We work safely or we do not work at all

For Heijmans, safety is a no brainer: either we work safely or we do not work at all. We believe it is important that everyone arrives home healthy every day. This is why, for years now, we have focused on the creation of a proactive safety culture, in which we do not look away, but call each other out about unsafe behaviour, and encourage each other to do better (social safety). Safety is in the DNA of our employees; our GO! compass serves as our guide on this front.


The GO! or No Accidents programme is based on four pillars:

  • GO! Identity
    Safe behaviour is an integral part of our work. With the GO! Compass as our guide.

  • GO! Leadership
    The development of proactive behaviour and proactive leadership.

  • GO! In our processes
    Safety in every part of a project. Safety moments during our work.

  • GO! In the chain
    Working together safely, including with our subcontractors, suppliers and clients.

GO! is now firmly embedded in the organisation. All business areas are actively implementing their safety and master plans. These are plans that include improvement actions and initiatives in all four pillars. These include safety rounds with subcontractors, sessions with clients and partners, presenting awards for clean and safe construction sites, offering interactive toolboxes on themes that require attention. What people do is up to the business itself, with support from the Safety Department and GO!

The Safety Ladder promotes safety awareness and consciously safe working within the organisation. In addition to construction safety and safety on building sites, Heijmans is devoting an increasing amount of attention to environmental safety. So, we take into account every aspect of safety wherever we build.

Continuous attention for safety

Last year, more than 1,300 colleagues from right across the organisation once again attended a workshop of the multi-year Leaders in Safety (LiV) programme. The main theme of the workshops in 2022 was ‘your own improvement step in safety behaviour’. Colleagues asked for feedback on their own behaviour and were able to practice immediately with the help of a training actor, for example how they communicate about safety. The programme devoted a great deal of attention to sharing experiences and discussing dilemmas, using the game developed at Heijmans with dilemmas from their day-to-day work. The feedback on the workshop per business area and business unit serves as input for safety and master plans. Compared with three years ago, we saw an increase in the awareness of reflection and we showed more ownership of safety. Areas for improvement are proactively calling each other out and speaking up, expressing appreciation and actively working together in the chain, as well as actively discussing safety with external parties.

Our in-house virtual reality (VR) simulations in the form of training sessions are proving to be a great success, partly thanks to the deployment of our ‘VR dream team’. This team has now trained more than a thousand participants, and the demand for these training sessions has exceeded the current supply. In 2023, we will release additional budget to meet the demand for additional training courses, in which we will visualise new situations and give employees additional training. The learning impact of these training courses is enormous; you see the impact of your own behaviour in a realistic way without ending up in an unsafe situation. Partly because of this, Heijmans is seen as an innovator in the field of safety. Thanks to this training course, Heijmans was nominated for the 2022 Digidare award (the award for inspiring examples of digital collaboration in the built environment) and finished in the top 10.

Safer working thanks to Virtual Reality

Making mistakes safely so we can learn from them is the aim of Heijmans' virtual reality (VR) training courses. Safety is a non-negotiable for Heijmans. The company has been encouraging proactive safety behaviour since 2013 with its GO! (No Accidents!) programme. The aim of the training courses on the virtual building site is to make the physical building site even safer. The first three training courses are order and tidiness, the sawing shop and working at height. Because the visuals are lifelike, employees really get the feeling that they could fall, for instance, if they do something wrong. This gives the training an extra dimension and the learning effect is enormous. Employees have been very enthusiastic and work more consciously and safely after this training. By the end of 2022, more than 1,000 employees had already taken the VR training course. Meanwhile, Heijmans is looking at other applications of virtual reality to make the company and the industry even safer.

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The SMART theatre performance was a collaboration of Heijmans with Matzer theatre group. The impactful performance deals with distractions in traffic due to the use of mobile phones while driving. The open follow-up discussions addressed the themes of responsibility and risk awareness. All the business areas invited their colleagues and partners to attend a performance. SMART was performed a total of 13 times. Attending such a performance together was seen as very positive and helped to open discussions on this topic.

In May, Heijmans permanently switched to a new supplier for work clothing (VeiligGoed) and consequently to a new clothing package and ordering process. This was preceded by a long and careful selection process. We used wearing trials and individual fitting sessions to ensure that all Heijmans employees are provided with clothing that is safe, more visible in the dark, is a good fit and is also more comfortable to wear.

Safety department developments

As a result of the increasing focus on safety across the business, the demand for operational and strategic support is growing faster than the Safety Department can currently keep up with. This requires a recalibration of improvement plans and the management of reciprocal expectations with the business. On top of this, the role of the safety coordinator is changing, as there is an increasing need for coaching, in addition to expert advice. This is why we are developing a programme to strengthen the coaching skills of employees. This programme will start in 2023.

Focus themes

‘Social safety’ was cited as an important theme in several of the safety sessions we organised in 2022. At Heijmans, we still do not always dare to speak out or stop work when in doubt. Social safety in the working environment is vital for physical safety. This is why we will devote a lot of attention to this theme across all our processes and improvement projects in the coming years.

We are also devoting more attention to feedback on reports of unsafe situations and findings from workplace inspections, which is increasing the motivation to report cases. Work pressure was also cited as an obstacle to safety. This is a big difference from three years ago, when the discussion was much more about technical aspects. Having an open dialogue means that people are more likely to dare to go to their managers with this complaint. It is discussed earlier and appropriate measures are taken. It is becoming increasingly clear that paying attention to each other also improves quality. Taking the time you need for safety not only makes work safer, but also more enjoyable, while also improving quality.

In the coming years, we will focus more on the positive aspect of safety, reinforcing good behaviour and learning from good examples. We often focus on unsafe situations, accidents and learning from incidents, while we can also learn a lot from good examples. In other words, the projects where safety is given constant attention, where things did go well.

Safety in the chain

More and more clients are taking responsibility and tackling their own role on the safety front. We hold joint sessions on working together safely. The Central Works Councils for the Construction and Dredging Industries Platform (Centrale Ondernemingsraden Bouw & Bagger - PCOBB) is working with the construction industry association Bouwend Nederland and the Dutch government's Labour Inspectorate on a questionnaire that will enable contractors to check (anonymously) during the tender information memo process whether clients comply with all health & safety obligations. This will enable us to create a framework in which a contractor can perform its work safely and do so in advance. At Heijmans, we also take the initiative to enter into discussions with clients about their joint role in safety. We do this in the form of workshops.

Since 2022, Heijmans has used Safety in Tendering (ViA) and the Safety Ladder as selection criteria in our chain. This means that we only want to work with companies that are at least step 2 certified. We will continue to encourage them to advance to Step 3.

Structural safety

Structural safety is about preventing, limiting and dealing with calamities due to the failure of a structure. Due to the ever-increasing fragmentation in the construction industry, it is not always clear who is responsible for structural safety. An increasing number of parties are now involved in any part of the design, production or realisation of projects. In response to various disasters in recent years, Bouwend Nederland initiated a major investigation. At Heijmans, we conducted our own investigation into the safety of our buildings. As a commissioning client, we see it as our responsibility to bring cohesion to our projects and reduce fragmentation.

Manon Krijnsen on a working visit to the Gorinchem-Waardenburg dyke reinforcement project in her capacity as Safety GO! programme manager at Heijmans

Based on a large number of dialogue discussions, Heijmans’ internal engineering office worked with a number of external engineering firms to develop new framework agreements and associated terms of reference. Heijmans has made its core values more explicit in these new framework agreements. Together, we are making our buildings better and safer. Audits show that engineering firms are embracing the renewed cooperation. They are taking more and more responsibility and direction in the process. We must learn to trust each other, based on the conviction that everyone is doing their job as well as possible. We are making great strides together on this front, both internally and externally. Showing ownership is essential on this front.

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