Shepherd Engineering Services was the first building services firm to achieve OHSAS 18001 certification. Tony Sidwell reports on how this has reaped rewards

Shepherd Engineering Services (SES) decided to embark on OHSAS 18001 for a number of reasons: to help raise the profile of safety within the company, to allow a third party to evaluate our health and safety management system against a recognised standard and to win stakeholder recognition.

The BSI Group’s initial assessment of our management system was in August 2002. The assessment covered SES’s:

  • Health and safety policy and arrangements
  • Procedures manual
  • Site safety plan
  • Site safety information binder
  • Head office health and safety plan.

To reflect our size and site operations, BSI audited a number of sites and offices against the standard, covering the whole range of activities, including compilation and adherence to risk assessments, training, emergency response, subcontractor management, first aid, work equipment inspections, safe working conditions and occupational health.

Safety culture

When going for OHSAS 18001, we found that, in addition to addressing various technical clauses in the standard, we needed to further develop our health and safety management culture.

Today, the ongoing certification effort helps to reinforce the health and safety ethos across the company, but actually building an effective management system required us to effectively communicate and motivate everyone involved. This was a big challenge and it took us another year to hone our system – including the implementation of vitally important communication channels – before we were certificated to OHSAS 18001 in late 2003.

To boost site communication, we used a broad range of specific measures, including:

Safety bulletins A quarterly safety and environmental newsletter compiled by the divisional safety, health and environmental (SHE) advisers and sent via internal mail to all employees. The bulletins help improve awareness, inform on safety initiatives and achievements and promote good environmental practices across the company’s sites and offices.

Alerts Distributed to all employees following a relevant reported dangerous occurrence or other industry safety-related event. The alerts are distributed via email and internal mail to all sites. The intention of the alerts is to highlight any poor practice that may have contributed to the incident and information on how to prevent a reoccurrence. The alert is also conveyed to all operatives via a dedicated toolbox talk.

Awards To help promote safety across all sites, each divisional SHE adviser makes a monthly safety award to any office or site-based supervisor or operative who is carrying out their tasks in an exceptional manner. These have been supported by senior management, are well received by the site teams and provide a well-deserved reward for high safety standards.

Monthly initiatives Introduced in 2005, these focus on a topic and promote awareness related to this activity. All initiatives are supported by a poster and on-site safety talk, with additional training from the SHE department if required. A wide range of subjects has included personal protective equipment (PPE), occupational skin problems and safe working around raised access flooring.

Behavioural change There is a realisation within a number of construction and building services companies that, along with the more traditional methods of safety management, in order to reach the next level a culture of behavioural change is needed.

SES has had in place the fundamentals for some time – senior management commitment, an ‘open door’ safety policy, safety as an executive-level agenda item and effective communication routes encompassing all levels of employee. But in 2006 it was decided that we had to embark on the next stage.

Since then behavioural change awareness training has been carried out on site and as part of our project management awareness programme and improved on-site monitoring procedures have been implemented.

Awareness DVD

In 2005 we produced a health and safety induction and awareness DVD. Nine modules allow a comprehensive or customised site induction that is given to every operative.

The DVD includes topics such as:

  • Working at height
  • Plant and vehicles
  • Openings and excavations
  • Electrical awareness
  • Welding
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Manual handling
  • Control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH)
  • Noise and hand/arm vibration.

Stakeholder engagement

Effective communication with clients and major contractors is crucial to the success of any m&e contractor. Increasingly, there are references to OHSAS 18001 in project tenders. Although safety is only one facet of winning and delivering contracts, we find certification to the standard makes prequalifying with clients and major construction companies much more straightforward. Basically, it gives clients extra confidence about how we approach health and safety.

OHSAS 18001 also has a lot to say about setting and working to objectives and targets. Our own health and safety objectives are influenced by legal and industry requirements and identified accident trends.

Safety performance is prime territory for setting reactive targets. The company’s accident frequency rate for the past five years has been less than half the construction industry figure, and in 2006 SES worked a full calendar year without a single Riddor-reportable accident.

Often, accident reductions have come from looking at very specific accident data and making logical management decisions that may initially appear unpopular and difficult to implement.

In October 2005 we introduced a mandatory safety glove policy, supported by robust communication including posters and safety talks and written instruction to subcontractors. An immediate reduction in hand and finger injuries followed.

Our other main aims are to comply with legislation, and support the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and industry initiatives, notably the electrical contractors’ industry-wide ZAP safety programme.

We maintain a strong link with the ECA programme, and our low accident stats have contributed to ZAP’s remarkable achievement of halving accidents within the ECA membership in just six years.

OHSAS 18001 also focuses on training. Most of our workforce are technically- and/or apprentice-trained, and health and safety is an integral part of our career training. All employees receive Skillcard or ECS card training. Subcontracted companies and labour agency staff must also hold cards, and OHSAS 18001 helps us to manage this.

Since we obtained OHSAS 18001 certification in October 2003 we have been audited twice-yearly, and we find that the certification process keeps us on our toes. Probably the most difficult aspect of securing compliance is ensuring employees and others on our sites stay aware of what matters.

Considering the number of sites we operate, the different stages of the projects, the large number of clients for whom we work and the demanding nature of building site work, it is a continual challenge but we find the standard gives us the edge that we need.

Update on OHSAS 18001 certification

BS OHSAS 18001:2007 is the latest version of the world’s leading health and safety management systems standard, says Paul Reeve.

It describes what an organisation must do to achieve third party certification for its health and safety management system. Even for those who do not want third party recognition, it is the benchmark for big companies, alongside the HSE’s Successful health and safety management guide (HSG 65).

The standard is well aligned with ISO 14001:2004 (environmental management) and ISO 9001:2000 (quality) and it has a specific requirement for the evaluation of legal compliance, mirroring ISO 14001:2004. This emphasises compliance with legislation and important codes and standards, rather than just reacting to non-compliances.

OHSAS also requires a certificated company to “maintain a procedure to identify… requirements to which the organisation subscribes”. Many of these – not least contracts – are in effect mandatory, even if they are not based on safety law.

  • BS OHSAS 18001:2007 Occupational health and safety management systems: Requirements is available from BSI Customer Services. Tel: 020 8996 9001.

    Paul Reeve is ECA head of safety and environment