Health and safety – how we’re getting better

WPD operations director Phil Swift on Powering Improvement

Health and safety – how we’re getting better

The UK electricity industry has a longstanding ambition to be a world leader in the field of health and safety. It is a commitment that comes from the heart, because anyone who has worked for an organisation that has been involved in a serious accident remembers forever the impact on their own and other people’s lives.

In the electricity sector, where physical risks tend to be apparent to employers and employees, the health risks that workers face are not always visible.

Progress towards the objective of making our sector the safest in the world requires a strategic approach and collaboration between all parts of the industry and at every level in our organisations.

That is why, in 2010, we launched the Powering Improvement strategy – of which I am champion – to bring together electricity companies through the Energy Networks Association (ENA) and Energy UK, trade unions and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The aim is to drive an ambitious and comprehensive effort to improve performance and ensure the safety and health of all employees who work in the sector – and to collaborate as much as possible with our contracting parties.

The strategy helps identify key risks and opportunities in the sector through annual focus topics, all of which highlight the key overarching issues of leadership, competence and worker involvement.

The second phase of Powering Improvement began in 2015, with a new five-year strategy intended to build on the success so far.  All the strategy partners are participating in the new phase, demonstrating the continued collaboration and commitment within the industry to further drive down incidents of work-related injury and ill health.

The use of annual themes helps to focus on the key issues. Last year’s theme was ‘managing occupational ill health risks’. In the electricity sector, where physical risks tend to be apparent to employers and employees, the health risks that workers face are not always visible.

In 2017 we are revisiting a previous theme focusing on asset management to highlight the importance of an organisation’s approach to the proper management and maintenance of its physical assets and any implications for the health and safety of workers. All companies have detailed systems and procedures to manage their assets and the intention is to focus on key principles of asset management to further reduce the number of significant incidents and events in the electricity sector.

This is an issue that will be given renewed focus in light of the progression towards smarter networks and the distribution system operator (DSO) role. Efforts will be made to ensure issues associated with a more flexible and decentralised energy system – such as automation, innovation projects, the smart meter rollout and the development and introduction of smart systems – are sufficiently addressed.

As the electricity system evolves and becomes smarter, it is imperative that we apply the fundamental health and safety principles encapsulated by Powering Improvement as the industry adapts to new ways of operating and working with new technologies and equipment. The delivery plan for 2017 has been designed to deliver on this approach and includes other issues that both ENA and Energy UK member companies and the HSE have highlighted as risk areas for the industry.

By 2020 the UK electricity industry will have delivered a decade of sustained improvement in health and safety performance under the banner of Powering Improvement. The success of the approach can be seen in the reduction in the number of fatal and non-fatal accidents at work in the industry, and the recognition for Powering Improvement when it was held up as an example of best practice in the GB health and safety strategy Helping Great Britain Work Well. Effective asset management is a key requirement of the strategy, and the deep knowledge and expertise in the industry can play a leading role in risk management of new technologies. This will help companies develop the capability to anticipate challenges and provide innovative solutions.


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