an article by Acting Up's MD Emma Currie  


Looking at the recent press coverage of The Alton Towers incident and the sentencing that ensued, I am mindful of the extent to which the game is changing.  Two weeks ago I was invited to a meeting in a building they call 'The Cell Phone’, in the City of London.  In the meeting were two lawyers, two very senior Insurance brokers and three people from an industrial membership organisation.  We were discussing ways in which Acting Up could help to bring the sentencing guidelines to life and make people understand just how different the playing field is now.  The insurance team spoke passionately about how important it was for companies to realise that the days of simply purchasing an expensive insurance policy and ‘shoving it in a drawer’ were over.  They said that they work closely with any one who will listen, to help them see that the best way to ensure cover is to simply ‘walk the talk’.  In other words; paperwork means little to nothing unless managers, CEOs, and workers at the coalface are all keeping it real, working together, connecting as people, creating a culture where everyone can contribute and shape their environment to make it safer.  

“We can tell if people are faking it.” said our insurer, "The first thing we look at is the culture.  After an accident, companies go to great lengths to give the impression of caring, when they don't. It’s absurd that they think we don’t see that.”

Cut to the next day, I am running a training session in the roughest of rough industrial environments.  I am in a shed, putting 12 guys at a time, 8 times over, through a story-gathering process and I am engaging them in discussion about what works and what doesn’t work in their safety culture.  To a man, they all describe the same situations daily where they tick pieces of paper which they don’t and couldn’t read; they answer questions with a ‘yes’ when the honest answer is ‘no’; they sign something to say they understand the risks associated with the job….when they don’t, they can’t.

Now, I don’t read the iTunes agreement.  I wouldn’t read the small print on any contract.  I couldn’t. My mind doesn’t work like that.  The words would swim about in front of me.  I know that 99.9% of the people I deal with, the guys in hard hats, the drivers, the scaffolders, the quarry workers, the builders, factory operators, oil workers, their managers and bosses, the admin teams and the families at home…in short, the human race…do not speak the language of litigation avoidance either.  Yet every day thousands of bits of paper are shoved in drawers with names attached, signatures signed, boxes ticked ‘yes', when they should say ‘no’.  Everyone knows it’s a waste of time.  But everyone is worried about covering his or her backs.  
Back in The Cell Phone meeting, I listen to the senior insurance woman who is in charge of pay outs to the type of companies I work with all the time.  When I fess up to not understanding the small print, she agrees that no one does.  “That’s why it’s so important to change the language, to use stories, pictures, theatre, music, to bring the responsibilities to life. Evidence of the human at the heart of the system, that’s what we look for when people make a claim.  If they think they’re covered simply by shoving an expensive policy in a drawer…well…that’s the mind-set we are trying to shift.”  

In my shed, with the hard hat guys they call it like they see it.  “There’s no time to connect” they say, “There’s too much paperwork! It’s driving us all crazy.  But what can you do?” 

Sometimes I think I should turn ‘Paperwork’ into a character in an Acting Up story…I’d make him/her deranged, obsessive, lacking empathy, pushy and cold, he/she would expand in size like the Incredible Hulk to fill all space available.  He or she would be the enemy to our heroes, ‘Common Sense' and 'mental well-being’, it would be a story that would run and run...

I suppose the Acting Up challenge is to identify what it means to be a hero, the qualities of being a good human and a caring safety leader, and to try to make every worker in these sorts of environments into the hero of their own story.

By Emma Currie,