Safety –the number one priority

David Waboso highlights some simple initiatives that are improving health and safety at London Underground and reports on what happened when he volunteered as a guinea pig for a fatigue test; the results gave him a bit of a shock.

At London Underground, safety is our number one priority and it underpins everything else we do. This means, of course, the safety of the four million plus customers who use our services every day, but also the thousands who work for us, internally and in our supply chain.

As one of the biggest clients in the UK, it is our duty to ensure that the thousands of people working on our projects go home healthy and safe each day.

London Underground has one of the best safety records for a metro system anywhere in the world. It appears that our suppliers generally think we’re doing well in this area too. We recently carried out a supplier perception survey, and the majority who responded agreed that TfL demonstrates good behaviour in both its procedures and behaviours where health, safety and environmental factors are concerned. Most of those surveyed said we provide clear and sufficient information of HSE procedures and obligations.

"Consistency in procedures and processes across a project between different principal contractors is crucial to safe delivery."

Yet, we continue to see avoidable incidents that often result in injury or near misses far too often. Much, much worse than this, there have recently been two fatalities on rail construction projects in London.  At the beginning of March, a fatal accident occurred on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). This came just days after a fatal accident at a Crossrail site. These tragic deaths are a serious reminder that we have a long way to go to improve safety.

In late June, we hosted a safety forum with some of our suppliers to explore how we could work better together to improve safety. As a client, we wanted to know how we could put health and safety concerns at the forefront of our relationships with our suppliers. We wanted to exchange ideas and best practice to see how we can improve.  

Some key findings emerged. Consistency in procedures and processes across a project between different principal contractors is crucial to safe delivery. Equally important is sharing good practice openly – we should make more time to do this and to learn from others. To do this we need to have better engagement between organisations and within organisations so there is a culture of sharing and reporting and being open. Reporting and closing out near hits in a timely manner is also essential, as these can help identify precursors to more serious incidents.

Safety initiatives

We also have some great examples of new safety initiatives that have been implemented on projects that have had a positive impact. One such initiative is the ‘Green Man Crossing’ at Victoria station. We’re currently overhauling this station – one of London’s busiest stations. It’s a complicated construction site, not only because of the sheer number of people still using the station each day, but also because of the physical constraints of the site.

The project made a commitment in its early stages to keep pedestrian flow moving through the area. The team decided to introduce a simple method of telling the public to ‘please wait for the green man’ using life-size cut-outs of people holding signs. The initiative has been highly successful in moving the thousands of people that cut through the project site to the operating station safely. Sometimes the simplest messages can have the greatest impact.

Another initiative I love is the ‘Stretch and Flex’programme to give the manual workers at our Vauxhall station project a gentle morning warm up. Introduced by our contractor Bechtel, Stretch and Flex brings the Vauxhall team together before the start of work for five to ten minutes of gentle stretching. A different team member leads the session each morning. The people I’ve talked to at the project raved about the initiative, saying it really helps to prevent injury and has the added benefit of bringing the team together. You can see Stretch & Flex in action in a short video (1.36mins) here.

I also recently took part in a data collection group on a fatigue reduction initiative, which aimed to measure the impact that fatigue can have on a group of workers. Wearing what’s called a ‘Readiband’ on my wrist, the gadget told me how fatigued I was getting. I was shocked to find out that measuring 70% on the Readiband is the equivalent to the drink drive limit in the UK. The data collected from me and another 99 individuals will be published in a report in September. This will be used at our Bank station upgrade project to reduce risk to our workforce

So while I’m pleased about these and some of the other great initiatives out there, we must continue to improve our safety record – both at LU and across the industry – until everyone gets home safe and healthy each day.

David Waboso is London Underground's director of capital programmes.