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Back to Work Day at Aggregate Industries

First published in the February 2020 issue of Quarry Management as Stop for Safety! 

The first day back to work after the festive period can be tough as people switch off their ‘out of office’ notices and get back into the mindset of work. However, Aggregate Industries take a different approach – with everyone encouraged to pause their normal day job on 2 January and instead stop for safety. Mike Belson, health and safety director at Aggregate Industries UK, explains.

For many years now, Aggregate Industries have made it a tradition on the first day back to work after the Christmas and New Year break to pause normal activities; we do not produce or sell but instead we stop for safety.

Back to Work Day, as we refer to it, is a really significant date in our calendar. As a business we need to ensure that we start each year learning from the year before, but more importantly looking ahead at the seriousness of health and safety and preparing ourselves for our safest year yet. Every single employee, regardless of whether they are office based or operational, stops for the whole day and focuses on health and safety – we ensure everyone is involved and can contribute. 

A key part of Back to Work Day is giving all our employees the opportunity to put forward their ideas, suggestions and initiatives. By doing this it both empowers our employees and also helps them support the delivery of our vision – to get home safely every day.

As a company, safety is our core value and we are proud of all we achieve to keep ourselves and each other safe. Taking this time out on the first day back gives us the chance to think about our behaviour and make sure we continue to make positive changes.

Positive reinforcement 

Not only do we stop to think about what we can do better, but our Back to Work Day also gives us a chance to reflect on all we have achieved in the last 12 months, as we continue to build on the great work we have already done around health and safety.

For example, in 2019, we launched our new Front-Line Leadership – Supporting the Delivery of our Safety Culture training sessions, which have already been attended by nearly 500 delegates. This course helps our supervisors and managers understand how to positively influence and encourage a strong safety culture by engaging their teams and creating an environment where our people feel confident to challenge each other and identify opportunities to reduce risk and create safety.

As part of the new safety culture training, Boots on Ground was launched, allowing managers and supervisors to log quality time spent out on site with their teams. 

Aggregate Industries also had considerable success at the 2019 Mineral Products Association (MPA) Health and Safety Awards, being named the winner of the Reducing Occupational Road Risk category with the company’s new Electronic Time Out to Talk Safety (eToTS) haulier training, which ensures vital safety messages are cascaded efficiently. 

Although we have always provided good-quality haulier training, which was administered via established Toolbox Talks sessions or by attaching the training material to an email, this new online e-learning platform was introduced and has proven to be a far more effective and efficient delivery tool, reaching the people who need it (the drivers) without removing them from their work environment.

Therefore, eToTS provides detailed reporting on training completion and complements any existing training that hauliers undertake with their drivers, without the need for special software or equipment. To be recognized in this way by the MPA, the trade body that represents our entire industry, is quite an achievement.

A focus on mental health as well as physical safety  

While the physical risks associated with construction are obvious and well managed, the reality is that the less easily identifiable issues such as stress, anxiety and depression are far more widespread. As such, it is paramount that we begin to move away from the ‘sweep it under the carpet’ mindset and proactively manage the mental health and well-being of employees with the same gravitas as we do physical safety. This is why we had a strong focus on mental health during this year’s Back to Work Day.

It was recently estimated that more than one construction worker a day takes their own life; three times the average UK rate for men – typically due to issues of anxiety, stress and depression, rather than the associated on-the-job physical dangers.

We have been working hard to try and deal with this for a few years now, having introduced our Healthy You programme in 2014, aimed at establishing a greater connection with employees and helping to educate them on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. As part of the scheme, we run mental health awareness campaigns, talks on mindfulness, and we are starting to see employees sharing their own personal stories regarding mental health.

We also have more than 120 trained mental health first-aiders distributed throughout our sites – a network of staff trained to be there for our colleagues to guide them towards professional help, where required. 

In addition, our colleagues have access to a designated Employee Assistance Programme, where anything from workload issues to mental health concerns can be discussed with absolute discretion and impartiality.  

During Back to Work Day we focused on identifying the symptoms of depression and stress and highlighted the help available to support employees exhibiting these types of issues. Working closely with our partner Mates in Mind, a registered charity, they help us to provide a framework to raise awareness, address the stigma of poor mental health and improve positive mental well-being for our employees. 

From our experience with Healthy You and other initiatives, we have found that when staff are encouraged to talk openly with colleagues, in a workshop for example, they realize just how many people either suffer from issues themselves or know someone who does. This paves the way for starting to remove the barriers associated with openly discussing mental health.

Striving for continuous improvements 

For us, health and safety is our overarching group value. Therefore, it is at the heart of everything that we do and our focus is to continually work on identifying, eliminating or reducing risks in our working environments. 

Our Back to Work Day, which allows us to stop for safety, facilitates us focusing on those areas which not only reduce risk, but also those which create safety. The goal is to identify positive, proactive and value-adding activities and opportunities which each and every member of our organization can both get involved in and benefit from.

Beyond just the first day back at work, I am proud to say that health and safety starts at the very top of our organization, with our chief executive officer ensuring effective health and safety arrangements are in place and with responsibility for implementation falling to each divisional managing director. 

Throughout the year, our Executive Committee dedicate a huge amount of effort and focus on health and safety including in their monthly meetings, where part of the standard agenda is visiting a site and conducting safety walks and engaging in discussions with employees to identify good practices and raise opportunities for improvement. 

With a framework in place to continually review our health and safety performance and our tailored site-improvement plans, we firmly believe we are on a path to ensure fewer incidents in the year ahead – with our employees benefiting from improved mental and physical health.’

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