For Bannon, which manages a diverse commercial property portfolio of over seven million square feet, visited by over 100m people each year, health and safety is a core management responsibility.
As Ray Geraghty, director property management with Bannon, puts it, “We are in the business of inviting people into our shopping centres, retail parks, office blocks and business parks. “Thus, we have a responsibility to each and every visitor from a health and safety perspective”.
Explaining the large-scale change in ownership of the portfolio, Geraghty says the industry has changed. In the past, much of the Bannon portfolio was owned by private individuals and with the majority of shopping centres, retail parks and office blocks now held by property investment companies, REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts), pension funds and insurance companies who manage their holdings on a professional basis. Many are owned by multinational operators.
Bannon manages these holdings for the owners. The portfolio is made up of a mix of asset types, including not just shopping centres and retail/business parks, but offices, industrial and private rented sector properties (see Table).
The H&S aspects of property management
Geraghty says that for Bannon, health and safety embraces public safety, occupational health and safety, fire safety and disabled access for their staff and visitors.
As property manager, Bannon is concerned with health and safety in the common areas in the centres. Geraghty explains that the shopkeepers and other tenants in the centres are responsible for the health and safety of the staff and the public in their premises.
He says that for Bannon, with such a high footfall, managing slips, trips and falls comes top of the list of challenges. From a cost and management time perspective, there is a focus on slips, trips and falls. It is, he adds, “the most pressing issue”.
Another issue is arranging co- operation on site between tenants. Giving an example of co-operation between tenants on sites, Geraghty mentions evacuation plans. He points out that in Athlone Town Centre, “we hold a bi-annual evacuation drill”.
He also mentions that there are defibrillators on sites. Giving another example of co-operation in practice, he recalls how a staff member on a site, who was trained as a first responder, attended to a visitor suffering a heart attack, administered chest compressions and used the defibrillator to keep the visitor alive until an ambulance arrived.
Partnering with SeaChange
Three years ago, in 2016, Bannon chose SeaChange, a health and safety consultancy specialising in behaviour risk management systems, as its health and safety partner across the entire portfolio.
Bannon liked SeaChange’s behavioural-based approach to safety management, which was seen as important in improving performance. Picking out some of the key elements of, what he calls the SeaChange process, Geraghty says a health and safety champion is appointed on every site. The champion promotes best practice and ensures health and safety is being managed on the site. The benefit is that there is “a trickle-down effect”.
Another aspect of the SeaChange system that appeals to Bannon is that “it is very visual on site”. It is very real to everyone from the centre manager to the cleaner. It is not a safety statement left on a shelf. Under the SeaChange system, every person has a level of responsibility. There is, he adds, “a general awareness on site, with safety becoming habitual”.
The outcome of working with SeaChange has been the creation of a standardised approach to health and safety on the properties across the Bannon portfolio. There is now an ethos that health and safety is the number one item on the list across the board in all properties. Performance is measured on a scale of 0-5, with 5 scored for outstanding performance.
Geraghty says that since adopting the SeaChange system, all of the sites in the portfolio have seen improvements, some very significantly. He says staff see health and safety not as a problem but as, where issues arise, something to which they can find solutions.
Visible behavioural safety
SeaChange managing director, Dr Paul Cummins, an organisational psychologist by profession, says the first thing SeaChange did when it started its engagement with Bannon was to carry out a full-scale risk assessment across the entire portfolio.
From that, he says, it created site-specific safety statements based on site-specific risk assessments and put in place site- specific corrective action plans. These are put up on site and are visual. This is what SeaChange describes as the ‘job safety awareness visual system’.
The training follows. When it creates the bespoke solution for each specific site, it trains SeaChange champions on each site, who in turn train contractors and staff. The safety champions are skilled in leading safety culture. They track KPIs on site through monthly routines and the SeaChange online portal and, Cummins adds, they ensure that all staff are engaged in safe behaviours.
Cummins says that the visual part is massively important when training. He believes that because it is visual, new staff and contractors get and understand the health and safety message. As he puts it, it ensures local risk and controls are accessible to operators. Putting that in context, he explains that “we create bespoke solutions for each specific site”.
The SeaChange System in practice: Athlone Town Centre
Athlone Town Centre is the largest shopping centre in the Midlands. The 185,000 square foot centre, which is visited by thousands of shoppers each year, is home to over 60 top retail brands. HSR visited the centre to see how the SeaChange system operates in the Bannon-managed centre.
Liam Coady, the deputy centre manager and head of operations at the Centre, speaking about health and safety, explains “the common areas are my responsibility”, while inside the retailer’s door the responsibilities are the retailers’. That said, he adds, there has to be good neighbourly co-operation.
“We make it a point to advise, educate and make the case for health and safety and fire safety and to ensure that the retailers are compliant with the Centre’s health and safety and fire safety rules”.
In late 2016, Bannon partnered with SeaChange to adopt a standardised approach to safety management throughout its managed property portfolio. The SeaChange system was introduced in Athlone Town Centre.
Coady says that slips, trips and falls are the big issue, with the back of house (the part of the part of the shopping centre the shoppers don’t see) presenting the biggest challenges. It is there that “there is a biggest chance of something happening”. There were daily housekeeping issues, such as pallets, stock and debris lying around.
Talking about the back of house challenges and poor housekeeping, Coady says that with the support of Bannon’s head office, he has been able to drive a zero-tolerance policy towards poor housekeeping. Reflecting what those with health and safety management responsibilities say, he says Bannon gave him the authority to take action.
First, he said, they warn the shop managers in writing, with photos showing the issues. If they don’t respond, we get on to their head offices through Bannon’s. Finally, if that is of no avail, we remove the stuff that is lying around and dispose of it. Compliance rates have, he says, increased from around 40% to 50% over the past three years and now are around 90%.
Speaking of the SeaChange system, he says we were good, but are much better now. The SeaChange system gave us tools that changed our ways of thinking and working. He says the SeaChange CaygoTM reporting system, which is used in Athlone Town Centre, has systemised their approach.
Every accident and incident is recorded on the SeaChange online portal. Talking about slips, trips and falls, which is a huge issue for any place where there is footfall, Coady says everyone on site is constantly monitoring the Centre for hazards, with the lead taken by Coady, the security manager and the maintenance manager.
Coady says that when SeaChange came on site they carried out a thorough correction action survey in 2016, following two months later by an audit. The Centre scored 3.2 but has now scored 4, reaching SeaChange’s Gold Standard. He describes the SeaChange system as visual, which has, he says, “changed the way we think”.
The results are seen in the reduction in slip, trip and fall claims. In 2017, 66 accidents and incidents were recorded. That fell to 49 last year and so far in the first quarter of this year, eight were recorded. Giving an example of what has changed with the SeaChange system, he says that before SeaChange came on board, only accidents were recorded. Now accidents and all incidents are recorded on the SeaChange online portal. The benefit is “less accidents, fewer claims, lower insurance premiums”.
It occurs to the visitor that many of the measures put in place at Athlone Town Centre to reduce slips, trips and falls could easily be replicated in any place where there is a high footfall. One initiative has been to remove advertising stands from the aisles, reducing clutter.
Coady offers the interesting observation that 70% of falls are due to water under-foot at entrances to the Centre, not to leaks or spills. He says at one entrance where there were a significant number of slips and falls, we put in a channel system and extra matting. This, he says reduced slips, trips and fall accidents by 70%.
Bannon: Health and Safety influencer
Asked about the outcome, Cummins says overall it has been positive. He says the level of safety engagement by management, staff and contractors has increased.
He says the Bannon portfolio has improved in its annual safety culture audits every year since 2016, which shows real progress. This is connected to the fact that there has been a significant reduction in accident and claims frequency and the costs associated with both.
Bannon, by adopting an active safety management policy across the extensive property portfolio it manages, not only complies with the duty of employers, where they share places of work, to co-operate, as required by the SHWW Act 2005 (section 21), but in the property management industry has become an exemplar and in the terminology of the health and safety profession, a health and safety influencer.