Case Study: John Smith's

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We had good processes we had good hardware we had good software.  Our safety performance was poor so we took an approach in 2005 what we call a fresher approach to safety that we would bring it to life, we would do something about some leadership, some personal commitment and we would look for that to be erm mirrored by the guys on the shop floor.  At the beginning of 2006 we had a fatality at one of our breweries.  So after we decided that something significant could happen.  It actually happened which if there was ever a message that we did needed to do something that was it.  In terms of people’s objectives, how they are rewarded would be, nothing would be bigger than safety, and that was a significant change. 

We’ve got a Departmental Safety Committee Forum at that forum is all aspects of safety so the behavioural safety that gets fed in is from three levels which is the shop floor, the team members, the rep population doing their observations.  Also there is the shift managers population who feed in at that same forum, and then on top of that there’s the Heads of Department that also do behavioural safety observations.  On top of that we’ve got a site health and safety meeting which all departments attend err and that’s open to departmental shop floor people reps as well as managers from shift managers up to err senior team members. 

We involve everybody erm.  Most of the meetings now I will be the only manager in the meeting.  Err the rest of the guys err the safety reps with different shifts err we got total involvement. 
The Committee’s made up of people who again who are going to roll out the knowledge over the shifts.  We’ve got an in-house Health and Safety Manager who is Adrian.  Err we’ve also got a safety rep or safety champion from each shift.  

The company has err put me and three other Union Safety Reps from other departments through a positive intervention course and err the idea of that is us as Union Safety Reps were going to roll this out throughout the site to each member and hopefully this will encourage people if everybody to get on board and reporting hazards.

And for me that’s really really important that that’s now been driven by team members as opposed to be driven by managers.

As a health and safety rep I’m also part of Unite Union.  I have been on all the Unite courses health and safety courses.  S&N Scottish and Newcastle they have also sent me on courses as well and I’ve invested quite a sum of money and put me through these courses.

I’ve done a in-house training for manual handling which took few days but now I’m a fully qualified manual handling instructor which can be rolled out through the workforce that isn’t going to cost the company any money because it’s in-house training but I feel as though I was trained and I can pass that knowledge on to other people to help them work safely.

So we’ve got a high qualification of shop floor people for health and safety.

The response you get from people on the line is very similar to the response that you get from the brewery manager.  It’s very positive.

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Founded in 1758 in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, John Smith’s still brews in the original stone-built brewhouse employing the latest technologies  such as a new electricity generating plant and a state-of-the-art canning department. 278 shift workers produce three quarters of a billion pints of beer and lager annually from two keg lines, two bottle lines and one canning line. One keg line is in 24-hour production. There are also around 40 office and support staff. A haulage contractor handles UK deliveries, and there is a thriving US export market. The brewery was part of the Scottish and Newcastle group, recently taken over by Heineken.

The problem

Four years ago the company audited its health and safety procedures and accident and incident rates. It found problems throughout the organisation illustrated by differences in attitude and understanding of health & safety. Management's understanding was that human behaviour caused 96 per cent of accidents and incidents, while workers felt management took little or no action on reports of safety problems. This suggested poor communications between management and workers and a lack of worker involvement which led to apathy regarding safety reporting. There were also safety considerations relating to the haulage contractor.

The solution

In 2007 John Smith’s called a meeting of over 80 employees, including managers, trade union representatives and non-union champions of safety from the shop floor, to look at behavioural safety and recommend ways of tackling any problems. Mick Nolan, health & safety manager since 2006, said: 'One of the first and most important outcomes was to involve the workforce directly in site safety. We now have safety reps who engage and train staff, and safety champions operating in each department. Senior reps need high-standard training so they attend a one-year TUC day-release safety course, equivalent to NEBOSH. Two reps have qualified, two more will this year. More department reps will train in health and safety in 2010, as will department managers and our haulage contractor.'

A new database identifies actual or potential problems, with input from monthly safety committee meetings in the four production areas. Safety observations, hazards, near-miss and accident-notification forms provide detailed information. For instance, 2009 figures showed the company’s haulage contractor had three 'over-three-day injury' accidents. Mick Nolan arranged behavioural safety training for its site managers and safety advisors so they could then roll out a programme to their own staff.

Each section has its 'Top Five' health and safety issues. Workers and managers are now geared to spotting and reporting hazards, and safety is now a measurable goal in all personal work plans. Swift action and investment in improvements have boosted confidence and morale, and workers now see that they play a key role themselves.

Other features of the worker-involvement culture include attendance at the group’s annual national health and safety forum, specific on-site safety weeks such as Forklift Truck Safety and European Health and Safety, monthly team talks, and briefs by workers with personal experience of accidents or incidents.

Jim Craig, a canning department operator and health and safety representative, has recently completed the TUC course and applied for membership of IOSH. He represents one of the department’s four teams and attends monthly departmental and site safety meetings alongside shift manager Adrian Goodwin.

Says Jim: 'I’ve been here fifteen years and safety and general attitude have changed dramatically, particularly in the last three years with worker involvement. Before, when people reported an issue nothing happened for a long time, if at all. It’s really turned around. Now safety issues are dealt with when they’re raised. We look beyond a problem for the cause and if a solution needs money, the company will invest.'

Adrian says: 'Workers have really embraced safety awareness and activity, and now report or deal directly with hazards. They know about personal protective equipment, for instance, and housekeeping has improved greatly - if someone saw an oily rag lying around they’d remove it immediately as a slip or trip hazard. Teams now have responsibility for their work areas’ design and layout. They’d seen health and safety as a management issue, but now they know they can make a difference themselves.'

Improvements in the canning department thanks to worker involvement include:

  • non-slip, clearly defined walkways;
  • improved lighting;
  • improvements to machinery to avoid manual handling problems;
  • no more fork lift truck movements in areas where people were working;
  • an improved chemical store, reducing direct contact with chemicals;
  • the use of hand trucks in designated areas;
  • trial of water and lubricant-free conveyors, avoiding hazardous puddles;
  • safety training (IOSH) for more shop-floor workers;
  • weekly checks by safety reps on first aid equipment such as safety showers and eye wash bottles - and protective equipment (e.g. ear plugs).

The outcome

Hazard and near-miss reporting has grown, providing the data to identify potential accidents in order to prevent them. For instance, ‘over-three-day’ injuries have decreased significantly each year, from twelve in 2005 to six in 2008 and only one in 2009.

The morale of employees is high in this safe working environment. Gary Woodburn, the Brewery Manager, comments: “The behavioural change at the brewery and indeed across the UK network has underpinned our improved safety performance. Safety champions’ and reps’ commitment has been key, covering activities such as risk assessments, accident investigation, observations and positive intervention. A number of team members have gained technical qualifications, which improves our understanding of the subject. The theme line of our safety policy sums up the new attitude perfectly: ‘No activity is so important that it cannot be carried out safely.’”

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