Bringing health and safety to the fore at ABP

In an industry where over 20 million shipping containers are crossing the world on board more than 85,000 vessels at any given moment, operating safely is an absolute priority – and needs to be an integral part of everyone’s behaviour. But with a workforce that can be constantly on the move, spans multiple nationalities and has a varied skillset, instilling the sense of responsibility that makes health and safety a core part of everyone’s role is a big challenge.

As Glenn Silburn, Maintenance Manager at the Association of British Ports tells us: “We’re all in health and safety. It is the responsibility of all us to not only keep ourselves safe, but also the other people we work and interact with. Bringing people around to this way of thinking and getting them to take responsibility for health and safety isn’t easy, but it is imperative.”

Although Glenn does not have a health and safety job title, he deals with as much health and safety on a daily basis as if he were a health and safety manager: “I head up a team of 58 engineering staff, who maintain the entire infrastructure at the ports of Hull and Goole on the Humber. Together, the two ports handle around one million ferry passengers and 12 million tonnes of cargo every year.” For Glenn’s team, this means looking after anything from cranes and buildings to lock-gates and high voltage networks. It’s a big job, with a lot of potential hazards.

To underline this emphasis on keeping health and safety at the forefront of everyone’s mind, Glenn’s employer ABP operates the ethos that Constant‘everybody is responsible for safety’, challenging staff to keep themselves and each other safe.

Glenn continues: “I have helped ABP install a group wide safety training initiative called ‘Beyond Zero’, which encourages the staff to think more about our own and each other’s safety whilst at work. It was introduced with the ideology that everyone would leave work in a better condition than how they arrived. The programme focuses on the fact that everything we do or say during the working day has an impact on our safety culture, whether that’s reverse parking when we arrive at work, or stopping a colleague to discuss a concern about the job they are working on – each and every little thing has an impact. So far, the sessions have gone extremely well. We will soon be looking at introducing the sessions to port users, customers and tenants who frequent the port so that everyone can see how seriously we take safety at ABP.”

As well as helping to implement the Beyond Zero initiative, Glenn’s interest in health and safety is also motivated by his personal drive to protect his team and keep them safe. “I’m the kind of person who needs to understand how things work,” he says. “I wanted to look more deeply into the theory of health and safety and set myself the challenge of learning how to change people’s attitudes and get them on board with the changes we wanted to make.”

As a result, Glenn has an impressive list of health and safety qualifications, ranging from the NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety, to both the NEBOSH National Diploma in Environmental Management and the National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety, plus a Master of Research (MRes) degree, offered by the University of Hull in partnership with NEBOSH. “People naturally think that I work directly in safety because of my qualifications but to me, everyone works in safety and we all have a responsibility to keep each other safe. Personally, I have a direct responsibility for my staff who are working in a place which has the potential to be dangerous and I need to be aware of every hazard.”

He continues: “If you think that your health and safety job is ever complete, then you have failed. It is crucial to continuously improve in the health and safety field. Even when numbers are looking good, and are reducing year on year, if accidents and errors are still occurring you can still improve. Since I finished my qualifications a handful of my team have been encouraged to undergo NEBOSH courses, and I am hoping to sign up for my PhD, which will be really exciting, and will also keep my knowledge refreshed.”

As the experience of Glenn and ABP shows, managers should take a proactive role in building a positive health and safety culture in their organisation – and training is an important tool in supporting this. ABP really valued Glenn taking his MRes and supported him in his studies, underlining what a worthwhile investment good training is and how an experienced and committed team can make a huge difference to a workforce’s outlook on health and safety. v