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THAMES WATER

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19 days ago by Tara Waterman

It isn’t every day that you have the opportunity to hear and more poignantly; see, how our waste is managed across the densely-populated city of London. Having been invited to join Thames Water at their Wastewater treatment plant in Crossness, East London, that is exactly what Principal People were fortunate enough to do on Friday 16th June.  

Dominating the area at 70 hectares, this is one of the largest waste water treatment plants in Europe, serving over 2 million people in East London. Standing in the centre of this awe-inspiring, well-oiled operation, I likened it to being in a mini town.

Thames Water invests over £1 billion to infrastructure every year in support of serving 15 million customers. The eight2o alliance is a truly ground-breaking project, formed after careful consideration as to how to manage such a significant investment, while protecting the loss of life.

This is an incredibly inspiring collaboration, showcasing how a group of businesses can work cohesively to produce astounding results. Forming the eight2o in 2013 to progress towards a different model of working, Thames Water partners with Atkins, Balfour Beatty, Costain, IBM, MWH, Skanska and Black & Veatch.

Mike Evans; the Head of SHEQW for the eight2o alliance leads the project; setting the tone with his unsurpassed down to earth approach.

“Heading up Health Safety and Wellbeing as well as other support services for the eight2O alliance is certainly challenging. The bigger the alliance the more stakeholders to keep happy so with eight partners within eight2O it was essential from the outset to agree a structure by which we manage HS&W issues. We have a single, bespoke Health and Safety Management System for the alliance that all partners signed up to and a governance structure that includes a Board level committee on H&S and regular meetings with all of the corporate H&S Directors of the partner companies. We seek to draw upon the combined experience, expertise and innovations from all alliance partners and align with Thames Water’s ‘Triple Zero’ vision. On a day to day basis success in HS&W comes from a relentless focus on getting the basics right, day in day out and working in a truly collaborative way with the alliance partners and our supply chain to achieve that.” Mike Evans, Head of SHEQW for the eight2o


What struck me immediately is the total absence of ego. It is not a case of Thames Water dictating what needs to be done, but an effortless example of how a group of businesses can take the best from each of their partners, embracing global expertise from multiple sectors. Each organisation across the partnership has put forward their best people, alongside leading practices and techniques to be shared; an incredibly mature approach to modern commercial thinking.

Across the eight entities, they have established a formidable alliance. If we consider for a moment that some teams within the same business can struggle to work well together; this is an amazing achievement. 

Leading our site visit was Karl Simons, a renowned visionary within Health, Safety and Wellbeing.

As we walked through a small portion of the site, we began to understand more about the vast processes of how our water and waste is treated.  As a nation, some of us admit to preferring bottled water, yet it is thought provoking to consider that it costs £1 to buy a bottle of water from a convenience store, yet Thames Water provide the average family home with 450 litres of water to use daily; for the same price of £1 per day!

Thames Water as a whole take an exceptional approach to how safety is delivered. From the Executive level review meetings for every single injury or illness (psychological or physical) that leads to one of their team being unable to return to work (a Lost Time Injury) through to their spearheading approach to wellbeing; Thames Water and the eight2o alliance are a refreshing example of what exceptional looks like.

As a group, Thames Water manage a colossal and extreme risk portfolio, from water and wastewater treatment plants such as Crossness, through to elephantine reservoirs and the use of toxic gas.

Managing this risk carries challenges unseen by other sectors. Imagine being faced with the need to construct an intricate underground matrix of interconnecting equipment to enable workers to fulfil their duties safely and effectively across multiple storeys underground, navigating around beam engines within grade listed buildings. Couple this with the use of high voltage electricity, gas and countless threats to safety. Construction begins and there are multiple complex issues; perhaps a set of stairs caused a safety problem, or an important piece of equipment used regularly is out of reach for many of the workers. Thames Waters answer? World class digital design solutions, allowing architects and operational employees to view digital augmented reality in 4D design of works; a far cry from the blueprints that would typically be used – made to look archaic in comparison.

Those responsible for Health and Safety are required to understand the thought process and psychology of people. The human factor is commonly the largest contributing factor to incidents on sites. Through state of the art digitalisation, Thames Water are able to view their plans in the pre-construction phase and monitor how their employees work. Their team can use a HoloLens view to walk around a virtual model of the plant, providing real time feedback about adjustments need to be made. The same technology is used for training within the business, providing the opportunity to view the work environment and risks they will face interactively, without physically stepping a foot onsite.  

Outside of the treatment plants, this technology is enabling Thames Water employees to avoid unnecessary excavation, for example, they are now able to scan a road before commencing any groundworks. The business have sourced tunnelling equipment from Holland that we don’t have access to in the UK and have plans to send drones down to sewers to assess risk and prevent human exposure; their hunger for seeking out the very best way of doing things is unprecedented. 

Thames Water and the eight2o alliance have warmly embraced this pioneering technology with incredible results. It is enabling the group to effectively design out risk and continually identify opportunities for improvement. Karl told us “we have some of the world’s leading designers within our eight2o Alliance working daily on our capital programme and all I ask is they capture and communicate each month the steps being taken to eliminate risk.  For example, how many capital programmes do you know of that actually know the volume of design risk elimination they’ve achieved?  In eight20 I can tell you that just last month alone our designers evidenced 46 times where extreme construction risks such as high pressure gas or high voltage electricity were eliminated through the design development and review process!  Also as part of our suite of Design Performance Indicators (DPIs) I can tell you that there were 129 Designers visits to site last month to engage in Health & Safety discussions with the construction & operational teams.”

Technology is not the only method of maximising their resources. Many may not realise that Thames Water is the largest producer of electricity inside the M25. Every part of our waste is used. The water is separated and cleaned through an intricate process and the hard waste matter is currently used as a fertiliser on farmland.

Thames Water are now using thermal hydrolysis to produce gas from the hard waste matter. They are implementing thermal drying procedures to produce a fuel-like product which is then used to heat the engines, almost doubling their renewable energy output.

They have installed solar panels onto the water’s surface of their reservoirs to maximise the effects of the waters reflection. They are continuing to advance every day and presently are able to demonstrate producing renewable energy which meets 50% of their entire wastewater business energy needs.

Digesting this information while walking through the plant, I noted how peaceful it seemed on site. There was no evidence of panic or disengagement; every single member of site staff seemed genuinely interested in their work. After more than 4 hours at the site, it became apparent this wasn’t just for show.

Nor is this just by chance. Thames Waters progressive approach to the ‘one team’ thinking is one I haven’t seen before. All contractors on site wear Thames Water PPE. Every single individual has access to their wellbeing programme, the catalyst of which is a confidential personal medical assessment, where for those seconded into the eight20 Alliance, if their parent employer doesn’t provide it, the Alliance will.  What is created as a result is a group of valued employees who are all truly working towards a common goal.

As Director of Health and Safety for Skanska, Dylan Roberts summarised this way of working;

“Thames water eight2o has been an exemplar alliance arrangement with all of the parties working collaboratively in the best interests of the Alliance and their own organisations. Through the process we have developed great relationships as well as getting the opportunity to see and develop ideas and approaches which others have to common issues.”

The Thames Water Health & Safety team are leading the way with a pioneering approach to wellbeing. They offer all their employees BUPA style Health & Wellbeing check to every employee, every year and counselling for those who need it. Offering free weight watchers programmes to their teams has boosted self-esteem and productivity.  As part of these checks Thames Water offer an annual prostate cancer check to all male employees. Incredibly, this has caught 5 cases of prostate cancer early enough to save their life. They offer bowel cancer screening that has highlighted 2 cases of individuals who are now receiving treatment and they offer thyroid testing for females that has identified 20 cases of abnormality to date.  The incredible point is their supply chain parents such as Eight20 and their infrastructure Alliance are now also offering personal medical assessments to their people also.

I was astonished by the forward-thinking attitude of this business and the results speak for themselves; just 4 years ago, Thames Water typically were carrying 30-40 employees off work injured at any point in time. Fast forward to 2017 and they have recently celebrated their first working day without anyone being off work as a result of injury across the entire group including contractors. In fact, the business have seen a 60% reduction in lost time injuries and Lost Time Illness and High Potential Incidents, due to their Health & Safety initiatives that have driven a different mantra.

The crowning demonstration of what the eight20 alliance has achieved was presented in a single graph which truly showed the impressive impact of what continues to be achieved on this massive programme.  They have absolved the typical 16-month spike in injuries seen by many major capital programmes that have gone before. Following their innovative, collaborative approach they have now completed their first 2 years of delivery without such a spike. Putting this into perspective – Thames Water have inducted circa 10,000 employees over the first 24 months of the programme.

They have sustained a level of cultural maturity and have in return seen a remarkable shift in absence due to work related injuries.

Our visit to the eight2o project was incredibly eye opening, we came away feeling inspired by Karl Simons and his team’s infectious passion, not only for the business, but for their personal responsibility to push the HSE industry forward. This is a business who are simply delivering world class standards and continuously seeking out a better way of doing things without a hint of complacency. It is clear that every individual affiliated with the group is exceptionally proud to be so and it’s no wonder – Thames Water and the eight2o alliance are a best of operation who walk their talk when it comes to putting health, safety and wellbeing at the top of their agenda. 

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