Creating A Health & Safety Strategy That Works

Operations Manager Richard Whitting Talks About Our Health & Safety Strategy And How It’s Become Part Of The Company’s DNA.Creating A Health & Safety Strategy That Works

For a long time the events industry flew under the radar with Health & Safety while industries like construction and engineering underwent significant change.  Health & Safety issues were seen as an inconvenience to everyday tasks.  As recently as only 20 years ago, many companies thought nothing of allowing technicians to catch a lift to site in the back of the van packed with all the kit; no seatbelts, no protective footwear and the kit might not even have been properly secured.  

It’s a different story nowadays but the phrase “Health & Safety” can still hang over us like a cloud threatening to rain on a picnic.  After years of painstakingly making risk assessments and deploying method statements, why are H&S Officers often still greeted with a slow clap?  Is H&S overkill, stifling our creativity, or is it in fact challenging us to build better environments?  Is it costing small suppliers unnecessary time and money or can it help grow business?

We ask one of our H&S experts, Richard Whitting (NEBOSH NGC1, GC2 & GC3.) about how Metro’s H&S strategy has been implemented to be both good for business and well-received by stakeholders.

Richard, what does Health & Safety mean at Metro?
Without our H&S strategy, I’m not sure we could continue to run our business.  H&S has been embraced by Metro not because it’s been bureaucratically imposed but because it’s the right thing to do.  Our clients and the venues we work in expect us to be CHAS accredited as an absolute minimum.  We know it’s more than a certificate; it’s about being prepared for every event scenario and having a staff community which lives and breathes it.  It’s part of our DNA. Everyone has the right to do a good day’s work safely and go home at the end of it, happy and healthy.

How is H&S ‘organised’ within the business?
We have two senior employees (including a Board Director) accredited with NEBOSH NGC1, GC2 & GC3 and we have an external CMIOSH advisor who attends our regular committee meetings, chaired by our Managing Director and attended by our HR Manager and representatives from technical staff.  The committee is responsible for rolling out our strategy and for measuring its adoption within the business.  On a practical level, we look at new incidents which have been recorded and ensure measures are in place to avoid the incident being repeated.  At a broader level, we look at training across the staff base, fresh challenges imposed by new event locations or equipment, changes to legislation and improvement to our policy.  

So how important is it all, really?  Would your life be easier without all the procedures?
The mistake is to view H&S as something that gets in the way of work.  Without a sensible, practical H&S policy and culture we would be doing less work.  In reality, if you want to work with businesses in a growing number of industry sectors (e.g. oil, construction, engineering etc.) you won’t get a foot in the door unless you can fit in seamlessly with their policy.  The easiest way to do that is by making sure that our policies are likely to meet or exceed the client’s expectations.

How do you enforce the H&S policy?  How do you make sure it is adhered to?
We believe our attention to H&S is a core business competency so it is treated as a vital part of our reputation.  The real challenge is about embedding it into the day-to-day business.  Implementing a good H&S strategy can’t be ‘all stick and no carrot’;  we all know it’s tedious to fill in accident reports and record the ‘near misses’ but it means we can find ways of avoiding something more serious happening.  Staff need to feel the benefits of working safely and with respect to themselves, others and the working environment.  The trick is to find a way of implementing safe working practices without putting almighty obstacles in the way.  It’s less about saying ‘No’ and increasingly more about figuring out how to bring an idea to life, safely, under the circumstances. 

What have some of your biggest challenges been?
It is always difficult when you to try to accommodate everyone; the client, the venue, the designer.  As people who spend every day transforming spaces, we want guests to experience the best environments imaginable.  However, if you want to build the best experience possible, then your H&S Officer needs to be bringing creative solutions to a table full of potentially tricky problems.  Working in unique and ‘precious’ venues such as museums and galleries can be particularly challenging; so your design agency wants to fly banners from the ceiling?  It won’t happen because firstly, you won’t have time to rig it between doors closing to the public and guests arriving.  Secondly, because you may cause damage to the contents or the fabric of the building itself. Managing clients’ design expectations is essential - as is offering good, alternative ideas.  Whilst banners hung from the ceiling might not be possible, how about using projection or gobo lighting?

Similarly, in a venue like Spencer House, one of London’s finest historic buildings, we have to take great care to avoid damage to property, for example, there is a method for audio and visual equipment installation which involves carrying, rather than wheeling, equipment over precious carpets – then a method has to be implemented to ensure the safety of staff in those circumstances.  Safe working practices not only apply to the protection of staff but also to property and equipment.
Basically, you don’t want to feel like the guy in the meeting everyone’s trying to work around.  Your input needs to be valuable and the H&S planning needs to be worthwhile and beneficial to everyone involved.

If you’d like to find out more about Health & Safety in our industry, try these links:
If you’d like our help with Health & Safety issues at your venue or event, call us on 020 7202 2000.


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