… but it seems to be helping May Gurney, which has cut site accidents almost two-thirds since launching its Making A Difference initiative.

Contractor May Gurney has reduced the number of accidents on its sites by almost two-thirds by introducing a training scheme based on behavioural change. To improve health and safety, staff have been encouraged to change their ingrained habits and look after each other better. This innovative concept was rewarded by the Best Building Contractor’s Safety Initiative prize at this year’s Health and Safety Awards.

The programme was launched in April last year when May Gurney found out that nine out of 10 accidents could be attributed to employees’ behaviour, according to Emma Barratt, the firm’s senior business improvement, safety, health and environment adviser.

Barratt, whose background is in human resources, contributed to devising the behavioural safety system called Making A Difference (MAD) and co-ordinated its roll-out among the 3000 staff nationwide. “The main idea was to give a positive briefing,” she says. “We don’t say, ‘don’t do this or that’ but instead ‘try to do things differently’.”

Passing the knowledge on

Before setting up the project, the contractor sought advice from training consultants and found that the most effective training schemes are provided in-house rather than by external trainers. This meant that a certain number of staff had to be trained to coach their colleagues.

About 150 May Gurney front-line managers attended a three-day long awareness training to set up the objectives and methods for MAD. Fifty people volunteered to become coaches and were given one week’s training. Their responsibilities within the company vary from frontline managers to safety advisers and project managers.

Barratt says a coach’s personality was more important than their job title. “It was who they were that mattered. The person we wanted to be a coach had to be enthusiastic and believe in the concept of MAD. We couldn’t have someone who would see it as just another initiative,” she says.

The programme includes a module on how the mind works to improve reactions to potential safety hazards. For example, it is important to find out when in the day people are most likely to slip into a daydream state. “We are not saying that it’s causing accidents, but we expect people to become aware of this to react more quickly,” says Barratt.

And that’s where the idea of looking after your colleagues comes in. Through MAD, May Gurney intends to “get some family core values into the business”. In other words, hark back to a time when it was easier to care for colleagues within small family-run businesses – but do this on a much larger scale. “Our idea is that if we start being nice to one another, it will have an impact on the working environment,” says Barratt. The company has introduced what it calls “a smile culture” whereby staff are encouraged to greet, thank and speak to one another.

Another module covers bad habits such as lifting heavy loads in the wrong way. The company tries to raise awareness about the risks involved in repeating the same mistakes again and again. Barratt says May Gurney adopted a lead-by-example approach. “We think that if people behave in the right way, others will copy,” she says.

Ideas that work, at work and home

So far, these ideas have been proven right.

The company has noticed a 65% drop in accidents and an improvement in the quality of production and teamwork. Barratt says MAD has even changed some of her bad health and safety habits at home.

As for getting feedback from the staff, the traditional appraisal form has been ruled out. The success of this paperless project is rated through smiley face stickers. May Gurney has set up a board in staff lobbies to measure employees’ mood. A smiley face if they think everything is running smoothly, an upside down face for low morale.

“Instead of asking people to fill forms, we ask them directly,” says Barratt. “It is on site that we want people to be responding. At the moment, we see MAD is working.”