Case study

ITV programme notes

ITV’s leading risk programme gives creatives the tools to film safely. 

Image credit: © REX/Shutterstock

Last year, ITV’s studios division produced 9,000 hours of programming through more than 50 subsidiary companies in 11 countries and supplied material to more than 200 channels worldwide. Competition for broadcasting eminence has never been so intense but with it comes pressure to increase output – and with the pressure comes risk.

The challenge for the network’s production arm is to balance the autonomy creatives expect with the management of the OSH risks to cast members, presenters and the film crews operating in situations where workspaces and tasks can change rapidly. 

Production teams are often out and about, shooting at multiple locations. The risk profile varies between the production subsidiaries but also in each production, not only from one day to the next but sometimes within hours.

Due to this fast-paced, fluid set-up, OSH risks can only be controlled adequately if responsibility for them lies with the creatives, the leadership teams that generate content ideas across ITV’s studios division.

That’s the conclusion Ruth Denyer, group operational risk director, reached with her safety and health team and ITV senior executives, leading to the development of the Leading Risk programme.

Ruth-Denyer-group-operational-risk-director-ITVThe studios business is one of two divisions (with broadcast) that are the engines driving the media giant. Of the two, it is the more challenging and diverse from an OSH perspective. From 2010, Adam Crozier, then chief executive, grew the business significantly. This led to a massive expansion in the number of subsidiary production companies, known as labels, each with autonomy to make creative decisions.

Denyer says the creatives who launched these labels run them like independent brands. But the safety and health team found that the creatives were pushing risk ownership towards the business’s centre. It needed to be handed back to the labels – specifically to the individual risk makers – and be treated as an important element in the creative vision and production of content.

“Safety and risk had become the role of the people who make programmes happen rather than the responsibility of the people who have the ideas,” Denyer says.

Defence strategy

Conventional OSH training and risk assessment procedures can disengage creatives, says Denyer. “It’s more of a mindset change than it is about ‘this is what you do in this situation’. For me, the risk assessment process is the bit that starts at the concept stage and goes through to the end. It’s not about filling in a form.

“If you get someone to write you a risk assessment, it doesn’t mean you’ll manage safety. It just means you’ve got a lot of paperwork. It’s what you do with that information and how relevant it is.”

A new approach also had to focus more on communication in the decision-making process, recognising how the production hierarchy could make staff feel uncomfortable about voicing concerns.

Denyer says: “Someone [in production] will always have a sneaking suspicion that something isn’t a good idea, but they maybe won’t feel confident to speak up or they may not feel their views are valid because there is an expert above them but the expert has missed out on that certain thing.

“One of the pieces we are absolutely focusing on in the Leading Risk course is that we need to build this much more strongly; that this voice is so important and that as a group, if everybody is able to say something and feels that it is valuable, we’ll have a better awareness of what is going on.”

ITV operates a “three lines of defence” model. The business owners are the first line and own the risks. The safety and health team is the second line and the third is internal auditing, which provides assurance.

The safety and health team recognised that the first line had to shift less responsibility to the second.

“We are not making the business decisions,” says Denyer. “We are one element of a much bigger decision-making process within the business, so we need to be clear on that. We can’t tell the business what’s right and what isn’t.”

Climate change

Denyer says the concept behind Leading Risk had been scoped with senior executives’ input after an analysis of the group-wide risk assessment findings in early 2016.

Voice recorder

ITV’s safety and health team has revamped the company’s reporting tools accessed through the EHS software Airsweb AVA. The system is set up so that production team members can report back any concerns and ensure a “voice on the ground” is heard. AVA’s native mobile app has also been introduced for all production staff. The software also includes leadership dashboards, which send up-to-the-minute information to leaders about the risks they are responsible for and is designed to reinforce risk ownership.

AVA is more than an accident-reporting tool, says Denyer. “We want it to be somewhere you can record niggles and observations, and for sharing the great examples of best practice we have going on across the business. We want it to help to break down barriers and start conversations. It is another way to support risk management, giving everyone a voice and to help that voice be heard.”


But she revised much of the content after attending the London School of Economics’ (LSE) one-week Managing Risk in Organisations executive education course in mid-2016. The course included a broad analysis of the psychology of risk and Denyer wanted to explore how risk owners evaluated and talked about the subject. Working with course tutor Dr Emma Soane, she set up an LSE-ITV research project to develop a risk climate model to improve risk management decision making.

As assistant professor of management at LSE’s department of management, Soane’s research examines how individual differences, team working and organisational environments influence decisions, performance and risk taking.

Soane had already compiled a series of case studies covering finance, health care and IT and had developed a theoretical model to help these sectors better understand risk appetite and how to promote safe decisions and a positive risk climate.

The intention was that this model could be applied to ITV’s studios business to achieve the same results. It was also designed to instil positive leadership behaviours and encourage production teams to voice concerns at critical stages of production to mitigate risk.

“Sometimes people just need to talk things through,” says Denyer. “‘This doesn’t quite feel right’ or ‘I’m just not sure about this, what do you think?’. They can talk to us. We are removed from the production and they will get a much more balanced view in their own mind.”

To ensure the course was directed at the key “risk makers”, Denyer’s team had to identify the individuals who made the creative decisions. They found there were about 120 managers in the labels, including managing directors, heads of production and finance business affairs and HR managers, who ought to attend the course.

In June 2016, the safety team piloted a Leading Risk course with ten senior decision makers. Presented in a relaxed environment with armchairs and sofas away from the production offices, the set-up was geared to stimulate conversation.

Attendees reported that it would have helped to have a precursor to the course in which senior management talked about good risk management. Conscious of the creative environment in which the risk owners operate, the safety team produced a video featuring Crozier and the managing director of the studios business, who explained how good risk management equated to good leadership, that they were two sides of the same coin. Denyer says this introduction was pivotal in encouraging the risk owners to recognise the value in attending the adapted course.

She also brought in communications and engagement consultant Michele Mervin to compile two industry case studies: one safety-related and the other financial.

The first explores the failings that led to the death of camera assistant Sarah Jones during the filming of Midnight Rider, the biopic of singer Gregg Allman (IOSH Magazine, March 2017: bit.ly/2AAxzld). It was used to illustrate what can happen when poor risk perception leads to possible tragedies on set.

The financial case study tells the story of Mabel Yu, a fixed income analyst at the Vanguard Group, a financial firm based at Malvern, Pennsylvania. Yu challenged bond sellers who were trying to convince her to buy a new financial security, backed by home mortgages, and claiming they were risk-free. Yu suspected the data was inaccurate and refused to buy securities of the type that helped to trigger the financial crisis in 2009. The case study shows how a reporting culture in a company can be cultivated to encourage employees to voice concerns.

“There’s nothing stronger than a story,” says Denyer. “Generally, if you get a story to start a conversation, the insights that provide answers to key questions following the case studies are probably in the room.”

Discussing the case studies takes up half of the three-hour course. The participants read the detailed notes and then, depending on the group size, discuss the key points that arise. Participants will often talk about personal experiences and past mistakes. Members of the safety and health team will also steer the conversations.

“People don’t want anyone to get hurt,” says Denyer. “They want to communicate well. They want members of the production team to have a voice, but they may lose sight of how they do that and how they build that local climate and culture. This gives them a moment to reflect on things they might do differently.”

Healthy appetites

An important element of the Leading Risk course was a matrix to identify what risks these leaders were willing and prepared to take in the pursuit of engaging content. “We had the conversation first,” says Denyer. “What success looks like, then the risks you’d be willing to take to achieve that success.”

The risk matrix covers four areas: financial, legal, reputational and safety, and five levels of risk impact. The safety impact scale ranges from a minor injury to fatality. The attendees used the cards to talk about the level of risk they were prepared to accept. Denyer says the key moment came when the leader had to pick up the card showing the level of risk that they were comfortable with.

“When you are asking them what they are setting out to achieve, it’s fascinating,” she says. “As a safety person, you rarely ask that, yet that’s what they take risks for. To understand that means we can frame everything after the course. It’s useful for us because then we start to speak the language of the business rather than the language of a safety and health professional. This is a true reflection of the decisions that are made on the ground every day.”

As Denyer points out, some work – such as reporting from a war zone – will always carry a high level of risk but is unavoidable if you want accurate news. However, ITV can mitigate some of the risks by providing high-quality security advice, global positioning system tracking, communication protocols and protective clothing such as flak jackets.

ITV-case-study-OSH-risk-programme-Dancing-on-IceThe Leading Risk programme allows the OSH team to map the risk appetite for each production. “We can use this to go back to the business and say, ‘This is what is happening, are we comfortable with that?’. This is what the autonomous level of business believes to be the appetite,” Denyer says.

“Now as we look at the productions coming in and the risks we are taking on, if they fall outside that risk appetite they are flagged up to the board so there is oversight of the risks we are taking in pursuit of goals.”

Since its UK rollout, the safety team has continued to revamp Leading Risk’s content. It has been adapted for the US market where it was introduced in June 2017 with more of a focus on insurance. The team has also run two courses in the Nordic countries, and plans to extend the programme to the rest of the world this spring.

“It takes time because we don’t want to outsource it,” Denyer says. “We need to be there physically as we want it to become part of their DNA.”

Stage to screen

Denyer, who has been in her current post for nine months, was 22 when she landed her first OSH job, at the National Theatre. After a sideways step out of entertainment, to accountancy firm KPMG, then to the charity The Prince’s Trust, she joined ITV 14 years ago as health and safety manager for London. She was soon promoted to group health and safety manager and to group head of operational risk in 2016.

She heads a nine-person safety team plus the operational risk and insurance teams. Since she is responsible for the ITV business’s global insurance function, she works closely with her group head of insurance and contributes to corporate decisions, such as what insurance procurement. Her role also involves developing the risk framework for ITV plc, setting up systems through which risks are identified, mitigated and managed throughout the business.

Different strokes

ITV has been considering the “safety differently” approach advocated by John Green, vice-president, environment, health and safety at Canadian construction group AECON. This technique focuses on actively promoting safe performance rather than containing unsafe work by managing down accident rates and sticking to a rules-based culture (IOSH Magazine, January 2019: bit.ly/2VExMwL).

Denyer says Leading Risk chimes with that approach because it encourages mature conversations about risk. Safety differently has also fed into ITV’s reporting tools (see above box).

However, she describes the broadcaster as a “well-oiled machine” in managing serious incidents. “The most reassuring thing that I’ve found here is that, at a very senior level, the one thing managers are most worried about is people getting hurt,” she says.

One strategy is to share lessons between similar projects. “We’ll always connect them where we can, or we’ll say, ‘Are you happy to share the learning?’,” she says. “Also, as a central team, because we know what production is going on, we can ask them if anyone has  done a show like this before.”

A case in point is when ITV revived Dancing on Ice. Denyer and her team had worked on the original show in 2006 so could bring their experience to inform the production. “We have formats that happen all over the world. It’s the same show but made in different countries,” she says.

“We support the productions as a central team and say, ‘This is what we learned’ and share the knowledge. ‘These are the key risks, this is how we managed them’ and flow that all into the production for the next version of the show.”


Nic Warburton is acting editor, IOSH Magazine

 Nick Warburton is acting editor of IOSH Magazine. He is a former editor of SHP and has also worked on Local Authority Waste and Recycling and Environmental Health Practitioner

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