Health and Safety: Diverse and Inclusive

Article by Mark McBride-Wright - Diversity & Inclusion Practitioner

Employers should know that robust D&I initiatives will lead to better H&S

THANKFULLY, health and safety (H&S) awareness and policies have evolved to the point where they have become accepted as part of normal working culture in high-risk environments. Industries such as engineering, oil and gas, nuclear, construction, defence, rail, aviation and pharma routinely spend millions on safety awareness campaigns each year to ensure they drive down their lost time incident rates (LTIRs) to make the workplace safer.

With around 30 years of practice under its belt, diversity and inclusivity (D&I) is, by comparison, a relatively recent concept. In simple terms, diversity is the mix of the workforce, and inclusion is getting the mix to work well together. McKinsey reports that ethnically-diverse companies in the top quartile for diversity are 35% more likely to outperform those in the bottom quartile, with this statistic at 15% for gender-diverse companies (

It is encouraging to see D&I growing in popularity and becoming established. The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) has a comprehensive programme on diversity and inclusion (D&I). It works with a wide range of stakeholders with the aim of offering a leading initiative for delivering good practice in the profession. Of course, D&I is the ‘right thing to do’ morally, but it’s becoming clear that employers who get their D&I practices right can also reap rewards in terms of productivity ( and also H&S.

This article will look at how D&I forms a vital tool in the H&S toolbox, and how I believe H&S is the key to unlocking greater uptake on D&I across the engineering profession.

The road to changing culture

Within the UK, organisations have an obligation under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 to “ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees.” This also applies to people on their premises, contractors, and the public who may come into contact with their operations.

Executive bonuses are often linked to safety performance. Incidents are bad for brand reputation and can take years to recover from. There is a big focus on occupational safety (tracking and reporting on slips, trips and falls etc), but what about health and wellbeing? As well as physical safety, the Act also has a requirement on people’s mental health.

If you think innovating is hard, try it without diversity and inclusion. ‘Groupthink’ is likely to occur when there is a lack of diversity in a group and therefore ideas go unchallenged with the risk of poor-quality decision-making. Diverse teams comprise different life experiences and perspectives all contributing to a design or operation which invariably leads towards better outcomes, when teams are managed correctly. I have often seen highly capable technical professionals who have advanced into managerial posts, but they have not been supported with the correct soft-skills training. Managers should receive training on how to build inclusive teams and create a positive working environment for all. People connect on a human-to-human level, and inclusion enables this. By investing in mechanisms which bring teams together, you are investing in creating a positive H&S culture, where people look out for one another. There is also a growing movement towards mental health and wellbeing, and this needs to form part of the conversation around inclusion.

D&I in engineering

Engineering has raised its game in promoting greater diversity in our profession, as covered in the pages of this magazine (issue 898, p8 and issue 888, p26). But there is a lack of diversity in the engineering organisations taking charge. All-too-often I see the same organisations’ logos appear at D&I events, and the same representatives. The efforts of these trailblazing organisations are to be applauded – without them, we would certainly not be moving on. For example, EDF Energy is doing a great job at supporting D&I both within its own organisation and through its supply chains, and also uses it as a tool for public engagement. However, it is now time for us to collectively move on from the early-adopters stage, to where D&I adoption is in the majority.

Figure 1: The DuPont Bradley curve is designed to help clients understand and benchmark the journey toward world-class safety performance. This proven, proprietary system has helped enable safety success within DuPont, and for its clients around the world since 1995

What's D&I got to do with H&S?

Quite a bit, actually. H&S policies aim to create a culture where people can call out any issues when they see them without fear of recrimination, the view being to drive towards constant improvements and to share best practice. The DuPont Bradley Curve (see Figure 1), a well-known H&S tool developed in the 90s by DuPont ( illustrates LTIRs as a function of workplace culture. This system was originally designed to help clients understand and benchmark their journey towards world-class safety performance.

An important point here is that an improved culture on D&I drives team performance to the right hand side of the curve, resulting in an interdependent and trusting culture where people look out for one another. Better D&I = better H&S.

So what should employers be addressing to ensure they get the right approach to D&I?

The lightbulb moment

I would speak to engineers, managers, site workers, and executive leaders about D&I and, in the main, their eyes would glaze over, not quite understanding why it is important. My lightbulb moment came when I realised I would have to speak in the language that engineering organisations already understand: H&S. Engineering organisations need to start by writing an inclusion strategy, and use their H&S programmes to embed it.

Creating positive attitudes to H&S is crucial for having incident-free workplace cultures, and where people will feel they can call out unsafe acts when they see them without fear of retribution. Most large engineering firms have some form of ‘Target Zero’ safety campaign where LTIRs and recordable incident rates are tracked, reported on and near-misses are shared to drive vigilance on H&S. We are focussed on physical safety, and have interventions in place for when this goes awry through first-aider programmes and plans of action for responding to incidents affecting our workforce, and also when process safety is compromised due to an unsafe condition developing. We track leading and lagging indicators.

But what about worker mental health and wellbeing? How do we support our employees with difficulties they may be going through, which in turn can affect ability and performance? Being open about mental health in the workplace reduces stigmatisation.

Mental health & wellbeing

Public Health England commissioned research with the Office for National Statistics (, looking at 18,998 deaths of people aged 20–64 (a rate of about 12 deaths for every 100,000 people per year), who killed themselves in England between 2011–2015. Of these records, 13,232 had information on the deceased’s occupation. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 50 and about four in five (10,688) deaths included in the analysis were among men. The ONS found low-skilled male construction workers had the greatest risk, at 3.7 times the national average, and the risk for low-skilled workers in process plant operations was 2.6 times. People in roles such as managers and directors (the highest paid group) had the lowest risk of suicide.

The workplace offers an opportunity to reach people who need extra support where early-intervention is key. We should treat mental health as seriously as we do physical health, and combat it as rigorously too, to help end the stigma around disclosure. We need to lose the apprehension from a liability standpoint that speaking about mental health will somehow be a liability to an organisation. Instead, it makes employees feel more engaged, since their organisation is speaking about issues which may be affecting the employee, their co-workers, family, or friends. There are many toolkits available online to achieve this, and the Time To Change initiative is a great place to start. Organisations should adopt its seven key principles: (i) demonstrate senior level buy-in; (ii) demonstrate accountability and recruit employee champions; (iii) raise awareness about mental health; (iv) update and implement policies to address mental health problems in the workplace; (v) ask staff to share personal experiences of mental health problems; (vi) equip line managers to have conversations about mental health; and (vii) provide information about mental health and signpost to support services.

I also believe that companies should establish mental health first aiders in the same ratio as regular first aiders. They can be demarked with flags or lanyards and have their names made known on mental health first aid posters as you would regular first aiders. All this helps raise the visibility that you take mental health of your employees seriously, and increases likelihood of earlier intervention since people are more likely to open up as they feel supported.

Unconscious bias

Bias is the inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, and – like it or not – we all have it. It is ingrained within us and is based on our cumulative life experiences on how we have grown up and experienced the world. Biases range from conformity bias caused by group peer pressure; affinity bias when we meet someone with which we feel we have an affinity; through to confirmation bias where we subconsciously look for evidence to back up our own opinions of a person which we have already made, as well as many others (illustrated, below).

Unconscious bias training attempts to make you consciously aware of what your cognitive biases are, and suggest mechanisms for organisations to take to reduce bias affecting decision-making processes (eg panel interviews vs one-on-one interviews).

However, some organisations resort to this as a fix for their D&I issues, when it should in fact be one tool within a suite of tools which is used. A one-hour lunch and learn, or an early- morning breakfast meeting is a good way to introduce the concept to the workforce with the conversation continued through regular, ongoing training, especially for people managers and those involved in recruitment.

It is worth noting that there is a feeling amongst some D&I practitioners that UB training can backfire, people roll their eyes when you mention UB training and there is a general fatigue around the training. By hearing that others are biased and that it’s ‘natural’ to hold stereotypes, we feel less motivated to change biases. UB training should be used to raise it in people’s minds that it exists, and then mechanisms for reducing its affect introduced.

Inclusive leadership

Leaders set the tone from the top. Inclusive leaders are committed to diversity and inclusion because this forms part of their value system and they believe in its business case. Deloitte notes the traits of an inclusive leader as: curiosity, cultural intelligence, collaboration, commitment, courage and cognisance (

There are many parallels between a positive safety culture and a positively inclusive culture. They each require the same commitment from senior leaders, but the latter is often misunderstood or deemed not as relevant to the core of the business. It is not tackled with the same ferocity as safety. Or, perhaps it is because executive bonuses are often not linked to how diverse your organisation is, but often are to safety key performance indicators.

If we are serious about creating an inclusive profession, we need to get more disruptive with the way we tackle the issues. Leaders should avoid simply paying lip-service to initiatives. Instead, they need to role model openly their inclusive behaviours and lead with authenticity.


The issue with focussing on discrete diversity groups as your organisation’s approach to diversity is that it inherently limits the scope of your organisation. Instead, you should have an organisational inclusion strategy which takes the lead, and then have employee resource groups which are enablers of this strategy (eg gender networks, LGBT networks etc). The most successful firms at deploying D&I have a cohesive, centralised strategy which is clear in its objectives and is linked to the organisation’s business plan. Employee resource groups then adopt a set of objectives which feed off this. This is a request to all engineering organisations: establish an inclusion strategy if you do not already have one and, subsequently, link it to your H&S strategy. Yes, we have a skills gap and need to attract more diverse people to the profession, but we also need to look after those we have at present. Creating an inclusive working environment where everybody can be themselves will reap benefits for everyone.

Making progress

InterEngineering is the leading LGBT+ organisation catalysing change and fostering greater inclusion in engineering. We achieve this by working with engineering companies, institutes, government and future talent pipeline.

We now have a presence in three regional groups (London, South West and the Midlands) and over 800 subscribed members. To date we have added over 600,000 impressions on Twitter in relation to LGBT+ and engineering. Our strategy is to expand to have full UK-wide regional groups by 2020, a student ambassadors programme, and a mentoring programme for LGBT+ engineers. To achieve this, we have launched a partnership programme – recent partners to join us include National Grid, CarmichaelUK, and Thames Tideway.

Our efforts with InterEngineering have been welcomed, but the biggest challenge remains convincing a large majority who do not understand why it is important to create an inclusive environment for LGBT+ engineers. Some still think speaking about your sexuality is what you get up to in the bedroom, and is therefore not appropriate for the work environment. Of course, this is not the case. It instead refers to the ability to use the correct gender of your partner openly in the workplace without any stigma. 62% of LGBT+ students who were out at university go back in the closet when starting their first job. This is deplorable and needs to be addressed.

A report by the RAEng ( found that 81% of new engineering graduates were in full-time work and/or further study just six months after graduation. However, there is a noticeable difference between ethnic groups where 71% of white engineering graduates find full-time jobs after six months compared with just 51% of black and minority ethnic (BME) graduates. Longer term, a BME engineering graduate is more than twice as likely to be unemployed as a white counterpart of similar age and gender with similar study and attainment. The Association for BME Engineers (AfBE) aims to increase the number of BME engineers who succeed professionally and support young people in engineering careers.

The Women’s Engineering Society (WES) has continued to advance on increasing the number of women in engineering. The 2017 campaign on 23 June went international for International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) to raise awareness of gender equality in engineering. Despite so much focus over many years, the engineering and technology population is still only 9% female. We need more role models in the profession and more outreach to influencers of the next generation (school teachers, careers advisors and parents) to break the stereotypes around what engineers do and who can be an engineer.

RAEng will be publishing the findings from a comprehensive study – Inclusive Cultures – in September.

mcbridewright ( has a suite of services to help harness the power of inclusion to drive improvements in individual and organisational performance, specialising in H&S in high-risk industries. Training courses cover topics such as unconscious bias and inclusive leadership.

Article by Mark McBride-Wright - Diversity & Inclusion Practitioner

Managing Director, McBrideWright; Chair and Co-founder, Interengineering

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