UK case exposes the hypocrisy of leadership commitment

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”.”

RIDDOR

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.[6] Either an individual or a corporation can be punished[7] and sentencing practice is published by the Sentencing Guidelines Council.[8] For example, in 2000, Salford City Council were fined £115,000 for a breach of the regulations.[9]”

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?

Exposure

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.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

6 thoughts on “UK case exposes the hypocrisy of leadership commitment”

  1. The world is wonderful place and we who live in Australia are blessed with the right to express an opinion. I would place great value on knowing the opinion of Hydroxatone.

  2. 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.

    This comment at the end of Kevin\’s blog reminds me of a couple who sold a house many years back, they purchased enough 3ply panels to cover a bedroom wall, then purchased wallpaper to create a feature wall.
    They also purchased paint to re paint a 2 of the bedrooms, and sold the house as it was, with enough paint in the shed to paint the 3rd bedroom.
    The bathroom was also given a surface freshen up.

    The 3ply panels and the wall paper as well as the surface work in the bathroom disguised a huge leaking pipe issue.

    I asked them why they had painted the walls in 2 bedrooms, and they simply responded with \”we didn\’t want the buyers to think about anything other than buying the house, if we had just done the main room with the water damage it would have been obvious, but because we sold the house due to moving inter-state for work, people didn\’t think anything of the renovation work being only partly done.\”

    And so it is with safe work practices, as long as it \”appears\” that something is being done then that is \”good enough\”.
    As for informing injured workers that there are support groups in South Australia for them to contact, SA WorkCover say that they that the information is on their web site -it is hidden so deep it is all but impossible to find-and as for informing injured workers of their rights, as the saying goes \”I\’d like to see that\”.

  3. Again Rosemary is on the money. The greater majority of injured workers do not have any real understanding of their rights and the obligations of employers to provide information as part of their duty of care to employees who are injured, no matter what the injury. For that matter, the very large majority of small businesses in Australia are not fully aware of their obligations in both injury prevention and injury reporting.

    I noted in Rosemary\’s comment that an employer paid for medical treatment and time off to escape the nightmare that is Workcover in South Australia. The issue here is that there is a possible denial of of a statutory benefit to the injured worker if there is a permanent disability, should a claim not be made.

    The system is in place to protect all, that is why premiums are paid by employers. An employer with excessive claims experience would surely raise questions and require investigation ??????, I\’m not sure there is any reporting mechanism to allow this to happen. It would seem to be a good way of identifying non compliance with safety regulations and attending to industry that is exhibiting an unacceptable level of injuries.

    Maybe this type of performance under the microscope is being avoided because it will show the appalling performance and real lack of progress in safety in the workplace.

    The last sentence in Kevin\’s blog says it all.

  4. Under reporting even non reporting is an industry practice that goes on every day of the week.
    Some of it is good some of it is practical some of it is to side step responsibility some of it is pure ignorance.

    I attended a public information session for SA WorkCover in early \’09. An employer stood up & told the entire meeting that depending on the degree of injury whether or not they sent the injured worker to the local medical clinic and paid cash for the required treatment, then allowing the injured worker time -on full pay- to heal without lodging a WorkCover claim or not.
    The employer explained that the average cost of a workplace injury contained within the business meant that the medical costs were controlled and the injured worker was back at work within 4-6 working weeks.
    Where as if there was a WorkCover claim the costs spiralled out of control and the injured worker may never be seen again, plus there was the increase in the WorkCover levy on top of everything else.
    The employer explained that the injured worker always had the option of lodging the WorkCover claim.
    But since allowing that decision to be made by their injured workers, none of the employees had lodge a claim for anything that was considered to be minor, and those who had substantial injuries knew that they always had a job waiting for them to return to.
    I have to admit I did enjoy watching the faces of the WorkCover & claims agents staff when the employer said that their workers were more far too valuable to have WorkCover stuff them around.

    Another employer simply told an injured worker that she had not been employed long enough to qualify for a WorkCover claim, and that she had best go to CentreLink & go on sickness benefits. The same employer told this injured worker that the job could not be held open. Effectively denying the injured worker all rights under the legislation and \”sacking\” the injured worker in the process.
    The employer only employed people on a casual basis, so most of them did not know that they did not have to be employed for a set length of time to \”qualify\” to be covered by WorkCover.

    Companies who display signs stating \”x number of days without a workplace injury\” in the staff rooms annoy me.
    This type of signage is used to deter injured workers from reporting an injury, that even though it is minor, it can lead to complications.
    Case in point a major chain where a family member was employed had a sign displaying the number of injury/incident free days.
    Yet when a serious workplace bullying incident arose and the bullied worker lodged a notice of complaint, the sign in the staff room did not reflect the workplace bully as an incident -reason given, workplace bullying is not a physical injury. The bullied worker was also talked out of lodging a WorkCover claim as that would not look good on the company records & may inhibit a promotion for the person doing the workplace bullying.

    When it comes to cost cutting, or putting at risk bonus payments the ethics of ensuring that all is as it should be for injured workers can be a very poor last.
    Yet it is always injured workers who are held up to public ridicule and shame, whilst those who work within the system seem to be able to cover their backsides and walk away blame free until the system trips them up or they get reported, even then for the most part the system lets them off with a caution or a warning, whilst the injured workers have no such leniency offered to them.

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