Bob Grant

“We’ll never know how many lives we’ve saved”

Bob Grant started working at Rosyth dockyard in 1973. A coppersmith with deep Scottish roots, Bob describes himself as a dinosaur – in his trade, anyway. But for a dinosaur, he’s pretty switched on when it comes to keeping people safe. Here, we hear from Bob about the many life (and limb) saving initiatives he helped introduce during his time as a Unite health and safety rep.

There was always a health and safety obligation in the dockyard.

but 15 or 20 years ago, we’d have around 1,000 injuries per year. At that time, in heavy industry, that was acceptable. Back then, you were a wimp if you wore a safety hat. Now you wouldn’t go in the boat without a safety hat, safety shoes and goggles.

Change is hard because people are stuck in their ways.

“Why should I use a ladder when I’ve got a wobbly table that’s never let me down?” Getting old hands on board with new safety procedures wasn’t working, so we tried a new tack – working with apprentices.

We wanted our apprentices to say “no” more often.

During induction, we said, “If you feel something is unsafe – even if it ultimately turns out to be safe – say no”. And they knew senior management and senior trade union reps had their back. After four years of this, it became the norm to stop a job if someone thought it was unsafe.

We’d invite role play actors and motivational speakers to our meetings.

Imagine the scene: 40 people watching a film about this guy, Ken Woodward, who was blinded at work. When it finishes, Ken comes in and says, “Isn’t health and safety a pain?” We also had a man who was paralysed from the waist down, and a woman whose brother was killed at work. They all explained the ripple effect of their injuries on themselves and their loved ones – all because of a simple safety feature being ignored.

People weren’t wearing their safety goggles.

We spent a bit more on better, ‘cooler’ goggles, which led to a 93% reduction in eye injuries. We also got all new apprentices to wear yellow safety hats for the first six months. That way, everyone else knows to give them a bit more time and flexibility – to help them out.

We got ideas for improving health and safety wherever we could.

Unite set up a best practice group, and we’d regularly visit other Babcock sites around the country. Whenever we saw a good idea, we’d nick it.

We set up a health and safety forum, just for apprentices.

Young people often see obvious solutions nobody’s thought of before. But imagine being a 17-year-old kid straight from school, telling a 50-year-old ‘old hand’ what to do. The forum gave them a voice, and had backing from management and the trade unions.

The apprentices ran a monthly poster campaign.

It was a photo of someone doing their thing after work – football, canoeing, partying, whatever – with the logo, “I can do this because I’m safe at work”. People were lining up to be next, and management and convenors got involved as well.

We achieved a lot, but there’s always more you can do to make a workplace safer.

It’s about the small things that make a big difference – like getting safer tool bags, making it compulsory to wear a high-viz jacket, and putting names on people’s hats so you can say, “Put your goggles on, Bob”, instead of, “Excuse me, please put your goggles on”. We’ve definitely saved lives and prevented injury, but we’ll never know who, when or where – that’s just how safety works.