Posted on 11/05/17

Knowing that people are getting home safe

Kieren McCafferty, site supervisor at Walker Construction, doesn’t mind being called Bob the Builder by the pupils of White Cliffs Primary College in Dover, whom he taught the dangers of a construction site. This work earned him the title of Health and Safety Champion in the 2017 International Safety Awards.

Kieren has been familiar with the world of construction since the age of 16, when he started a summer job on a building site. This was 14 years ago. He has been working as a site supervisor with us for three years now. “As site supervisor I organise and monitor subcontractors on site and ensure a safe working environment throughout the day for them and the public,” explains Kieren McCafferty. “We subcontract specialist skills in plumbing, electrical services, suspended ceilings and bricklayers. Each of these professions come with specific risks.”


How and why did you become involved in health and safety work?

“It wasn’t until I joined Walkers that I received the comprehensive job training, which included health and safety. This opened my eyes to a lot of things; it made me see the dangers of our job and their consequences clearly. Having spent over 14 years in construction, I’ve seen some awful accidents. I don’t want to see friends or work colleagues getting hurt.”

Kieren’s health and safety work with the pupils of White Cliffs Primary College helped him to win the ISA 2017 Health & Safety Champion title.

“At the White Cliffs Primary College, we were building a two-storey extension to the existing school building. I have been involved in it from the start, including digging the foundations, a short distance from the white cliffs of Dover. As we erected the fencing for the site, the children became very interested in the building site and some started poking the fencing.

“We realised that we needed to talk to them about the risks of the construction site and what’s going on behind that fence. At a school assembly, we talked about the dangers of going near the fence and putting arms through it. I said: ‘Try and stay away from the fence. If you see big machinery, do not approach it. Don’t climb or find a gap in the fence because it can end badly.”

“When we did the foundations of the building, which was a massive concrete slab, we came up with the idea of painting a mural on it. We made a safe exit for the children to come out, barriered it all off and let the kids paint on it. Each class did a section of the painting. Afterwards, we built on top of that, so the murals will always be there. 

“We followed this up with a poster competition about safety on construction sites, which was included in the school newsletter. I picked the top three winners, who received large Easter eggs and toys.

“I think this campaign really worked. Afterwards, every day when we walked past the children, they greeted us: ‘Hi Bob! (from Bob the Builder). We won’t touch the fence, Bob.’  So, that was quite amusing…but I think the message stuck."

How do you communicate with the contractors?

“Walker Construction introduced a questionnaire called Safety Behavioural Scheme, which every member of staff and subcontractors have to complete. It is to alert people of a variety of risks and dangers they face every day on a construction site. This gave me the idea of introducing a weekly ‘safety tour’ for all subcontractors. I would ask a worker from each subcontractor to walk with me around the site and pick one thing that they think is unsafe, not good practice or good practice. I would write them down on a board and ask them to prioritise them in order of urgency of addressing them. The very urgent issues would be coded red and they would get done the same day. If they were blue or green, they would have to be fixed within a week. 

“We started this process off with labourers and then moved on to their supervisors, and finally their bosses. It opened their eyes to many dangers. It also built trust among us, as afterwards, they would come to me and say: ‘this isn’t safe, this needs fixing…’ The company was very pleased with this process and David Marshall, Walker Safety Manager, introduced an action board, similar to mine, featuring various hazards and actions that need to be taken. This programme is now integrated into safety procedures on all of Walker Construction’s sites.

“I think that this approach is changing their mindset. It places the initiative in their hands. Subcontractors, particularly those who spent many years in the trade, are resistant to change.”

How have you ‘revolutionised’ toolbox talks at Walker Construction, making them much more interactive and engaging?

“Many workers have to participate in toolbox talks at which various pieces of information are read to them, sending them off to sleep. I thought if I wanted to get and keep their attention, I need to get them involved. For example, last week before we started work, I opened up the tool cabin and said: “I want you to go through every single step of digging. We need to dig a hole and there’s a cable in it. How do you know that the cable is there and what would you do to avoid hitting it?’ First chap says: ‘First you get a permit to dig. Right, write it on the board.  Next, another bloke said: ‘I take CAT and genny (cable avoidance tools).’ ‘Yes, go and get the CAT and genny.’ And I worked my way through it all. Then they went and did the job. 

“I do the talks every one or two weeks. However, we hold them more often if particularly difficult work is coming up and we need to alert them about specific risks.

“Many younger men are very cooperative and enjoy our talks. But older men who have been in the trade for many years can be stuck in their ways. For example, I recently spoke to a carpenter who had been doing his job for some 40 years. ‘I have never worn a mask,’ he told me. ‘Unfortunately, you’d have to do this here, I said. You will also have to use dust suppression on your saw.’ I printed for him information about the harmful effect of wood dust that may cause cancer. He was reluctant to take it but then he came back and thanked me for this information. He wouldn’t have done that in front of the younger guys.”

“I do inductions for every contractor; for one company, I inducted 52 of them. I give the workers general information about their working environment, risks, hazards and who the first aiders are.”

Gabby Logan was the nights comp?re and announced the six individuals on the shortlist for the International Safety Champion Award. 

This year 136 organisations were nominated for the awards. These applicants span all sectors and are drawn from the United Kingdom, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Walker Construction had fierce competition from the likes of GlaxoSmithKline Services, Mace International, Bachy Soletanche Ltd, BAE Systems and Addison Lee.

Lynda Armstrong OBE, Chair of the Trustees of the British Safety Council and Gabby Logan congratulated Kieren on his success in winning the Award. “The British Safety Council commends Kieren on his achievement. The award is in recognition of his commitment and effort to keep his colleagues and local community free of injury and ill health. Our warmest congratulations.”

Walker Construction Managing Director, Phil Webb, comments “Receiving this award is testament to all of Kieren’s hard work and endeavours. It also recognises the team in its entirety. It is rewarding for the business, as the Safety Champion role was one of the initiatives rolled out from our Behavioural Based Safety Programme. This award proves that the programme is making a difference thanks to everybody's hard work. Our dedication to safety is now being acknowledged on an international level and that is phenomenal”.