process. Following an in-depth review, we were awarded 5 stars and a score of 99.78% - the highest ever issued. In 2015, we raised the bar again, achieving a 5 star rating and a score of 99.93% - the new highest.

Together with several other awards including the prestigious Sword of Honour for global safety excellence and a RoSPA Gold Award, we are delighted to reconfirm our status as the UK’s Number 1 company for Health and Safety. But how have we done it? 

We talked to Health and Safety Director, Simon Walker, to find out. Read more below.

      

Simon, you must be thrilled with Mount Anvil’s recent 99.93% audit score. How did the company get to this point?

Mount Anvil has always had a strong focus on Health and Safety, but in recent years we’ve really stepped it up a level.

In a lot of companies, people in different job roles work in isolation from each other. There’s no sharing of practices, no communicating of lessons, no uniformity. Step one was to take everything back to a common baseline - a single template that applied to directors, office staff, on-site teams - the whole company. We built a unified foundation for a better approach to Health and Safety, and from there things came together very quickly.

The big thing was to make people realise that Health and Safety isn’t a set of hoops to be jumped through – it’s something that is hugely important and personally relevant to everyone. These standards and processes exist to ensure that people are safe and well at work. It’s that simple. You let people see that ‘Why’, and all of a sudden the ‘Hows’ make a lot more sense to them. Everyone has a part to play, and everyone feels the benefit – you just need everyone on board. 

      
Some people tend to turn off when you mention Health and Safety though, how do you bypass that and get everyone on the same page?

Lots of ways - firstly by communicating to people that all of this is about helping them and ensuring their wellbeing, but also by finding new ways of engaging people.

We make hazard reporting competitive and run leagues with our subcontractors. We incentivise great performance in Health and Safety with prizes and awards - Red Letter Days or meals out, for example, and we invite people who have had accidents on site to come in and talk about their experience.

You need to keep it fresh - and to appreciate that people are already under a lot of time pressure in their work. We make it personal, we make it easy, and we make it engaging for people.

One of the benefits of making Health and Safety such a core part of our working culture is that it becomes self-regulating in some ways. If everyone's reporting hazards and working in a certain way, then it becomes socially unacceptable not to.

You mentioned making Health and Safety easier for people - tell us about Mount Anvil’s hazard reporting system.

Well there’s a risk, especially on-site, that people come to think of reporting hazards as just another thing that takes up their time – something that they have to be doing when they could be doing ‘actual work’.

Of course, really it’s about helping them to do their job in the best possible environment.

We partnered with a software company to build a web-based reporting system that takes away that time pressure. Contractors can log a hazard from their phone, text a hazard in – reporting is quick and easy so it has become reflexive for people.

Some developers actually penalise contractors for reporting risks, and a lot of others only record ‘near misses’ – accidents where there hasn’t been an injury. That’s just not good enough.

You need to be catching those things earlier, recording behaviours, materials and processes that could cause an incident, not waiting to report things that have. Getting that volume of hazard data in and crunching the numbers is essential to learning and improving.       

Health is often the forgotten part of Health and Safety – how does Mount Anvil address that?

That’s very true, particularly in construction since safety is such a consideration. But health is just as important, if not more so in some ways. Look at the stats – there were 42 safety related deaths in the UK construction industry last year, and around 76,000 health related cases.

And still people only think about safety, because it’s right in front of their noses. If someone breathes that dust in today, it won’t affect them for 30 years. If someone falls and breaks their arm today, that’s real and it’s happening now. That why people find it easy to ignore the ‘Health’ element of our job.

We know that’s not good enough. We now employ a full-time paramedic. He goes to sites, educates people and provides free medicals for staff and our subcontractors. Just like our approach to safety, it’s about proactive health management.

He’s passionate about the job – when we hired him he told us how excited he was to be working in a preventative role rather than only seeing people when something’s gone wrong.      

Is there a relationship between Mount Anvil’s Health and Safety culture and its award-winning homes?

The two are completely linked. If people feel safe and have a great team of people looking out for them, they’ll feel valued and safe, they can concentrate on doing their job well.

More than that, they want to do their job well. Sites with poor safety just couldn’t ever sustainably deliver the kind of homes that Mount Anvil does.

It is easy to try to cut corners with Health and Safety because it needs a real commitment of time and money – but people can’t afford not to make that commitment. The down time for one of these projects for a day is tens of thousands of pounds, so it’s financially important, but it’s also important in terms of our duty of care, keeping morale high on site, and ensuring the quality of our end product.

If we care for our people, they care about the company and about their work. In that way I believe that our investment of time, care and money is paid back a thousand times over in the homes that we create.

Find out more about the Mount Anvil approach to health and safety.