Striking The Health And Safety Balance

18 February 2014

Costain is determined to maintain a balance between the two crucial areas of health and safety.

“Much ground has been made up over the last few years to give the health issues associated with all of our operations equal status with safety in the minds of all of our employees, and it is fair to say we are much closer now,” says Safety, Health and Environment Director, Peter Fisher.

“Nevertheless we still have some work to do before we achieve absolute parity and have health issues at the forefront of everybody’s mind when reviewing our operations.”

Health and Wellbeing Manager, Veronica Robins, took up her role in 2009 with a remit to pull health up the agenda.  One of her first tasks that year was to oversee the introduction of mandatory medicals for all workers deemed to be ‘safety critical’.  

“One of the areas we were keen to expand was the wellbeing side,” said Veronica.   “We have brought in a number of wellbeing initiatives including the provision of blood pressure testing kits on our sites and offices, running Company-wide campaigns focusing on key wellbeing issues and – in particular – the introduction of voluntary wellbeing medicals for our staff.

“Men aren’t good about going to a doctor and a lot of their working lives aren’t conducive to it because they’re away from home Monday to Friday,” admits Veronica.

To meet those challenges, adds Peter: “We have to try to encourage more members of our workforce to take up the option to have a voluntary wellbeing medical. The benefits are enormous and we have numerous success stories.  People are usually unaware that they have high blood pressure or cholesterol unless they have it checked and these wellbeing medicals are uncovering just this type of ‘hidden’ health issue.  The individuals concerned have gone on to visit their GPs and take action to address the problem.”

These ‘mini-MoTs’ are conducted in the workplace. This minimises down-time – and also makes it easier for those staff members who can never normally find time for a check-up.

Since mid-2009, 16 members of the Costain workforce have died due to natural causes, 14 of which have been caused by heart attacks, with the average age of sufferers being a tragically-young 49. 

For this reason a defibrillator policy was introduced in 2011 which requires all sites and offices to provide a defibrillator as part of their first aid equipment following a suitable risk assessment.

“In line with our commitment to support the Government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal this year we will be working much more closely with our supply chain to try to get more of them to offer their workforce medicals. We have already achieved some success in that several supply chain members are now offering this,” says Peter.

“One milestone that we will be addressing is to have all our Tier 1 contractors meeting the minimum standard that we will be setting this year and hopefully implementing in 2015. We will be working closely with our Tier 1 contractors to achieve this.”

His other major health aspiration, which he accepts is a long-term one, would be to conduct medicals for all, regardless of job role.  “I don’t see this happening for a few years but it is definitely achievable in the long term. Companies that realise the value of these will benefit in many ways.” 

“We’re always trying to raise the bar,” adds Veronica. “For example this year we will definitely be looking at the management of dust on-site. We want not just to comply with regulations but to go beyond them.”