Leader interview

Clive Johnson, Land Securities

The FTSE 100 property group’s head of health and safety explains why he treats contractors’ staff like his own. 

Clive Johnson,  Land Securities, leader interview,
Image credits: Andrew Firth

Words: Louis Wustemann 
Pictures: Andrew Firth

In its recently published annual sustainability report, property developer and investment company Land Securities (Land Sec) discloses 218 reportable accidents – each resulting in more than seven days absence – in 2015. Since Land Sec employs only 800 people, half of them in office roles, that looks like a worrying total. 

In the scheme of things

When Clive Johnson joined Land Securities (Land Sec) as health and safety director in 2011, his manager was the head of operations. After a three-month review of the company’s policy and arrangements he says he told the board: “The only way this is going to work is if I report to one of you guys.” Since then he has reported directly to Land Sec’s chief executive, Robert Noel.

Below him is a small team of four health, safety and security managers – one each covering Land Sec’s holdings and development projects in the City of London and the West End, one for the rest of the UK south of Oxford, and another for all points north – and an adminstrator.

Johnson describes his team members as OSH triathletes “because they have to be experts in construction, leisure and retail health and safety management”.

He would like to change the health and safety managers’ titles “because they don’t manage, they lead”. The OSH culture is sound enough that the shopping centre operations teams and development teams fulfil the management role. “But I’m struggling with HR to get that name change. I can’t just click my fingers and do it because ‘managers’ is a title in the hierarchy.”

In March his function had security added to its remit – when I interview him he has just returned from his weekly meeting with the head of UK counter-terrorism.

After the terrorist attacks in Paris last November the Land Sec board decided to set up a new system of security governance to ensure the company’s shopping centres’ arrangements were monitored and audited. Johnson said the new role naturally found a home in his team because of their strong relationship with the centres across the country and because they understand risk but, most of all, he says because the directors had confidence in them to do a thorough job. “To us that was a real compliment, that we aren’t just those safety guys in jackets with elbow patches and clipboards.”

The more involved I’ve got the more I have realised how well it sits with health and safety,” he says of security. “It’s all risk management.”

“No, that’s everyone on our sites, contractors too,” points out Clive Johnson, group head of health and safety.

The company is one of the UK’s biggest construction clients, with thousands working on its behalf on building sites in any year. It also manages a 1.6 sq m retail property portfolio, with a lean direct workforce. (“We have 12 people who manage Trinity shopping centre [in Leeds], which is 1m sq ft,” he says, “but we have service partners that handle everything from mechanical and electrical work, to security to concierge services.”) In context, that annual accident total begins to look small.

But more significant than the number is the fact that Johnson sees no reason to make any distinction between the safety of his own workforce and those of any other organisation serving Land Sec. 

“All these people are our people,” he says, “even if we don’t employ them directly.”

It’s an approach that engages him in trying to improve the metrics. Those 218 over-seven-day accidents were a jump from the 2014 total of 141, reflecting an increase in construction work as activity peaked on the 67,000 sq m Nova development in London’s  Victoria and Oxford’s 77,000 sq m Westgate shopping centre project.

Group activity

Johnson’s main levers for managing down accidents and promoting best practice are a set of detailed contractor standards and Land Sec’s continuous improvement groups (CIGs). There are six CIGs (see diagram on page 56) whose quarterly meetings are chaired by Johnson or a member of his team. “In all these parts of the business, whether it is cleaning, principal contractors, occupational health, I meet my opposite numbers in all those businesses to get a consistent approach in everything we do,” he says.

The standards expected of contractors are set down in two suites of documents under the umbrella title One Best Way, one of which covers construction, the other buildings in use. They cover everything from use of acetylene torches to food hygiene and avoiding buried services to traffic management. There is even one for architects specifying friction coefficients of flooring types for different areas in shopping centres.

The One Best Way guides are supplied to contractors at pre-tender stage so they can factor in associated costs. The guides are a careful mixture of absolute strictures and recommendations, so Health and Safety Standard 5: hole protection has detailed prescriptions for covering small holes and types of edge protection for larger ones, but ends with a “Suggested hole/duct/shaft opening inspection sheet”.

I note that in an interview with this magazine, (IOSH Magazine March 2016) Andy Sneddon, health and safety director at construction contractor Vinci, expressed his frustration with big clients trying to impose their OSH standards on organisations with mature, tested systems of their own. Land Sec mostly employs such contractors on its development projects, Johnson admits, but on the established sites there are many smaller businesses carrying out maintenance or cleaning, which will benefit from the guidance.

“Also, you need to bear in mind these documents aren’t drawn up in isolation,” he says. “No matter what the topic is, the standard is developed with our supply chain. So when we do something that affects all our principal contractors, that will be put together with the continuous improvement group. So I get the buy-in before we’ve issued it.”

The CIGs also work on improving site procedures for particular hazards. Johnson offers the example of work at height on construction sites: “We developed a management plan with our principal contractors. We now have a work at height register on all our sites. If [major construction contractor] Mace has 14 subcontractors who have to work at height, each contractor lists their activities at height, takes it to Mace, who look at the control measures for those activities and sign them off.”

All these people are our people, even if we don’t employ them directly

Mace retains the register as principal contractor, Johnson says, but Land Sec can audit the information along with other site performance measures.

The groups also allow Land Sec to point up areas of particularly good practice among contractors and to encourage others to learn from exemplary traffic management systems, for example. Again, he says, the contractors don’t see this broking best practice as client interference. Rather they value it: “We have contractors who don’t even work for us anymore but want to keep coming to the CIG.”

The desire to engage the construction contractors in a Land Sec culture is not confined to the management cadres, he notes. “We have several slides at the beginning of every induction with an artist’s impression of the finished project, so we can say ‘you guys are on the site now digging a big hole in the ground but what you are doing now is going to lead to this’. Then we hand over the rest of the induction to Mace or Skanska or whichever contractor it is.”

One voice

Johnson chairs the Construction Clients Group (CCG), whose members include the Highways Agency, London Underground and Nationwide Building Society and says he understands that contractors become frustrated when they are faced with differing standards from different clients. He is working in the CCG to try to agree a common set of good practice OSH requirements that major clients will require, similar to the idea of the “core criteria” for prequalification schemes to prove individual operators’ fitness to work on construction sites.

He says it is also important that clients are kept in the loop when the construction industry wants to raise its own standards and he has been talking to Suzannah Nichol, the chief executive of the recently formed contractors’ body, Build UK, to ensure that CCG members are aware of developments.

We have contractors who don’t even work for us anymore but still want to keep coming to the continuous improvement group

One of Land Sec’s objectives set out in its 2015 sustainability report was for all employees on its development sites to have a “portable health record” with details of previous health surveillance and medical conditions. Johnson says he hopes that pledge will be fulfilled by the work of construction pension scheme provider BC&E, which recently took over the not-for-profit industry initiative Constructing Better Health and which aims to have portable occupational health data for the sector as early as next year. “I am enthused about that,” says Johnson. “We might have something sooner, rather than later.”

Starting point

Johnson started his career as an engineer and rose to the rank of flight sergeant in the Royal Air Force, where, he says, in the late 1980s he saw OSH management become a priority. During a secondment to the forces’ careers information office in Manchester he volunteered to carry out risk assessments for recruitment open days, which led to study for a NEBOSH certificate. 

“So when I went back to my proper job at RAF Wyton, working with the Harriers [jet fighters], they were refurbishing the hangars and they said ‘we have to do method statements and all that; Clive’s done a NEBOSH course, get him on it’. So I got sucked into managing contractors.”

After he left the RAF in 1996 he went into construction, working in OSH for small firms. This provided good grounding for a step up to work for airport operator BAA at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 development in 2003. “Coming from a contractor’s perspective, going to the client side made me realise the influence you have to set the tone in health and safety across the supply chain,” he says.

T5 was the project that set new OSH standards for major engineering and construction ventures in the UK and provided the foundation for the exemplary safety and health performance in the construction of the London 2012 Olympic venues. Johnson says the tone at the development was set at the start.

“I was at a meeting with [T5 programme director] Andrew Wolstenholme, all the T5 investors and stakeholders and the HSE [Health and Safety Executive]. All sorts of figures were being given out about how it was going to cost £4.4bn to build and how many people it was going to employ. [HSE construction head] Kevin Myers said ‘according to our statistics, you are going to kill five or six people on this project’.

“Andrew Wolstenholme said ‘if that’s the consequence, we won’t build it. We will do something different here’.”

Johnson says the statement will always stay with him because it showed him that it was possible to make safety an overriding principle. “Unfortunately, we had one fatality on the project. But setting out on that journey to build it with doing it differently in mind was important.”

While he was health and safety leader at T5 in 2005, the Work at Height Regulations came into force. 

“We were in a position as a client to really embrace them,” he says. “We were all for collective protection rather than harnesses, which were lower down the hierarchy in the regulations. We had people erecting scaffold towers and using the through-the-hatch method [in which the operator sits on the trapdoor edge on the scaffold platform and erects edge protection from there to avoid proximity to the unguarded platform edge]. But there were towers available with an advanced guardrail system that gave better protection. So we specified all towers on the site had to have the advanced guardrail system … we took that a stage further by encouraging our scaffolders to use system scaffolding which can also include the advanced guardrail and save the need for scaffolders to clip on [fall prevention equipment].”

Initiatives such as this earned him Building magazine’s Health and Safety Champion of the Year award 2007. “That was a nice pat on the back,” he says.

A stint at Asda Walmart, based in his native Yorkshire followed, where he says he repositioned the safety and health function as an enabler to production, particularly supporting contractors on tight deadlines in new store build projects. 

“They [the OSH staff] weren’t sat in Asda House in Leeds. The safety person was part of the construction team to prevent things going wrong. So we were assisting them rather than going in with a compliance cloak round our shoulders and saying ‘you can’t do that and that’.”

On your feet

Land Securities (Land Sec) provides free healthy food in its canteen, fresh fruit in the offices for snacks, free gym membership and cycle loans. “We do all that wellbeing stuff that most corporates do, I suppose,” says Clive Johnson.

But the company is due to move its head office across London’s Westminster to a new building in Victoria this year and with the move will come “activity-based working”, involving fewer “owned” desks and more hotdesking, with a variety of workspaces, from sofas to small enclosed cells for concentration. 

Johnson is taking advantage of the shift to encourage his own form of activity, ensuring staff will have choices other than sedentary workstations, with sit-stand desks and even ones with treadmills underneath so they can walk while they work. (“I like the treadmill, more of these please,” someone has written on the comments board on the Strand office’s sixth floor where a selection of the new workstations are on display for employees to try.)

“I’m all about people moving and keeping active,” says Johnson. “When I have team meetings we go for a walk in St James’s Park, weather permitting. It’s better than being sat here. If you ever see pictures of the Greek philosophers mentoring people, they are always shown walking. It makes people think differently and makes them more open.”

Not excused boots

He was lured back south by Land Sec in 2011, attracted by the challenge, like that at BAA, of influencing the safety and health of a largely-contracted workforce.

Does he spend much time at the construction sites? Yes he says, noting that by the end of the week we meet he will have visited three projects. The contractors appreciate the client’s presence, he says, “rather than us being sat in [head office] 5 Strand, pontificating”.

He leads senior executives on a quarterly safety tour of one of Land Sec’s facilities but, unusually, takes the non-executive directors on similar visits. “That’s crucial,” he says, “because they get comfort from seeing how seriously we take safety. They know if we get something wrong the share price could drop and they will think ‘what were we doing getting involved with Land Sec?’”

He also makes a quarterly presentation on the OSH performance to the non-executive board.

Of the 800 people directly employed by Land Sec, 400 are at its London headquarters overlooking Trafalgar Square – “generally accountants and lawyers.” The others are spread round the leisure and retail facilities and construction sites. The 154,000 sq m Bluewater shopping centre in Kent is the second biggest concentration of staff with a team of 43.

Every employee has a health and safety profile which determines the OSH competencies they need to do their job. “No disrespect to the lady in accounts,” he says, “but she won’t need as much health and safety training as the guy who’s our technical services manager in Bluewater. Depending on what they do, the health and safety training matrix will say they either go through three courses or 23.”

But even those ops managers in the shopping and leisure centres slated for multiple courses will find few of them cover functional hazard control, he says. “We aren’t doers of things. We manage other people, so it’s giving [our staff] the health and safety managerial competencies.”

Contractor management in the centres has been refined to the point where they are no longer a serious concern. “The biggest hazard for us is the public,” he says. “With a million people a day coming into our shopping centres, they are the ones we cannot control. They give me more sleepless nights than our construction activities because there we have Mace or Skanska or Laing O’Rourke managing the risks for us with competent construction teams and competent contractors.”

Accidents on escalators and slips and trips on the concourses are the most common problems. He says some strange force makes members of the public gravitate towards signs on floors that say “Cleaning in progress”. “So when our cleaning providers clean, they clean to dry and they take the sign with them when they go,” he says. “And we’ve seen a massive reduction in claims.”

Land Sec gained certification to the BS OHSAS 18001 management standard in 2015. I suggest that it was late for a FTSE 100 company to go for accreditation since most had attained it a while back or decided not to bother. “We demanded it of all our contractors,” explains Johnson, “and I said ‘we can’t do this without having it ourselves’.”

He was particularly pleased when the 18001 auditor, having gathered data from visits to every Land Sec property, told the chief executive the company had achieved the standard and observed that the questions on OSH management that had been asked of all the shopping centre operations staff had produced the same answers in all locations.

“I didn’t care about the certificate as much as the fact my guy up in Aberdeen said exactly the same as the one in Cardiff.”

Johnson says he intends to apply for certification to the delayed ISO 45001 international standard when it launches next year.

Healthy interest

We have described before in these pages Johnson’s founding role in the Health in Construction Leaders Group (HCLG). I ask him why he thinks it took so long for all those involved in the industry, clients included, to wake up to the cost of ill health.

“Because it’s difficult,” he says. “And because of the latency of the diseases; the immediacy of safety made that an obvious focus.”

But sitting on the tripartite construction OSH group CONIAC when Dr Lesley Rushton presented on the fatality total among construction operatives from exposure to workplace carcinogens “embarrassed me to death, and not just me”.

Along with the other CONIAC members from industry, he realised he had been a safety practitioner only. “I did the COSHH [Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations] compliance and the basics, but really I had been a bit of a fraud because I hadn’t lived up to my title.”

Within a short time he and some colleagues on CONIAC agreed the basis of the HCLG. “It’s been a real journey since then,” he says.

With a million people a day coming into our shopping centres, they are the ones we cannot control

The health summit for construction chief executives that followed was detailed in Construction takes the pledge (IOSH Magazine March 2016). A second summit involving OSH managers from the same organisations followed on 21 April.

“Strangely enough, we went to that second summit not wanting to dictate to industry how to do anything because we thought they would think we were arrogant,” he says. “But the feedback has been that they came to that meeting to be told what to do. That took us back a bit.”

The group is now preparing a programme that will concentrate on construction dust and raising awareness about mental health in the sector, through the launch of the Mates in Construction initiative. 

(Johnson says the phrase mental health is a loaded one – “It puts people off” – and in Land Sec he has tagged any initiatives in that area with the name “mindful wellbeing”.)

The HCLG is planning a third summit in early 2017 for which it will invite back the chief executives from the first meeting, along with their nominees who attended the second one to present the initiatives they launched after this year’s gathering.

Intimate exchanges

Johnson has a small team of direct reports (see  The scheme of things, page 53) and very definite ideas about how to manage them. He has no time for micromanagement, he says, but believes in trusting his staff and sees his role as creating the environment for them to thrive.

“I ask them ‘what can I do to help you do your job better?’ It’s crucial a leader asks that.”

He recently suggested his health and safety manager handling the north of England and Scotland relocate from Land Sec’s office in Leeds – which he had to drive across the Pennines every day to reach – to the Printworks leisure development it had acquired in Manchester. “I said to him ‘you’ll get home at a decent time; you’ll have more family time’. He’s a different person as a result.”

His interest in his direct reports’ work-life balance extends to talking to them monthly about how much time they allow for their families. He asks his team to score from one to five how much time they spend engaging with colleagues and how much with loved ones. He does the same exercise himself. It is important to think about it systematically and check the balance is right, he says, because if he ignores the family side, “it’s hard for me to come to work.”

If his team show him a lower score for family than work he says he tells them to work on achieving a score of four or five. Far from seeing this as intrusion by their manager into their personal lives, “the guys love it,” he says.



  • Why would a company want to

    Permalink Submitted by safetylady on 12 August 2016 - 11:19 am

    Why would a company want to change the legal framework and take complete ownership of workers not your employees?
    What happened to HASAWA responsibilities, and each employer assessing & owning own risk?
    Perplexed and irritated by nannying and evangelical tone, including the "one way" enforced rules for everything. The HSE are trying light touch with small businesses, then big clients or PCs like this just impose blanket rules above & beyond anyway.
    Hard to challenge, as looks like railing against 'safety' which is not true. Just against returning to the old Factories Act style of 'absolute rules regardless'. Why should contractors bother too much if the 'parent' client still ties their shoelaces for them?


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