Most safety professionals can tell stories about how workplace injuries are hidden so that bonuses or rewards are still distributed even though they are not warranted. Most of these examples are at the shop-floor level where rewards, although much anticipated, are minor – first aid kits, movie tickets, sometimes money – and where peer pressure can be quite overpowering. But occasionally a situation is revealed where senior executives also rort the system in order to obtain a reward or a bonus. In September 2010, the UK union Unite has revealed just such a case in Network Rail, a case where the chairman has acknowledged that greed played a role.
On 7 September 2010 Unite issued a press release that claimed
“that Network Rail had been under-reporting minor accidents amongst workers. Network Rail’s safety record is taken into consideration when the remuneration committee awards bonuses. According to Network Rail’s 2009/10 annual report ” safety is one of the key discretionary items for assessment for the (remuneration) committee when it comes to consideration of payments under the incentive plan.”
Backing Unite’s claims, industry regulator, the Office for Rail Regulation (ORR) has described Network Rail’s reporting of Riddor (Reporting of injuries, diseases and dangerous occurrences regulations) incidents as “obscure and wrong.” (links added)
On 11 September, and after the UK media took up the press release, the chairman of Network Rail,
“Mr Haythornthwaite said: “The under-reporting is deeply regrettable and the company accepts that it must take responsibility for any incorrect interpretation” of the guidelines on logging minor accidents to workers.”
According the article in the Telegraph:
“…Mr Haythornthwaite raised the issue of “what drove people to misreport”. He accepted that it may have been due to managers reporting incidents being penalised in management safety “League tables”, influencing their pay, bonus and promotion prospects.
“The link between Riddor reporting and safety league tables has been broken – points are no longer scored for low Riddor reporting,” Mr Haythornthwaite said, adding that while the tables worked only “if the safety culture is healthy enough to support reporting integrity”.”
The importance of RIDDOR is significant in itself and although there are similar obligations in other countries RIDDOR is quite rigorous. According to Wikipedia, RIDDOR:
“…. require “responsible persons” to report deaths at work, major injuries caused by accidents at work, injuries to persons not at work that require hospital treatment, injuries arising from accidents in hospitals, and dangerous occurrences (reg.3(1))……”
“Breach of the regulations is a crime, punishable on summary conviction with a fine of up to £400. If convicted on indictment in the Crown Court, an offender can be sentenced to an unlimited fine. Either an individual or a corporation can be punished and sentencing practice is published by the Sentencing Guidelines Council. For example, in 2000, Salford City Council were fined £115,000 for a breach of the regulations.”
The falsity of leadership
This case severely dents the role of leadership in changing safety behaviours and the conduct of leaders themselves. Network Rail has a statement of Leadership Commitment. It states
“All managers have a responsibility for health and safety and are required to demonstrate clear commitment to health and safety, promote the right attitudes and behaviours and drive continuous improvement…..
Every manager has a responsibility to monitor the health and safety performance of their team, including compliance with mandatory standards and procedures.”
Network Rail’s chairman, above, accepts that greed may have overridden the executives’ judgement. So much for leadership commitment.
This exposure and admission is significant for showing the weaknesses of safety incentive and bonus schemes generally. Every company boss should ask themself, should we pay extra for what are already legislative requirements? Is not a salary of hundreds of thousands of dollars or pounds enough reward for doing a good job?
Every time someone says that Leadership is key to improving safety performance, ask whether there is a bonus or reward system attached to their safety management program. If there is, are executives or managers working from a commitment to safety or to a commitment to their wallet?
The case also shows what a powerful and essential role is played by the combination of unions and media, particularly if the evidence is based on governmental data. No matter what is said of some sections of the UK press, there are some who report important safety issues without sensation.
It is also significant to note that Unite has held Network Rail to a level of accountability that would have been unlikely if the industry was not unionised.
The union reports that the ORR:
“…has confirmed that there had been a pattern of reporting accidents within Network Rail that were simply not credible, with the ratio of major to minor accidents at Network Rail being 1:1.12 compared with the industry template of 1:30.
The ORR had gone further by confirming that Network Rail had been promoting an obscure interpretation of the Riddor rules i.e. if three days after an accident a worker could perform “light duties” then they deemed the accident as non-reportable.””
Too many companies spend lots of effort on loopholes where the most effective way of reducing injuries is by improving safety itself and not just how it looks.