Landscaping a safe working future

12 Jul

Hampton Court: the scene of ghostly tales, royal spirits and an English country garden which was built by young, talented and dedicated apprentices who are going for gold.

 

At the cottgae which was built by the apprentices

Team UK will be competing in World Skills, which takes place in London this October. Billed as the ‘Skills Olympics’, it is the largest international skills competition in the world and from 4-8 October Team UK will compete against 1,000 other hopefuls from over 50 countries/regions. The UK is entering competitors in 37 skills ranging from cooking and hairdressing to electrical installation and bricklaying.

I had the opportunity to meet some of the trainers and apprentices who are getting nearer to competing for those gold medals. They were at the Hampton Court Flower Show showcasing their garden, which had been designed by television presenter and garden designer Chris Beardshaw. He worked with apprentices and trainers in the skills of landscape gardening, bricklaying,and dry stone walling, who all came together at Hampton Court three weeks prior to the show opening to build, landscape and plant their garden.

I’m not saying this because I got to go on the garden and interview them – I’m saying it because it’s true: their garden, The Stockman’s Retreat, was the best. It was visually stunning, with a river running through and a naturalistic pond surrounded by flowers, plants and grasses; and, in the background, sat a cottage, with a path leading to an English meadow. It was the only garden the Duchess of Cornwall had wanted to walk around when she made her visit to the show last week.

The apprentices are a bright, enthusiastic bunch of young people. They started their crafts young, learned to love them and became good at them. Now they are able to display what they can do to the world. And to be able to show safe working practices is important and taught to them from the beginning. At World Skills, losing points for health and safety can mean the difference between gold and silver.

One of trainers told me: “Young people do need more guidance; coming straight from school they are susceptible to all sorts of things and accidents. They are not quite aware; they have been living in a bubble for 15 years.”

Talking to these young people there was a sense of the sponge mentality: they had always wanted to absorb information and best practice; that included health and safety guidance.

The idea that young people don’t have the confidence to speak up is one the British Safety Council works to break through, encouraging young people to voice concerns and worries with employers, friends and family if they feel they are unsafe.

The relationship between employer and worker, or in this case, trainer and apprentice was one which really shone through in my chats at Hampton Court; that it had to be one of mutual trust and understanding. One trainer explained: “My apprentices respond positively to suggestions and ways of working. The respect between trainer and trainee is very much two ways. I could say to my guy, ‘What about trying something this way?’ I’d explain it, go through it, and maybe even demonstrate it. He would have a go at that, but if it didn’t work for him, he’d speak up and we would explore something else. Working with these apprentices, they hang on your every word, so it’s important to have that dialogue.”

The apprentices themselves echoed this, and spoke openly about the health and safety issues in their respective lines of work and what they do to combat them. I was surprised by their acceptance of responsibility for their own health and safety. It’s a testament to their good training and education that these young workers take responsibility for health and safety and realise it is part of doing a good job.

“I wouldn’t work without my goggles or gloves.”

“I know when to stop using the mechanical tools.”

“You’ve got to be careful of your back, haven’t you?”

In the next issue of Safety Management, we feature more apprentices from Team UK who will be going for gold at World Skills London 2011 and talk to them about their training experiences and thoughts on health and safety in the workplace. Its future, after all, lies in their hands.

Camilla at A Stockman's Retreat with its creators

Back at Hampton Court, before I left I had one more task to do. The Stockman’s Retreat was hoping to win the People’s Choice Award, which is chosen by the public. I voted.

The result was as safe as houses – they won.

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