Safety Byte: What impact do clients have on health, safety & wellbeing?


Safety Byte: What impact do clients have on health, safety & wellbeing?

Posted on 10 March 2022

‘Safety Bytes’ – Steve Hails – Tideway

We met Steve Hails, Director of Health, Safety & Wellbeing at Tideway. Steve talks about the impact which clients have on health, safety and wellbeing. He believes that “clients have an essential role to play in setting the bar.” He discusses the challenges client requirements can bring to large infrastructure projects, the impact on the supply chain and where things could be improved moving forward.

We also discuss Behavioural programmes and the interview culminates with some advice from Steve on whether practitioners should consider a behavioural safety programme within their business.


Clients have a huge role to play in influencing health and safety and well-being within the industry. They set the bar. I feel that clients have an essential role to play in setting that bar. Legislative compliance is nowhere near enough in large infrastructure projects in particular but also more widespread in construction, and clients have to take the responsibility to set those standards in the very first instance. It sets the stall out at the earliest opportunity, and it gives the supply chain an opportunity to understand what the expectations are to be able to price accordingly but also to then meet those expectations during the delivery of a project.


The impact clients have on setting expectations as is varied and mixed, if I’m honest. I think raising the bar is essential, but where we are falling short is the lack of consistency, and that lack of consistency is creating inefficiencies within the supply chain. If you think of one of the tier one’s, or any of their supply chain for that matter that could be working on several different projects, as they move from project A to project B to project C, the expectations of clients change.

To all intents and purposes, the bar is probably at the same level, but there are subtle differences that are requiring the supply chain to adapt. Now, that adaptation is not always a bad thing, but it can be very inefficient. We have to work harder as clients to come together to collaborate more, to try and agree on an industry standard that allows those efficiencies to be met within the supply chain.

At Tideway, we’ve set our own bar. We’re now already looking to how we can share that with other projects. It’s important that those projects take that on board and don’t just continue to add another layer. Arguably, we’ve done it here at Tideway.

I was at Crossrail before I was Tideway, and we learned from the Olympics, but we added another layer on top. So it was the Olympics plus one. Tideway is arguably the Olympics, plus Crossrail, plus one. I think we’ve just got to be very careful that we don’t just keep adding layer after layer after layer without any real value. Sometimes, less is more, and I think if it’s worked, and it’s worked in the past, we as clients need to embrace that and say, yes, that’s exactly how we want it to work, and take that one forward as an industry, not just by project.


Clients setting standards is an important element, but standards alone don’t make for strong health and safety performance. In fact, sometimes they can actually have a negative impact. So we have to be very careful in the standards that we set and pick and choose where standardisation is the right thing forward.

We should not take away the ability for clients on their supply chain to be creative, to be innovative in their ways of managing health and safety risk, and also promotion of positive well-being within the workplace. So we have to set our stall out quite early but not make it overly bureaucratic that it becomes a burden on the supply chain to meet those expectations. And I think we are seeing the rewards of where that bar is being set.

I’ve had the pleasure of working on some sites that are the best that I’ve seen in my career, but we’ve still got a long way to go. And if we can start to have more consistency— with or without standards— but consistency, then we will start to see the transition from one project to the next being far smoother than it is currently. And I think that’s where the real benefit lies.


Some examples where it’s not working particularly well are, for example, behavioural safety programs. Each organisation within the industry generally has their own corporate program that they’re following. You then have a client that comes in and specifies something that will be along the same lines but slightly different, probably badged differently. That in itself has challenges, because you have an individual that’s used to working under one particular brand coming to your program and then trying to adapt to the needs of that, albeit that the behavioural program itself might be very, very similar.

Behavioural safety programs are a bit like health and safety passports and CSCS cards. They’ve kind of just grow with time, and we haven’t again embraced that to have a consistent approach. So that’s certainly one area, where I think we’ve got a lot of work to do.


The challenges of behavioural safety programs and whether they’re working or not, I personally believe it’s not necessarily that they’re not working per se. It’s the ineffectiveness of a behavioural program decades after these things were first brought to the market, if you like, with DuPont and their STOP program. We just haven’t evolved these behavioural programs to the degree that I feel we should have within the industry

In fact, I think we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the road, and if you think back to Heinrich and Bird and their traditional accident triangles, we focus on the base of that triangle with the unsafe acts and conditions. And naturally, we’ve fallen into this area of focusing more on the unsafe acts. If you actually look at Heinrich’s research, he wasn’t talking purely about unsafe behaviours, but we just ignored many of the other areas. James Reason probably has it much better with his Swiss cheese model and the fact that behaviour’s one layer in that area, but we’ve started to use phrases like 98% of accidents are caused by unsafe acts and behaviours. So we naturally focus on the behaviours, and whether we do it consciously or subconsciously, we’re actually developing a blame culture.

So if an individual is involved in an accident or an incident or a near miss, the investigation will generally throw up some form of behavioural improvements. And that individual will have some blame apportioned to them, and I don’t think we’ve quite got it right within behavioural programs. And an individual working on a site in construction does not need to know, in my opinion, an antecedent, a behaviour, and a consequence and the science behind what drives behaviour, and we shouldn’t be trying to change behaviour. I think we should be influencing behaviour rather than looking for behavioural change

You influence behaviour by creating an environment where individuals change their own behaviour. So you create the right working conditions, you give the very best facilities for individuals that are working within your sector, and ours, in construction, and then individuals just naturally move in the way that you want them to move. If you like, it it’s a kind of a nudge rather than somebody coming out with a clipboard and measuring safe and at-risk behaviours and then giving you a percentage at the end of the month or going through the science. There is a place for that.

I think it’s important that managers understand what’s at the heart of behaviour and what influences behaviour and why people behave in a particular way. But I think we would get a much bigger bang for our buck if leaders within our business actually understood more about their teams and understood what makes those individuals tick, rather than understanding the science behind behaviour. Once you understand how behaviours tick with the right environment, the best facilities, you can then get the very best out of your teams.


Changing behavioural programs and standardising behavioural programs is not necessarily the way to go. Again, you still need some form of flexibility, you still need autonomy, and you still need creativity within those programs, on any program. Where I think the focus should be on standardisation is standardising the environments and the facilities that are created on construction sites. A good example that we’ve done at Tideway, we’ve raised the bar on welfare facilities.

On many construction sites, you used to have a situation where those working on the construction site went through the turnstiles, and those working in the office went through the nice, clean office environment. We’ve changed that, and everybody goes through the same area, everybody has access to the same high-quality facilities. So the very, very simplest of things is astonishing, when you ask for feedback.

It’s the simplest of things that individuals want. They want access to changing areas that are large enough to accommodate the numbers of people that are on site. They want lockers that have a clean and dirty area, so that they’re not cross contaminating their own personal possessions. They want washing facilities.

They want showers. They want showers that actually work with hot water. They want enough showers for everyone that is liable to use them. They want good quality canteen facilities, an area where they can have some quiet time. All simple stuff that we sitting in offices would generally take for granted, but on construction sites, that’s never been the case.

So I think from a standardisation perspective, we should be really raising the bar on saying, this is where we have to provide the very, very best for those that— let’s be honest— are exposed to the higher risk, day in, day out. And if we can give them the very best facilities, then their behaviour is likely to be influenced by that. They’ll be far more focused on addressing and managing the risk than they will thinking about the poor conditions they’re expected to work in.


Should health and safety practitioners consider a behavioural program? Yes and no. I know that sounds very much like sitting on the fence, but one really needs to understand what is the expectation? What is the goal? What are you trying to achieve in implementing a behavioural program?

If you’re just doing it because it’s a tick in the box, and everyone has one, so we need to have one, I feel that that’s wasted effort. I think what you should be doing, is you should be engaging with your workforce at every level and understanding what it is that the real issues are. And then, if that then feels that a behavioral program is the right way to go, then by all means, take that direction.

Speak with others, find out what their challenges have been in implementing it. Get the right program for you, but if it’s not what your feedback is telling you that you need, then don’t bother. It’s just another thing that you’re adding to the list of things, adding to the layer after layer after layer, of things that we expect our teams on site to be involved in and be engaged in. And if they’re telling you that it’s not going to have any value, then don’t put it in place.

The Thames Tideway Tunnel will be a 25 km (16 mi) tunnel running mostly under the tidal section of the River Thames through central London to capture, store and convey almost all the raw sewage and rainwater that currently overflows into the river.

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