Europe’s largest infrastructure project, Crossrail, is soon coming to an end. The massive project has been going on in central London since 2009 and has involved thousands of workers. Safety has been the project’s top value from day one. We have spoken to Tom Breen, Crossrail’s Head of Health and Safety Improvements.

Redefining London’s transportation network

It has been hard to miss the Crossrail project during the past years. Europe’s largest infrastructure project has attracted contractors from all over the world. December this year marks the opening of the Elizabeth Line. With 70 new trains, holding up to 1 500 passengers each, the new line will move more than 200 million passengers per year.

The Elizabeth Line will reduce the constraints on London’s heavily trafficked public transportation system and will bring over 1.5 million people to within 45 minutes of the city centre.

In order to make all of this possible – large scale construction work has been going on during the past years. The project has had up to 40 separate sites that have been led by some of the largest contractors in the world, many whom have set up joint ventures to meet Crossrail’s requirements. At the height of activity over 10 000 workers were active across the different sites.

Crossrail’s Target Zero Vision

A project of this scale sets high demands on a safety leadership that involves all levels of the project organisation. From the start, the Crossrail team have clearly communicated a Target Zero-vision – the belief that every single employee has the right to go home unharmed every day, and that all harm is preventable – and worked hard to realise this across the different contracts. Tom Breen, Head of Health and Safety Improvements, has played an important role in this work.

– My team works to improve health and safety by influencing the contractors from the top to those on the ground with Crossrail’s Target Zero philosophy, its Golden Rules and its six pillars: leadership and behaviour, designing for health and safety, communication, workplace health, workplace safety and performance improvement.

Creating positive competition for world class health and safety

In order to encourage high safety standards at all sites, Crossrail has been working with, amongst a number of other initiatives, something they call the Gateway Programme throughout the project.  The programme provides a mechanism to evaluate, incentivise, measure, recognise and celebrate health and safety excellence both within the confines of the project family and more widely through Crossrail’s partners and stakeholders.

– The purpose of the programme is to recognise and rate contracts, with the aim in mind to encourage contractors to be world class or inspirational in terms of health and safety, Tom explains.

Tom describes the Gateway Programme as a proactive way to measure the principle contractor’s safety arrangements using a standardised criteria – which is this case has been Crossrail’s six pillars connected to Target Zero. The programme has been the driver for continuous improvements and has encouraged contractors to strive for lower accident rates and operational performance, as well as incentivising workforce engagement.

– It has created a positive competition between contractors which in turn has led to a steady positive development in results.

Implementing a strong learning culture

Learning and continuous improvements have been an important part of the Crossrail philosophy. In order to encourage knowledge sharing the organisation set up a Learning Forum that involves both construction and safety professionals from all sites across the project. During the monthly meeting, contractor representatives share information about recent incidents and key learnings connected to these.

– The Learning Forum is an important sharing opportunity where we can learn from incidents and share best practice. It has been a great way to increase involvement in a format that people enjoy participating in, Tom describes.

Guest speakers add new perspectives

The Learning Forum invites guest speakers to present innovations and insights connected to health and safety. Two months ago, BuildSafe was invited to speak at the forum to present how the software has been piloted at the Crossrail site Farringdon station, a site led by the joint venture between Bam, Ferrovial and Kier Construction (BFK). BFK have been using BuildSafe in order to streamline inspections, reporting and follow-up and to visualise real time risk data.

– The Learning Forum was very interested in learning about BuildSafe – we are always looking for new ways to improve safety and efficiency on site. It was a very well received presentation and we can see the benefits, says Tom.

The Forum has also been a good channel to communicate safety focus areas during the different stages of the project. During this final stages of the project for instance – it has been crucial to increase awareness of the dangers connected to the power being switched on.

– We have moved into a phase where the trains are being tested, which means that work continues in a controlled environment where there is now moving trains and 25 000 volts in overhead power lines. Assuring complete awareness of this new risk is crucial to ensuring site safety. We have worked hard with educating workers in order to prevent accidents.

Learning legacy – aiming to help future mega projects

Good practice identified in the Gateway Programme and all information from the Learning Forum are documented and circulated around the project organisation. This has proven to help continuous improvements of health and safety practices and is also vital for the learning legacy according to Tom.

– The learning legacy is very important to the Crossrail organisation – we have a clear objective to document and share our insights from this project and pass it on to other mega projects in the future.

The large focus on health and safety throughout the project has paid off and safety performance is currently at its best. However, Tom stresses that it has been a long sustained journey in shaping this safety culture and keeping everyone engaged.

– It is a constant process of measuring performance and striving to improve that will keep safety at its best, Tom concludes.

We thank Tom Breen for sharing his perspectives on health and safety practices and look forward to the grand opening of the Elizabeth Line.

Are you interested in learning more about how BuildSafe creates value in construction projects? Read about how BuildSafe is being used at the largest re-development project in Stockholm or check out our product page.