Gemini/West Midlands Trains/London Midlands
Kirk Trewin, Business Unit Director at Gemini Rail Services UK Ltd.
Are staff on the frontline/working from home within your company?
We have nearly 500 employees here, predominantly in manufacturing and around 300 blue collar workers so up to 60% of our team need to be on site. Our workforce still has a heavy presence in the workplace, but we are practicing social distancing and putting the time and effort in to make these new adjustments work.
We have really upped our contact with both workers on site and those at home to communicate our plans and make sure they don’t feel disconnected.
Why is it important to have good safety culture?
Safety culture is hugely important, so much so that I am starting a Safety Culture programme in my current role at Gemini that is largely based on the findings and the experiences gained from our sessions at West Midlands Train with AMOC.
As part of this new initiative we will be using the Huddle system to uncover the uncomfortable truths - It’s important to break down the barriers that certain members of the team might have and start genuine conversations about what’s going on to be able to inspire change and make progress.
It’s important to understand why decisions are being made that are unsafe and how that can be avoided in the future. From those conversations, we can start to think about the quick wins and identify solutions and as part of that, we will review feedback and make sure that it’s appropriate for the job in hand.
One of the key outputs of my new initiative is the creation and delivery of a Safety Charter that everyone can input into and adhere to – almost like a company mantra. We have started that process with the team at Gemini. Our plan consists of creating 10 commitments and five core goals that each relate to what we have branded our C.A.R.E. STRATEGIES – Communication, Accountability, Responsibility and Effectiveness. We have called the campaign GemCare.
Once the process delivery map has been fully identified, the plan is to release a one of the ten commitments every week over a ten week period internally, accompanied with a life-size image of a person on the frontline in our business who will help bring those commitments to life. Over three months, we will have 10 people as the face of each commitment. Ideally, the training initiative will run longer term and could span up to six months.
What do you need to make the programme a success?
For a programme like this to work, it requires company-wide commitment from every level of the organisation as well as resources and appropriate funding in order to be able to deliver it effectively. Running programmes like this tend to unearth things that need to be addressed and adjusted, which ultimately requires a financial commitment.
I was inspired to start this initiative following a review of our data and metrics. We track our near-miss and accident reporting very carefully, and we had observed a trend of declining near-miss reporting and an increase in accidents. This negative data needed a response that was more than just an email. As an organisation we needed to show real commitment to change.
At this point, we had already embarked on a programme to improve internal communication and had invested heavily in digital screens around the workplace in areas like breakout rooms and common areas on the shop floor. We had also moved to a more digital direction, starting with updating email addresses and issuing payslips online. This digital communication is key and although typically blue-collar workers are traditional in their approach and don’t really embrace digital methods they have had to, and the current situation with Covid-19 has escalated that need. It means that we have got where we needed to be in a much shorter period of time.
Now is the right time to launch our own safety programme as we have the evidence to show why we’re doing it and the support from staff.
Why did you choose to work with Karen and Lesley specifically?
I worked with Lesley for Many years at West Midlands Trains when she was Head of Safety and at that time, Karen had begun work on the Managing Safety Culture Programme.
In that period, we had around 4,500 different risk assessments and method statements, which looked thorough and professional but in truth were overwhelming to the point where no one used them. We hadn’t struck that balance between formality and ease of use and it had become unmanageable.
We were one of the first companies to undertake the programme with AMOC. We had the attitude that we wanted to do things differently.
I, like many others, was sceptical at first especially as I realised that on the back of the programme would come a lot of additional work, but as we got into it and started to identify the key goals and saw positive reaction from the team, something changed.
We started to have those very honest and frank discussions and some of it was horrible to hear but we accepted it and management realised that that’s what needed to happen to really identify the issues. It was our job to engage with people and get them to open up so we could start to piece together what needed to change. Dealing with those uncomfortable truths was difficult as management styles were criticised, and we had to handle negative comments from a wellbeing point of view.
Starting on this programme gave us a method and forum to facilitate one-on-one and group discussions and give people the opportunity to talk openly with an eyes wide open approach. Ultimately, our goal was to change the safety culture, create a safer space for our team and improve our metrics. Our slogan became Work Safe, Be Safe, Home Safe.
We wanted six, short words that really hit the message home without using formal, corporate speak that no one really buys into. The idea was that everyone in the business would understand what we were trying to do and get on board with it.
What are the benefits of outsourcing this programme?
The main benefit to outsourcing the programme is that you get a totally unbiased view. Having someone who is external to your business with a ‘say what you see’ approach is refreshing and needed. Running something to this scale in-house always runs the risk of having bias minds at the helm and those people running it can take offence or take negative comments personally. Throughout the programme, a key part was making sure that people didn’t feel that way.
Instead, we created an environment where people felt safe to open up, using huddles and briefs. Often it would take a few sessions to break those barriers down but that was to be expected.
Having someone come in with a dedicated focus does also mean that you can get things over the line much quicker.
How were the sessions delivered?
Sessions and discussions all took place around our shift system and were delivered on the ground, in person. We worked around our staff and that worked because it gave us a much more natural reaction. Staff respected that we had gone to them and didn’t expect them to work around us and it helps to take that extra step to break down any scepticism. The programme was delivered over 9 months, but it could be done quicker if required.
It was met with resistance to begin with, due to the length of time it would take to deliver, and the additional work created on the back of it. I believe that if you’re not part of it, living and breathing it, it’s easy to lose belief in what you’re trying to achieve. If you initiate a campaign like this, you need to be present throughout and act as an executive sponsor.
Ultimately, we didn’t sell this to our team as a programme or exercise but a change in company culture – it’s just what we do around here. It’s about embedding it into company ethos, giving people the headspace to open up completely and gaining their trust in that process with multi-layer sessions.
The response was positive, and we supported the initiative with other things such as improving the workspace with new flooring, décor and an upgraded canteen. Although not directly associated with safety culture the timing was good for us. The two things delivered together were able to give our processes and our words substance.
How has it benefited you personally?
Personally, I have been through the entire spectrum. I was hesitant at first as I believed it would be too much work and too big of a job but now, I’m incredibly passionate about the subject and am delivering a safety charter in a new company and using all the experiences I gained at WMT/LM.
I find it rewarding to see my managers coming up with their own thoughts and beliefs about what needs to be done – essentially, they are setting their own targets that I can measure them against. They want to do things themselves off their own back and the sense of empowerment that it brings is great. Working with AMOC to deliver of safety culture and behaviour also really helped to connect the team and all of the managers bought into it. One of them actually wanted to continue with it and has considered it almost as a career change.
It brought out a side in people that really demonstrated how much they care about their colleagues and the business and will go the extra mile to support that. This programme helped that to flourish.
Would you recommend A Matter of Choice?
Having worked with Karen and Lesley, I would now consider them friends and they are the kind of people that I would be comfortable to pick up the phone to and chat.
Since working together Lesley and I had a great relationship and really motivated each other. In an engineering environment, the safety person should be in your ear all the time, but you gain that professional level of respect by them being that way. I think it’s positive to be challenged professionally. Aside from that, her knowledge in safety is unbelievable and she’s been there and done it herself.
Karen’s background in HR is essential in this and the two skillsets go hand in hand. To have someone with a professional qualification in HR and having worked with some major companies alongside someone who has the kind of background in safety that Lesley does is incredible. You can’t have better credentials.
They are also great ladies and easy to connect with.
How are the learnings from the programme relevant to the current situation with Covid-19?
Since this started, we’ve continued to work and most of our team are classed as key workers. Fortunately, we’ve achieved great results in terms of delivery over the last few months which has helped our business gain further respect amongst peers and colleagues.
Communication has been critical and although our engagement and communication manager has been working from home that side of things has flourished.
Everyone has embraced it. I have been keeping up to date with what other companies and industries are doing and pooling that information together to help with our own strategy.
To help with safety culture, we hold Covid-19 conference calls every day on Microsoft Teams to communicate what’s happening, any changes, what’s effective and areas to improve. Those are available on our staff intranet and have been used significantly.
We also host coffee mornings, zoom meetings and quizzes to keep people engaged and motivated; especially those working from home through shielding or furlough.
As part of our Covid exit strategy, we’re using some of the principles from the programme and have done a full assessment of our workspace and people’s return, initially on a rota basis. Our plans are relayed on presentations and videos, we also have installed Perspex dividers and one-way systems as well as social distancing rules. This has also been a chance to test home working and how effective it is. With all that in mind, it’s important to have a bedrock of quality comms in place to let people know what you’re doing.
What has been you biggest takeaways from the programme?
It’s so important to get unions on board to support programmes such as Safety Culture & Behaviour. These programmes should engage with trade unions from the outset to enable the change to stick.
There is no point having a nice folder of work telling everyone how it should be done when it is never used or embedded within the organisation. Instead, make something useful that people will refer to every day! To genuinely shift cultures, requires more than a monthly update or words here and there – active listening and participation is key.