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Case Study: Thames Water


In 2013 the UK’s largest water supplier, Thames Water, made forward-thinking decisions about health and safety competence within its organisation.

Traditionally, health and safety was almost exclusively the domain of the health and safety team and knowledge and expertise was retained in that department. Fast forward four years and the organisation’s approach is completely different. The health and safety team has a more strategic role and frontline operational managers are empowered to make day to day health and safety decisions. So how has Thames Water achieved this step change and what impact has it had on the business?

When the Executive Team first committed to changing its approach to health and safety back in 2013, it immediately recognised that upskilling frontline managers was going to be key. Thames Water is a large and complicated organisation with 5,000 employees and approximately 10,000 contractors. It supplies around 2.6 billion litres of drinking water to its 15 million customers every day and removes 4.5 billion litres of wastewater every day. Its infrastructure includes 500 water and wastewater treatment works, 250 reservoirs and over 5,000 pumping stations.

Karl Simons, Thames Water’s Chief Health, Safety & Security Officer explained why the organisation chose NEBOSH: “The Executive Team wanted our managers to have the best we could provide in terms of knowledge and understanding of health and safety. After extensive research we opted for the NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety because we felt it offered an industry leading approach to competence management.”

Not only did Thames Water specify the NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety as its desired management-level qualification, it also became accredited to deliver the course in-house too. It’s Managing Director demonstrated his support by being one of the first to take and pass the qualification, and as Carol Moore, Thames Water’s Health, Safety and Training Manager explained, a flood of managers then applied to do the same.

“We began running the course every single month, and had at least 12 people on each. Demand exceeded all expectations and we ended up delivering around 18 courses in the first year, achieving an overall 94% pass rate. Now, here we are four years later and around 500 managers have been through the programme. I have to say it’s made a significant difference.”

Karl Simons, continued: “What has happened here as a result of upskilling frontline managers is extremely powerful. It has,significantly contributed to Thames Water’s achievement of,reducing injuries, illness and high potential incidents leading to loss by more than 60% over the last four years.”

The qualification now features on Thames Water’s graduate programme and contractors have also been given the opportunity to participate. Karl explained: “We have a capital framework alliance which includes many large contractor organisations, and I am delighted to have seen more and more of their representatives attending the course over the past year.”

Karl added: “Overall, it is clear that the programme has led to significant cultural change across the entire organisation. As a consequence of this investment, health and safety is now an enabler of work.”

The benefits Thames Water has gained as a result of the programme include productivity improvements, reduced costs and protection from legal action and fines. However, Karl prefers to emphasise the moral benefits above all others: “We are saving lives as a result of this change in approach to training and health and safety culture. It’s that simple.”

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  • National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety