Hosts: Ian Burns, SHE Director, BAE Systems Submarines & 

Tracey Armistead, Senior SHE Adviser & Occupational Hygienist, BAE Systems Submarines

Venue:    BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria

After members had completed their security checks they were taken to a conference room where Tracey welcomed them to BAE Systems Submarines. She then introduced Ian Burns, SHE Director, who gave members an overview of the work undertaken on site and the management team’s approach to approach to safety and staff wellbeing.

Ian told members that there had been marine engineering works on the Barrow-in-Furness site for over 140 years. He explained that the current submarine facility occupied a large site with challenging security and safety problems. He said that there were currently about 8,500 employees including designers, project managers, a wide range of skilled technical staff and tradesmen, apprentices and approved contractors.

Ian explained that site managers’ ultimate goal was for zero accidents on site although they know that this will be difficult to achieve. However, he was pleased to report that they have managed to achieve substantial improvements in their workplace accident record since the 1950s and 60s. At that time every year included at least one site accident that led to employee’s death and/or serious injury. Ian said that there have been substantial improvements to the working conditions and to their workplace culture since then. One of our members, who had been an apprentice on the site thirty years ago, agreed that the general working conditions and culture had improved beyond recognition since the time of his apprenticeship when there had been a competitive ‘macho’ culture.

Ian said that BAE’s safety team, with the support of senior management, had developed a two-pronged approach to safety:

  • Influence the people: by improving safety culture and reducing unsafe acts. This project includes a comprehensive programme with training and coaching tailored to employees’ roles, the use of a random drug and alcohol testing etc…
  • Influence the environment: by improving workplace conditions. This project includes a comprehensive programme with regular reviews of: PPE provision and maintenance, safety signage location and effectiveness, efficiency and use of mechanical safety systems such as dust extraction etc…

He explained that they were currently focussing on improving the safety training elements in their apprentice scheme. They had found that apprentice awareness of the potential hazards associated with their jobs was much improved when apprentices were assigned to a job mentor who was a skilled tradesman with a committed understanding of the need for safe working practices. He said that the main problem with this scheme was finding enough suitable mentors.

Ian explained that his safety management team’s current objectives include ensuring that

  • All managers and supervisors are given/have had appropriate leadership skills training.
  • There is greater supervisor visibility and communication with and between team members.
  • Employees are given appropriate consequences training/mentoring – to help them to understand that actions have consequences; that they need to ‘think before they act’ to protect themselves, and others, from avoidable accidents.
  • There is a knowledge-based programme for improving site safety facilities that prioritises spending and development of solutions to problems in high risk areas/jobs above ‘nice to have’ improvements.

A read only copy of Ian’s presentation can be found here: 7 June 2018 BAE Systems Site Visit

After Ian’s introductory talk Tracey ensured that members understood site visitor safety procedures and that they had all the PPE that they needed before touring the site. She then divided members into two groups for the site tour so that the groups were a manageable size for visiting the submarine dry dock area and a large-scale fabrication area. Each of the groups was scheduled to visit one of these areas before lunch and the other area after lunch. The sheer size of these facilities was awe inspiring. Members also had an opportunity to see the recently upgraded dust extraction system in the large-scale fabrication area.

Additional members of BAE’s safety team joined group members for lunch so that they had an opportunity to exchange ideas on safety management and to talk about the site visit. After the second part of the tour members gathered in the conference room for final questions. Tracey also alerted members to a free Breathe Freely road show, about protecting welders’ health, in Barrow-in-Furness, on 12th July 2018 that she hoped members would publicise.

Jim Tongue, Chairman, South Cumbria & North Lancashire IOSH Branch then thanked Tracey for organising such a useful and informative visit, Ian for giving up his valuable time to provide members with an insight into the way that he and his team were working to improve the site’s safety culture and additional BAE staff who had helped make members so welcome. Jim then presented Ian and Tracey and our additional tour guides with a small token of our groups’ appreciation.

Members felt that this was a worth-while site visit where they made some useful contacts.