Innovate at speed and adapt with agility

‘Technology has proven to be extremely beneficial during the pandemic’ says Heather Bryant, Health, Safety, Environment and Sustainability Director, Balfour Beatty’s Group.

25th November, 2020
Innovate at speed and adapt with agility

What's your name and what position do you hold?

My name is Heather Bryant and I am Balfour Beatty’s Group Health, Safety, Environment and Sustainability Director.

What are your day to day responsibilities?

I am responsible for a team of over 300 health, safety, environment and sustainability expert. Together we lead, implement and enable delivery on Balfour Beatty’s Zero Harm commitment. At Balfour Beatty, Zero Harm is embedded in the fabric of our culture. It’s our licence to operate and means zero accidents and ill-health caused by our work activities. Eliminating risk is at the forefront of what we do and we work continuously to design out risk right from the start of our projects to protect the health and well-being of our workforce and those around us. We also lead from the front on sustainability and are about to launch our new sustainability strategy.

As well as traditional health and safety, supporting the mental health and wellbeing of our workforce is one of my top priorities and in addition to my role as HSES Director, I am a Trustee of the charity, Mates in Mind. Mates in Mind provides training and support to the workforce to build understanding, knowledge and confidence in tackling mental health issues within the construction industry. Balfour Beatty is an active supporter of the Mates in Mind programme. We have successfully rolled out Start The Conversation encouraging people speak up about their mental health concerns, trained around 600 Mental Health First Aiders and are currently rolling out further bespoke training for our line managers.

What is your professional background?

Prior to joining Balfour Beatty, I was the Chief Inspector of Construction for the Health and Safety Executive, the national independent regulator for work-related health and safety in the UK. I was responsible for strategy, policy and field operations across Great Britain.

Now, in addition to my role at Balfour Beatty, I'm a founding member and co-chair of the UK wide Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG) which aims to eradicate ill-health and disease caused by exposure to health hazards in the construction industry. The HCLG is engaged in bringing key industry leaders and influencers in the construction sector together to collaborate in tackling the health problems facing the industry. By 2025, the Group aims to make construction the leading industry for occupational health and disease prevention.

Throughout my career, I have always believed in striving for zero harm and the importance of treating health in the same way as safety, and more recently protecting mental health and wellbeing in the same way as we look after physical health. A happy and healthy workforce is also a more productive one.

How has the Covid19 pandemic impacted safety and health in construction?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the construction and infrastructure sector has been recognised by Government as one that is key to people’s daily lives. As such, we have remained open and have been able to continue working on the infrastructure at the backbone of communities and that support local economies.

All sites, contracts and offices are following Balfour Beatty’s COVID-19 Site Operating Procedures, which are fully aligned to the latest Government guidelines to ensure that we can continue working safely and productively, and that ensure the continued health, safety and wellbeing of all those who work with and for us, as well as the general public.

We have come together like never before to overcome challenges, innovate at speed and adapt with agility; keeping the wheels of the economy turning, transport networks moving, communities connected and essential services running and ultimately keeping all those who work with and for us, as well as the general public, safe.

But we must not stop now. We must continue to work with an unwavering focus on health and safety, to keep our sites and contracts operational, liquidity running through our supply chain and ensure the resilience of the UK both now and in the future.

To support our wider industry learning we commissioned, in collaboration with five other construction companies, the Loughborough University report COVID-19 and construction: Early lessons for a new normal?

How do you see tech innovation transforming health and safety in construction? What do you think will be the major breakthroughs over the next 5–10 years?

Technology has proven to be extremely beneficial during the pandemic, with the whole world moving towards digital ways of working in order to adapt to the ‘new normal’. Digital technology will help transform health and safety in construction in a positive way, by reducing physical contact with surfaces to limit the spread of Covid-19, digitising manual processes such a planning for working at height and designing out risk from the start.

In the beginning of November, we launched ‘The Big Health and Safety Conversation’ which will allow us to take digital collaboration within the business to a new level. All our projects and contracts across the whole of Balfour Beatty – in the US, UK and Hong Kong – are encouraged to collaborate remotely to share best practice, experiences and expertise to develop new ideas and help maintain our goal of achieving Zero Harm.

We understand the importance of supporting our colleagues and that further promoting this type of collaboration is a great way to spark new ideas and respond to the challenges that are thrown at us.

Heather Bryant is speaking at the CIF’s 2020 Health & Safety Summit on Nov 26th. For full details and to book visit www.cifsafety.ie

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