Health & Safety: Looking at plant safety with fresh eyes

Most companies with a responsibility for 37 power stations in 18 countries would look upon a lost-time accidents frequency rate of 0.24 as impressive. But then most companies are unlike independent generator International Power, which counts ‘safe behaviour’ among its five core values.

By: Rachel Ivers, Marsh, UK

Safety management rarely gets an airing among senior management teams, and with behavioural safety still a relatively new concept, it can often be hard to create sufficient appetite, consensus and time commitment to make it work effectively in practice. Companies that decide to take the behavioural safety approach typically make one of two decisions. They either decide to undertake the exercise themselves, often leading to missed programme deadlines as priorities change and insufficient objectivity, or they hire consultants to do it, which can mean that management accountability and commitment rapidly erode as the project gets under way.

In 2005, 85 per cent of International Power’s (IP) lost-time accidents were the direct result of behaviour of individuals – not an uncommon ratio. IP decided to design and deploy a safety programme that would identify the behaviours contributing to the accidents and set about improving them, but it took a novel approach.

First, from day one, under the sponsorship of the director of operations and engineering, senior managers from around the IP group pledged commitment to the programme. Twelve of the company’s key stakeholders flew to the UK from across the world to spend a week developing the key parts of the programme. Commitment at this level early in the programme certainly made a marked difference to its overall success.

IP’s Hazelwood mine in Australia, which fuels its 1600 MW coal fired power station at the same site, is one of the potentially hazardous working environments that will benefit from the Fresh Eyes programme
Click here to enlarge image

The second major difference was the decision to use external consultants in the development and roll-out of the programme. Charles Dick, IP’s group health and safety manager, decided from the start that an off-the-shelf solution would not have been sustainable in the long-term, nor would it necessarily fit IP’s culture and leading-edge approach.


The working group recognized that only by owning the behavioural programme would it become an integral part of IP’s safety culture. But at the same time, they wanted to draw on the experience and facilitation skills of an outside firm to ensure they were designing and deploying the programme in the most effective way and with the best use of resources. IP hired Marsh of the UK to provide these skills and advice because of its reputation as one of the pioneers of behavioural safety programmes, its direct experience with other large multinational companies and its global footprint.

Marsh began the engagement with IP by assisting the 12 members of the working group to design the framework for the programme by providing specialist advice and overall facilitation. This also ensured that the appropriate protocols and foundational principles were in place when the detailed work in the training programme for the regional trainers began. For a name, the group agreed on Fresh Eyes. Underpinning the behavioural safety programme are core values that include visible and strong safety leadership, ownership from employees (including contractors), structured observation, training and effective mechanisms for review, feedback, communication and recognition.

An eye-opener

Fresh Eyes formally launched in January 2007, with a fully bespoke ‘train the trainer’ workshop in the Czech Republic, intent on creating 16 regional trainers with the skills, knowledge and confidence to execute the programme in their regions. The workshop provided lots of practical experience, feedback, group working and live delivery from the regional trainers, as well as input on the fundamentals and background to behavioural safety so that the regional trainers became ‘experts’.

IP’s decision to invest in their regional trainers for a whole week was driven by the need to create a strong networked team of champions and to address the complexities of implementing a global, employee-owned behavioural safety programme. One of the reasons for the energy created after the workshop among the team of regional trainers was that they had been integrally involved in the design and critique of the training programme, which they subsequently took back to the regions to implement. Delivering a programme in which participants feel in control is producing great results.

The emphasis on IP employees taking responsibility for implementing Fresh Eyes remains as critical to the success of the programme as it has ever been. From the senior management group down, the belief is that unless all employees feel responsible for enforcing safe behaviours and are equipped with the skills to measure these against well-designed metrics, the programme will not succeed. Acting under the advice of Marsh, significant effort went into ensuring that regional trainers have the right capabilities and tools to create reassurances before the programme got underway.

Seeing what you say

The implementation and roll-out of the behavioural safety programme began immediately after the workshop. The regional trainers immediately put into action the skills and knowledge they acquired. Within a matter of months, they had introduced Fresh Eyes in their assets by conducting management briefings, setting up their asset steering teams and delivering the training programme for observers who would be the fresh pairs of eyes on the ground. They then began to introduce it into other assets within their regions.

The Fresh Eyes programme is based on over 15 years of experience in behavioural safety combined with the knowledge from IP’s global working group and regional trainers. Fresh Eyes is also similar to other programmes. For example, skills are given to a group of observers in observation, feedback and communication. They visit sites regularly and frequently to observe their colleagues in their everyday work, recording incidences and examples of their safe and unsafe behaviours. They subsequently provide immediate feedback to their colleagues based on those observations. Changes are made to working behaviours immediately and also in a more structured way by reporting and actioning through the local steering committee.

Programme ownership is local

Unique to Fresh Eyes is the emphasis on ownership of the programme being local within each country rather than central. Also unique has been the rolling out of the programme by the regional trainers who have a regional co-ordination role in supporting, coaching and monitoring the programme’s implementation. This distinctive role and contribution of the regional trainers at a local level has been integral in gaining buy-in and in building momentum among the workforce. Central to the programme is the networking that is developed both at a global level and, importantly, within individual sites.

In June 2007, an interim review began. In separate, two-day site visits to each of the major IP regions and assets where Fresh Eyes had been introduced, the regional trainers and the steering committees received in-depth reviews. Observers were interviewed to understand how the programme is being implemented in the region. Subsequent coaching and guidance on improvements were provided to the regional trainers and committees so that they could continue progressing their implementation plans and to help them with the ultimate future challenge of maintaining momentum.

Dick comments, “The review exercises are already demonstrating their worth, and in doing so are cementing senior management commitment to, and confidence in, the programme. We are finding that all regional trainers have taken on the role with great enthusiasm and success. A Marsh consultant was involved in the review of the European assets and commented that the opportunity of further support and the chance to improve their skills and competencies has been welcomed by everyone. Encouragement and recognition is helping to build confidence, and we are finding that our colleagues in IP are responding to the chance to share success stories and challenges.”

It is clear from the review visits in Europe that Fresh Eyes is having a far wider impact than just safety. As one member of a local asset steering committee, who is also a supplier, noted: ‘After three years of implementing a similar thing another way, this programme is really building bridges – even across working parties out on-site.’

A clear Success

One of the firm’s asset managers in the UK commented after attending the observer training programme that it was the best one he had ever attended. The training programme itself is a far cry from typical safety training courses, with lots of participation, practical activity and an emphasis on using methods of employee engagement to ensure that support for Fresh Eyes is ‘felt’ and not just given lip service.

As with many behavioural safety programmes, some of the challenges and opportunities that the global team will face include growing the team of implementers, goal-setting, measurement analysis, succession planning and ensuring the fundamental principles of behavioural safety are upheld and reinforced through adequate support, coaching and guidance.

Following the success of the Czech Republic ‘super trainer’ workshop, the team is enthusiastic about the programme’s progress. From the start, IP allocated the right level of resources, had clear targets, demonstrated visible top-level sponsorship and was flexible about balancing group dynamics. Now it has an excellent team of regional trainers who are implementing and championing Fresh Eyes. They have made outstanding progress so far. IP is confident that the programme will deliver significant results for its business, while enhancing the way that people give feedback, communicate safety issues and work together across the business towards a common vision.

Dick is quick to point out the impact that Marsh has had on Fresh Eyes: “The specialist advice provided by Marsh has ensured that the components of our programme follow best practice and sound behavioural science, and their role as facilitators and trainers has made it significantly easier to develop the skills and knowledge needed to deliver the programme effectively.”

While Fresh Eyes is still being rolled-out across the organization, IP feels that it will be instrumental in reducing unsafe behaviours, result in fewer accidents, lower absence rates, make communication and team working more effective, and create a positive safety culture. What a difference a fresh pair of eyes can make.

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