Jonathan Frankish, The Vita Group’s Head of Behavioural Safety.By Jonathan Frankish, Head of Behavioural Safety, The Vita Group.

As a sector, manufacturing has been on a remarkable health and safety journey. At one point, people outside of the industry may have seen it as a risky career choice, prone to accidents.

Today, it is one of the careers with the lowest accident rates, with the arts, retail and finance sectors all reporting more instances in 2020/21 for self-reported work-related ill health than manufacturing.

This point is further exemplified by data from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which points out that despite having one of the largest workforces, workers in this sector are less than two times as likely to sustain a fatal injury compared to the average UK worker.

However, when it comes to an issue as important as safety in a sector as complex and fast-paced as manufacturing, it’s important not to stand still. Constant evaluation and innovation are necessary to ensure the continued health and well-being of each and every staff member.

This is one of the reasons why The Vita Group places safety as our number one priority and why we’ve firmly embedded it into the structure of the organisation across every country we operate in. We’ve achieved this in a variety of ways, but more recently by investing in a comprehensive behavioural-based safety programme.

What is behavioural-based safety?

Behaviour-based safety (BBS) is a proactive approach to increasing safe behaviours that focuses on reducing hazards by observing the behaviours of a person, team or organisation and analysing the consequences. This analysis can help identify when behaviours should be adjusted and desired behaviours should be rewarded in order to create a well-rounded safety culture. The value of this approach is underlined by the fact that 90% of all accidents are behaviour based.

The ultimate goal is to have a workforce where behaving safely becomes second nature. An example is the introduction of the compulsory wearing of seatbelts. In 2006, the wearing of seatbelts became mandatory for every passenger in a car across the EU, using legislation to force people to consciously change their behaviour. Now, thanks to gentle but consistent reinforcement through safety campaigns, automated reminders and increasing social acceptance (and disapproval of not wearing them!), it’s something that most of us do without even considering it.

Creating a culture of safety

To make sure that Vita embodies the principles of safety at every level of the business, we worked with dss+, a world leader in safety performance consultancy and implementation, to assess our culture and define a journey to achieve our ambitious safety goals.

The process began by conducting a Safety Perception Survey (SPS)TM across all our sites. Thanks to the fact that 81% of all our employees took part, we were able to gather the data required to understand how our staff perceive the issue of safety. This allowed us to plot where Vita sat on the dss+ Bradley CurveTM, which is a measure of a company’s safety maturity. Focus groups were then established to discuss these findings and implement a programme of continual safety improvement.

Bradley CurveTM, a measure of a company’s safety maturity

This led to the creation of the Vita Towards Zero (VTZ) Behavioural Safety programme, which has been designed to embed behavioural change at every level of the organisation. The approach was to enforce positive behaviours rather than focus on negatives.

The training was a key element of this, and every manager and supervisor was given instructions on behavioural safety and safety observations. We then began training ‘safety champions’, staff members from throughout the organisation who would undertake a three-day training course so that they could then deliver our ‘caring for each other’ programme to their colleagues. To date, we have trained approximately 75 safety champions.

The four-hour ‘caring for each other’ course is all about safety awareness-raising. The aim is to create an environment in which everyone is consciously alert to potential hazards to both themselves and their colleagues and actively willing to step in when they see sub-par situations or to praise best practices in action. Ultimately, it is all about our employees looking out for one another and “caring for each other”.

In the last 12 months, over 3,000 employees have been trained across our international facilities. To make the programme as inclusive as possible the training has been delivered in several languages and via both face-to-face and online formats.

Empowerment was another central aspect of the programme. Each participant was encouraged to speak up, talk to each other and challenge upward and, as a result, we saw the number of identified hazards increase. It was gratifying to see people discussing safety issues and being willing to point out potential problems – an important leading indicator. This helped us to correct unsafe conditions and prevent them from becoming potential future accidents.

Safety in the spotlight

Since 2018, and as a result of the VTZ programme, we have seen a consistent reduction in our Lost Time Incident Frequency Rate (LTIFR) from 0.9 to 0.39 (as determined by the number of Lost Time accidents per 100,000 hours worked).

While we’ve worked hard to enshrine safety in Vita’s DNA, we know that there’s still more we can do to further improve and sustain our successes. To this end, we’re holding workshops to keep safety at the front and centre of everyone’s mind and will be conducting a follow-up safety perception survey next year to benchmark against the current status and the progress we’ve made.

An important mechanism for our continual improvement is the sharing of safety information via our bulletin system. Three types of bulletins are circulated across the business, including:

  • Red bulletins: These describe serious incidents and detail the causes, corrective actions and preventative measures as well as any shared learnings
  • Amber bulletins: These outline minor incidents and explain how to avoid such situations in the future
  • Green bulletins: These are used to share good practices so that other people around the group can learn from it

We’ve also instigated initiatives to ensure that health and wellbeing remain the number one priority. In fact, the creation of my new role as Head of Behavioural Safety was part of our drive to sustain behavioural safety moving forwards and again shows a firm commitment to investing in all our employees’ health and safety.

Other practical steps taken include starting every meeting with a safety share – this could include reminding people to check their car’s window cleaner levels during cold weather; sharing examples of industrial fires to highlight where fire extinguishers should be placed, or showing a video of a recent fire drill in which everyone was observed to be holding the handrail. Frequently sharing safety measures ensures our employees think about safety all the time, both in and outside of the workplace.

Leading on safety

It’s important that our culture and values are apparent in every part of the business and underpinned by leadership emphasising safety via multiple communications, showing a commitment to safety and that it is taken seriously.

This is reflected in the safety observations policy, which requires managers to observe operations daily and engage in conversations with employees to enforce positive change. This can involve assessing locations, instructions, posture, cleanliness, reactions, conditions – essentially anything that has a bearing on health and wellbeing. Sites are set a target of managers undertaking at least one safety observation a week or at least 20 per every 50 staff a month, whichever is higher. Each site’s performance is reviewed in monthly business reviews and Group SHE councils by the CEO and Divisional Managing Directors – proving that safety is truly viewed as our number one priority.

The result of all this is to make sure that employees leave work in the same, if not a better, state than they arrived. We know that the human cost of workplace accidents is often substantial, with a ripple effect on the injured employee’s family, friends and colleagues. By embedding safety into the fabric of Vita, we’ve put ourselves on a path of continual improvement which I’m confident will ultimately see us achieve our goal of zero harm and ensure that our workforce is protected. In doing so we will also be proving that the ethos of “good safety is good business” sits at the heart of our company, ensuring that Vita has a healthier, happier and more productive workforce to see us well into the future.

Posted 21st July 2022

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