Behavioural economists have found pink walls can reduce unsafe behaviours on construction sites during a study to improve safety on the Royal Dutch Shell’s Southbank office refurbishment project. Office fit out and refurbishment specialist, Overbury, brought Cowry Consulting on board to help increase health, safety and wellbeing awareness on the project site.

The results of the interventions were clear: during the study the levels of unsafe behaviours while working at height reduced by 82%, and by 93% for material movements in just 12 weeks.

The study recently won an International Safety Award with Merit from the British Safety Council, and ‘Health, Safety & Wellbeing Initiative of the Year’ award at the Association for Project Safety’s National CDM Awards 2018.

The interventions included three key features:

  • A focus on wellbeing, with staff encouraged to take rest breaks in a canteen, painted Baker-Miller Pink, and supplied games to further help reduce stress hormones.
  • A gold card rewards system to encourage safety was introduced, with all workers entered into a weekly lottery to win prizes. Unsafe workers were withdrawn from the lottery and anyone losing their card caused their whole team to be excluded.
  • A weekly walk around with a subcontractor and a health, safety and wellbeing specialist advising colleagues on safety, with scripted questions developed by psychologists.

“We have invested heavily in this because we believed it would work,” said John Coyle, Director of Health, Safety and Wellbeing at Overbury. “The lessons we have learned here can be applied to any project size, and don’t require a large financial investment to see a significant change. We are already sharing learnings from this study into our other projects nationwide.”

“Knowing our initiatives have helped the site operatives feel better at work and reduce unsafe behaviours is priceless.”

Ziba Goddard, a trained psychologist and Head of Core Consulting at Cowry, said: “Nobel Prize winner Professor Thaler demonstrated in his book ‘Nudge’ how nudging can help people to exercise better self-control and this is precisely what we wanted to do here, reducing unsafe behaviour by over 80 percent. But this was as much about enhancing staff wellbeing and engagement as it was cutting risk.”

“Because it’s such a high-profile scheme, Overbury wanted a genuinely innovative - if unconventional - approach to move the dial. It was an admittedly left-field decision in a sector not known for liking change, but nudge theory had started to gain status and momentum, and once we visited the site a few times and explained some of the practical theory it was possible to plan some clear outcomes.”

Eoin Murphy, Health, Safety and Wellbeing Manager at Overbury, said: "I was sceptical about the canteen colour in particular, but the figures don’t lie. The canteen got people talking about something that had been brought in for health, safety and wellbeing purposes, and getting the conversation going is half the battle sometimes. Word spread quickly as people moved between sites too.

"I was keen on the gold card system from day one as it seemed to fit in with the Shell ideal of encouraging intervention in unsafe behaviours. It goes down well with site operatives too as there have been some great prizes won.

"Cowry helped to tweak our operative walkarounds and made small but scientific evidence-backed changes which improved the feedback we got. When we stopped doing the operatives walkarounds, during a quiet period between phases, the operatives themselves were asking us to bring them back. That to me is as big a win as you get in health, safety and wellbeing."