Next Gear

With safety in mind

  • Next Gear is changing the way the construction industry keeps workers safe
  • Laing O’Rourke is leading the way and setting an example
  • Listening to workers has been key to establishing new health and safety policies

Next Gear is the initiative of John Green, head of H&S for Laing O’Rourke’s Europe Hub. Green has worked for the company for 10 years, five of them as head of H&S for the Australia Hub before returning to the UK in 2016. It was while working to bring the Australia business’s safety practices in line with Europe’s that he began to think differently.

In the construction industry, there has been no decrease in fatal and serious injury rates over the last 15 years, and, contrary to received wisdom, there is no correlation between the rate of low-level accidents and major hazards, according to John. “No one expects to have serious accidents, and when they happen they can often be on well-run sites that you would think are safe.”

Listening to the workforce

There are three pillars underpinning the new approach: ‘people are the solution’; ‘safety is the presence of positives’; and ‘safety is an ethical responsibility’ – all of which translates into a very different management approach. This involves looking at how activities are actually carried out in real situations, spending more time talking to the workforce, and understanding how they ensure work is carried out safely, and then sharing good practice. 

Following a pilot, which was carried out in Laing O’Rourke’s Explore Industrial Park, Next Gear is now being rolled out across the Europe Hub. The tools that have been developed encourage a new way of working, as well as absorbing fresh ideas from the workforce. These include listening lunches, back‑to‑floor experiences for managers and group exercises – H&S teams will put together groups of five to six people to closely examine working practices. 

A hands-on approach

Laing O’Rourke is taking bold steps to establish the new strategy. “Projects are now implementing the approach via the development of micro-experiments – some simple changes to the way we create safety that will allow us to make bigger changes as we move forward,” says John. “This includes changes to our light eyewear protection policy, changes to the way we manage our supply chain, and an examination of the mandatory use of hard hats at the commissioning stages of projects.”

H&S teams recently streamlined the Safety Management System (SMS) and are planning the roll‑out of a micro‑experiment week where each business will be encouraged to trial one suggestion from the workforce.

“We have really driven the team to develop themselves and maximise existing skills,” says John. “This has included dedicated career coaching, which provides an understanding of where our working styles can add benefit, and where these may be limiting us. This is part of a wider exercise to identify the capabilities and qualities required to implement Next Gear – because we know these are going to be very different to the traditional HSE skills set.”

The company has generated a bespoke set of FSR assessments for work activities to provide risk assurance, as well as focusing attention on critical controls for risks we do not want to entertain coming into fruition. 

“We have started a project to look at the benefits of offsite production in terms of HSE, involving the removal of risk as far back in the process as possible – from construction sites to manufacturing and from manufacturing to design.” 

Other industries are already taking up this new approach. Although Laing O’Rourke is the first to adopt the methodology, the rest of the construction sector is expected to follow. “Unlike many H&S campaigns, this is not one that has a single end point. It has a structured framework, but very flexible parameters. It’s about trust and legacy not conformity and control,” John concludes.

John Green

John Green has been recognised by Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) as 'most influential' for his work on Safety Differently. 

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