‘Communication and humour, but no finger-wagging.’

‘Not another training session’, was how many colleagues reacted to the memo announcing the introduction of hein. ‘I was the same’, admits Paul Beljaars, project leader for the sizeable Nieuw Hoog Catharijne project. ‘We’ve seen so many safety initiatives the last couple years, and we weren’t sure hein still had something to add.’

By Jurjen de Jong

'I met hein three years ago at a safety masterclass hosted by BAM for management and middle management. Despite our initial reservations, the masterclass was met with great enthusiasm by everyone. We can see clearly that safety comes from behaviour, and that’s exactly what hein is all about. Of course, procedures, rules, sanctions and the like are necessary, which has never been a problem at BAM, but you need more. You have to learn to speak up about each other’s behaviour and the dillemas you face. Hein creates a safe atmosphere to accommodate this. The hein method is truly different from other safety initiatives, which usually boil down to finger-wagging. Hein, on the other hand, focuses on communication and humour. When I was put in charge of the Nieuw Hoog Catharijne project, I wanted to start working with hein.’

A quick phone call and you were off to the races?
Beljaars: ‘Well, not really, no. You have to adapt hein to the specific situation. We started off with the Nieuw Hoog Catharijne staff: production planners, executors and projects leaders, a total of 15 people. We saw the same thing happen again: it took one morning, one hein session, to get everyone fired up.’

Does everyone on site join in a hein session?
Beljaars: ‘No, that would be too much. We have approximately 100 people working here now, and that’ll be 400 before long. The composition of the workforce is also far from constant: some people will only be here for a week, and over 80% are not BAM employees. Even the remaining 20% come from seven different sections of BAM, who might not even know each other. We want to create the same safe atmosphere, where speaking up about safety is normal, throughout this project: on the construction site, in the construction sheds and in the offices. We had to find a way to get everyone involved in hein, without organizing hein sessions for every employee. You encounter the same reservations I had three years ago: people say they don’t need hein, because they already have other measures in place. So you have to explain that hein works alongside other safety campaigns and even enhances their effectivity.

We ended up dividing management staff into three groups. The first focused on finding a way to introduce everyone to hein. The second determined how to keep hein alive on site (signs, safety hats, etc.), and the third was tasked with guaranteeing the quality of hein.’

‘So you have to explain that hein works alongside other safety campaigns and even enhances their effectivity.’

The workforce for this projects changes frequently, so you don’t have much time to influence behaviour. Is that possible?
Beljaars: ‘ We asked the hein team to produce a three-minute video tailored to our situation, explaining their core message in a humorous way. Everyone involved with the project will be shown that video.
Afterwards we ask everyone whether the video was recognizable. People share their own examples of unsafe situations and start discussions about safety and how to speak up to one another.
After this session, everyone gets a hein sticker for their helmet, which works two ways. First of all, you can see which employees have already met hein, and second of all, it’s a great reminder.’

Who supervises the discussions?

Beljaars: ‘We did. Hein shouldn’t be another story told by an external advisor telling us how to do our work. It should come from us: we’re all in the same boat. The most important thing is that we can all go back home safe, but we also have to build something, of course. How can we make that happen together?’

So BAM employees suddenly become hein trainers. Do construction workers have the right skills to lead their own training sessions?
Beljaars: ‘Not all of them will be able to, so we brought in supervisors from the hein team, such as Kim Reuser. She gave feedback to our trainers, and that’s important, because asking the right questions and giving the right answers is an art, if you want to maintain an open conversation.

The discussions revolve around personal experiences and try to explain why you make some decisions even when you know they’re not right. You can only have discussions like that in small groups of 20 people at most.’

Hein produces lively conversations, that’s nice. Does it help in practice, too?

Beljaars: ‘For starters, management has to pick up on what people have their hein say. In our case, the dressing rooms were too small and this was commented on. We took action immediately, so people realized that they were actually being heard. We also promote “letting your hein speak up”, during our regular meetings with the construction crews. In those meetings, we discuss some of the risks and explain how we think they should be handled, but we also want our employees to speak up if they have other ideas. Another important practical facet are the hein ambassadors in the workplace, the “friends of hein”, enthusiastic people who occupy a central role in the group. They are our eyes and ears and always make sure to have their own hein speak up, as well as helping other people to do so.’

Are hein’s effects limited to practical issues, such as the changing rooms, or can you also see a shift in mentality?
Beljaars: ‘Mentaliteit is niet iets wat van de ene op de andere dag verandert en al helemaal niet met zoveel personele wisselingen. De vaste kern is nu een jaar bezig en bij hen leeft het echt. Dat is ook objectief vastgesteld.

De bouwwereld kent een zogeheten Safety Awareness Audit. Die meet het veiligheidsbewustzijn. Op dit project hebben we een score van 74. Ik heb nog nooit gehoord dat iemand 80 heeft gehaald, dus 74 is al heel hoog. Zo’n hoge score kun je nooit helemaal toeschrijven aan hein. Maar het is ook zeer onwaarschijnlijk dat hein daar niet aan zou bijdragen. Ik constateer vanuit eigen waarneming dat hein voor een groot deel aan die hoge score bijdraagt.’

Humour is one of hein’s central elements. Isn’t humour and safety a strange combination?
Beljaars: ‘Apparently it isn’t, because humour creates an environment in which you can admit to your own mistakes. Everyone recognizes their own mistakes, as well, and we can laugh about it as a group, which is very liberating.
During the hein sessions, cartoon artists rework the topics that have come up into drawings. You can be sure that you won’t forget the cartoon referring to your story.
We also use the cartoons to keep hein alive, as it were, by selecting a “cartoon of the month” After each project meeting we find a relevant cartoon and discuss it. Afterwards, we put it in our emails and hang them all over the construction site.’

‘­­­They’re all grown-ups, right? Surely they can tell each other what’s on their mind?!? However, things just work better when hein is involved.’

In conclusion, introducing hein isn’t the easiest task.
Beljaars: Not yet, but hein is known in more places around BAM. We can share our experience throughout the organization, and make it easier to introduce hein in future projects. Moreover, lots of people from BAM and our partners have already met hein, so it’s possible that hein will only get bigger. We’ll be working on Nieuw Hoog Catharijne for another three years, so at the moment we’re concerned with keeping hein in place.
To ensure everyone remembers hein, we’ve created a poll that is taken by all employees. It consists of a number of statements that they can let their hein address. We collect all responses with an iPad, so we can get an idea of the situation on the construction site and what needs to be done. This allows us to take action, so that our people feel they have been heard. When everyone’s opinion truly matters, that only increases cohesion, which means that everyone starts feeling responsible for safety on the construction site. Looking back, I remember a time when some people in the company weren’t sure about hein, thinking: “They’re all grown-ups, right? Surely they can tell each other what’s on their mind?!?” As it happens, though, things just work better when hein is involved.’