Taking care of people: the crucial role of safety leadership & injury prevention

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Sir Moir Lockhead, former patron of the SOE and co-founder of FirstGroup, chaired an expert panel discussion about safety of operations on Thursday 26 May during the CV Show. He was joined on the panel by Dr Judy Agnew, workplace safety expert, author of four books on the subject and 2021 recipient of the Sir Moir Lockhead Safety Award; Gary Catapano, chief strategy and safety advisor at transportation product developer Magtec; and Naveed Qamar, a safety and environmental leader with more than 35 years’ experience, including stints at FirstGroup, Serco Dubai and the University of Aberdeen.

The title of the session was ‘Taking care of people: the crucial role of safety leadership & injury prevention’. The speakers highlighted their experiences and expertise in developing and improving safety culture within organisations, making reference to globally-famous safety incidents such as Piper Alpha (1988) as well as lower-profile ones that still had personally affected the panellists.

For example, Sir Moir discussed the Ladbroke Grove rail crash (1999) and, while FirstGroup’s Great Western driver was not to blame, he explained how it did bring to light an issue with disconnected safety equipment on that train and in fact the majority of the fleet, an issue which he challenged company managers to fix (and they did).

In his presentation, Gary introduced safety culture with reference to a US transportation diagram plotting improvement as a set of stairs. The lowest step is an assumption that workers will die; the next step up is a reactive culture with safety campaigns, the next a management culture of safety, the next a corporate ownership culture of safety and the final is safety as a way of life. “A culture built upon the care of people with a focus on injury prevention goes beyond a culture of compliance and hopes to deliver safer operations,” Gary said.

Naveed presented the elements of a culture of injury prevention, which includes empowering front-line workers to stop work if they feel unsafe.

Dr Agnew stressed that when it comes to safety, organisations manage behaviour, not attitude. She also said that the best culture of safety fosters ‘discretionary’ (optional) behaviour among workers, and the ideal way to do that is via positive, not negative, reinforcement: praise, not criticism.

During and after the presentation, there were lively discussions between panellists and guests attending. SOE president-elect and honorary treasurer Shaun Stephenson closed the 90-minute session with a vote of thanks. He also formally presented Dr Agnew with her award. Selected contents of the session will be published in a future edition of Transport Engineer magazine.

Pictured: L-R: Gary Catapano, Dr Judy Agnew, Sir Moir Lockhead, Naveed Qamar.