HEALTH AND SAFETY — M&E contractor Emcor hasn’t got to zero accidents yet, but its safety policy is helping it move in the right direction.

Zero hours lost to injuries on site is the target Emcor set itself at the beginning of 2004. The M&E contractor hasn’t quite got there yet, but accident rates have fallen by 77% over the past two years.

Sean Black, Emcor’s health and safety manager, regrets that the company hasn’t reached the zero mark yet, but says the significant reduction demonstrates that its staff and subcontractors have become more aware of best practice on site.

Emcor’s research found that 80% of accidents were caused by human error while the rest were down to design and equipment flaws. Black says most workers have a “misguided sense of loyalty”, and although they may be aware that their company is not fully complying with health and safety issues, as long as problems or accidents haven’t occured, they carry on doing the wrong thing and don’t say anything.

The health and safety culture Emcor has implemented is one that “empowers” employees. The Take 5 action plan encourages them to take five minutes before starting a job to assess any potential risk and ensure they have the necessary tools and materials to carry it out safely.

“We try to use a safety behavioural process to train people to spontaneously realise that if something is not entirely safe they shouldn’t be doing it,” says Black. The core idea is that if a site worker thinks their equipment might not be reliable, they should have the confidence and ability to go to their site manager and say, “I am not using this.”

Black is adamant that the only way to improve best practice is to support staff. “It’s not just about providing training; you have to give the staff the right tools to be able to do the job properly,” he says.

Our employees have a direct feel for what we try to do, whereas some of our subcontractors only work on a one-off basis and for a very short duration. They don’t buy into the culture

Sean Black, health & safety manager

The company has invested £25,000 to run the training for its zero accidents policy. It has also set up a financial incentive whereby the 2,000 staff are tested on their practical and theoretical safety knowledge. Every month, the company organises a draw in which three members of staff are selected. Each person is awarded a prize of £100 if they pass the assessment.

The next challenge for Emcor is to encourage subcontractors to gain a better understanding of site safety and put it into practice. The 77% reduction in accidents is for Emcor alone. The percentage drop for the company and its subcontractors, which covers more than 2.5 million working hours since 2004, is much smaller, at 46%. “We’ve noticed a better performance among our direct employees because the message is continuous through newsletters and safety bulletins that we address directly to their home,” says Black. “They have a direct feel for what we try to do, whereas some of our subcontractors only work on a one-off basis and for a very short duration. They don’t buy into the culture.”

Emcor has tried to spread best practice among its subcontractors by showing them Take 5 and zero accident initiatives that they can bring back to their own businesses. It will soon offer nationwide quarterly training for subcontractors, following successful one-off courses. It also conducts interviews and site inspections to evaluate their performance.

Black says the firms are generally co-operative. Following the onsite evaluation they tend to raise the level of basic training among their staff. “

But those that tend to perform less well don’t like it,” he says.

Black adds that one of its subcontractors had a very poor record when it was audited 18 months ago, mainly because of poor practice in working at height. After three months of training and setting new priorities, the company reached a 92% satisfaction rate. “We encouraged this company to train its 120-strong workforce to reduce accidents using the argument that it would make it more saleable on the market. It’s not just for us. It also benefits our competitors,” he says. “Not, of course, that we would want them to go off and work for everyone else.”