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A day in the life: Denis MacDonald, Morson HSE Advisor for TfL

  • Publish Date: Posted about 1 month ago
  • Author: James Kenealey
​Denis MacDonald is a HSE Advisor working for Morson for Transport for London.
What is a typical night at work for you? 

I arrive at the Morson Canning Town office and catch up with my fellow colleagues. I will then go through any safety observations that have been raised by the workforce and liaise with the teams, assisting on closing out any on-site safety concerns they may have picked up on. This information will then be logged into our system.

I regularly attend our teams’ worksites to carry out inspections. This could involve auditing certifications, workforce PPE, and overall safety culture. I aim to make these inspections an opportunity to speak with the operatives on a personal level and find out what drives them to come to work and to assist them with using that ‘drive’ to continue to work safely, as well as discussing recent safety matters with the operatives.

Any findings from these inspections are discussed with the Operations Team nightly so improvement plans can be put in place. This is not only to ensure full compliance amongst the teams but also for a general improvement of on-site safety culture. I work closely with new starters to ensure they settle in well and will typically induct most new starters prior to them being allocated work, these inductions include vital information and instructions on some of the most common circumstances and safety issues people will come across in the industry.

Unfortunately, we must be reactive whenever there has been a failure in safety systems and this is where I will be responsible for conducting investigations post-incident. These investigations help Morson, the client and the operatives establish where things have gone wrong and allow us to be proactive in the future to reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence.

How did you move from working on Track to a role in HSE?

I was 19 years old when I started work on the railway. After 9 months I was involved in an accident at work which led to a long period off. When I recovered, I decided to move companies and a relative recommended joining Morson.

I started working within track maintenance on the Jubilee Line, carrying out a wide range of tasks including re-railing, stressing rails, changing sleepers, fettling and much more. I changed teams several times over the next few years and worked on a variety of different projects across the London Underground network.

I was given an opportunity to join a reconditioning team which was something I had never done before. I loved the whole idea of renewing the infrastructure and carrying out the nitty gritty works. As my experience grew came further opportunities and my hard work finally paid off and I was offered the chance to go on the Protecting Workers on the Track (PWT) course. Some people doubted my capabilities to manage teams and ultimately manage works, but this doubt only fuelled my motivation to prove people I was more than worthy. Besides, after my injury in 2014, I was always safety conscious and that fitted into my new safety-critical role perfectly.

I enjoyed overseeing the operatives and ensuring the work was delivered safely and to the highest quality. My fellow PWT’s, my team and I always strived to to go above and beyond. So, I began working more closely with the client to assist them in the continued reporting of safety observations, along with bringing to their attention any irregularities with safe systems of work or documentation that may have been overlooked. I was also involved in winning TFL Beacon Awards for worksites that achieved exceptional standards of health and safety. This positive culture was recognised by Morson and by TFL and I was eventually asked if I would be interested in joining Morson's safety department as an HSE Advisor.

What HSE initiatives are you working on at the moment?

I am currently in the process of working on an initiative called “Safety Matters, So Let’s Talk”. It is still in the process of taking off, however I have been using the slogan in our more eye-catching alerts that we frequently send out to get everyone aware of the initiative when it really kicks off.

The point of this initiative is to enable us to be more transparent with our workforce and clients about our statistics. This is in the form of a quarterly safety video and a separate poster, both containing information about the number of close calls raised and what they were, along with the number of Planned General Inspection (PGI’s) and their findings. This is in a bid to get people on site talking and thinking about safety matters and allowing our workforce to be more conscious about re-occurring issues, observations and findings.

What has been the most interesting part of your role?

Understanding how safety culture changes drastically between different departments. Even within Morson, it's interesting to see where people place safety on their priority list. Also, how this filters down to the people on the ground doing the work. It has certainly been challenging but interesting trying to help others adapt to the inevitably new way of working throughout all UK industries.

Do you believe a career in rail is beneficial for young people?

I understand the industry isn’t the same as it was when I started, but what I always remind people is that industries need to change in order to grow. The railway, whether Underground or NWR, can be a starting point for young people to not only earn a good wage, but to also work in a high pressure, time-sensitive environment within either large or small groups of very diverse people. I think that gaining those basic skills alone can set people up to further their careers within other industries should they choose to. Or of course to continue to further their career within this particular industry. As with anything, you will always get out what you put in.

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