July 18, 2019

GMG Contractors – A shining light on safety

To win a single RoSPA Gold Award is noteworthy in anyone’s book. To win ten consecutive RoSPA Gold Awards and be awarded the RoSPA President’s Award for it is all the more impressive. This is exactly what Glasgow-based GMG Contractors achieved last year, underlining the tremendous health and safety culture that has been instilled within the business. Construction Industry News recently caught up with Gerry McGinn, CEO, to see how the consistency has been achieved and to find out how the company is looking to build on the ongoing award success in 2019.

“We were naturally delighted to receive the RoSPA President’s Award, it really underlines how completely health and safety-focused our workforce is and that we’re fully up-to-date with all the latest legislation and procedures,” explains Mr McGinn. “To mark the success we were invited to a lavish garden party at Buckingham Palace, which was a fantastic occasion for myself and my wife. It really made me appreciate just how much of a big deal winning the award is.”

Not many can say they’ve enjoyed the hospitality provided at Buckingham Palace, and while it’s always nice to get a pat on the back in the shape of a prestigious industry award, these achievements don’t materialise by chance. Instead they’re a reflection of the long-standing dedication Mr McGinn has placed on the importance of honing strong safety practices within GMG. 

“Our procedures and safety systems have been developed over the decades, as we’re always looking at ways to improve,” adds Mr McGinn. “Basically, we are working extremely hard to ensure that every single one of our operatives that comes into work in the morning goes home to their families fit and well. This is absolutely vital.”

While this objective is laudable, it can be easier said than done due to the inherent dangers within construction. So what’s been the key to GMG’s impressive safety record?

“It’s all about taking an intelligent approach and being fully aware of the risks we face day-to-day. Our operatives often work at heights, which is one of the most dangerous activities within construction. The key is never taking anything for granted and double-checking everything, from the PPE through to the scaffolding. Don’t just assume that the handrail you are leaning on has been fitted properly, give it a good shake beforehand.”

GMG also considers that having two trained competent operatives working together at heights is paramount to a forward thinking health and safety driven company. Working at height remains one of the biggest causes of fatalities and major injuries therefore GMG enforces working with a second person especially on roofs as the work load is halved reducing the mental and physical stress and more importantly there is someone there to support and raise the alarm should anything go wrong.    

Endorsing strong safety practices is one thing, ensuring that the operatives carry them out is another entirely. Thankfully GMG’s commitment to supporting its staff is every bit as rigorous as its emphasis on safety. As a consequence, every operative is fully on-board with the company’s methods and systems.

GMG currently has around 160 members of staff, with a significant proportion having been with the business for many years. This loyalty stems from the time and money it invests in its staff from day one, as Mr McGinn outlines: “We have a major apprenticeship programme that has been running for over 25 years and we’ve looked to provide assistance in developing an apprentice’s career progression wherever we can. For instance, we provide a loan of £1,000 for driving lessons that is totally wiped out as a debt as long as they stay with us for three years.

“We’ve also worked closely with the local college, South Lanarkshire College, to develop a relationship that works well for the both of us. It’s very much been a two-way street as we’ve both taken on the other’s point of view to ensure that we were working for the benefit of our apprentices.

“During the economic crisis we reached a point where we stopped sending apprentices to college because it was not financially viable, as did many other companies within the industry. As a result, the CITB approached us in 2012/2013 to ask for suggestions about what it would take for us to start sending our apprentices back to college. We replied that the problem stemmed from the fact that the college roster was set up to take apprentices for 22 weeks and no business could afford to lose their operatives for such a length of time, particularly when the wider economy was going through a difficult period.

“To compromise we suggested sending the apprentices to college for ten weeks during the worst weather months when less work takes place anyway, say from October to March, and asked if the college lecturers could carry out their validations onsite instead. This would dramatically reduce the amount of time the apprentices were away from the business.

“The other major issue was that much of what was being taught had become antiquated. For example, the apprentices were being taught how to do lead work around chimneys, even though this was increasingly becoming irrelevant. We felt that time would be better served focusing on other skill areas that better reflected the introduction of modern technology.

“To be fair to the CITB they went away, took on-board our suggestions, and came back with a proposal that involved us helping them write a new SVQ 2 Roof Tiling Award for New House Buildings. We agreed and working with South Lanarkshire College we put together the framework for the qualification.”

The success of the new award structure, which fully meets the training needs of construction, has since seen over 40 GMG apprentices achieve the qualification, further cementing the company’s 25-plus year relationship with South Lanarkshire College. “GMG are a valued partner who support and participate in the annual College Construction Awards, through sponsoring awards and sharing in the celebrations of student,” says James Martin, Associate Principal at South Lanarkshire College. “It is the college’s and GMG’s ambition that this long-standing employer/college relationship continues to grow and develop to the benefit of industry and apprentices. As a college we are delighted to be working with such a forward-thinking company whose vision for education and training is well aligned to the college’s ethos of inclusiveness and widening access.”

At a time when there’s a major skills shortage across a number of sectors, GMG’s relationship with South Lanarkshire College is a shining example of what’s possible. Given the forthcoming challenges of Brexit and the possibility that it will further exacerbate the issue, many other companies would be well advised to follow its lead.

“We’re all about building relationships, whether it’s with clients, colleges or our own members of staff,” highlights Mr McGinn. “This has always been the foundation on which the company has been built and we’ve been willing to give young lads a chance that others had maybe given up on. We, however, always look at the potential that every young person brings with them, regardless of their previous background or poor academic career. We’re willing to give everyone a chance and the fact that so many young lads who could have ended up on the scrapheap have been able to build really good careers with us demonstrates that this is the right approach to take.”

Giving young people, some from severely deprived upbringings, the opportunity to forge a good life for themselves can only be to GMG’s credit, as can the ongoing encouragement and support that the business provides for them. This was apparent at the company’s recent Christmas party where prizes for the pool competition included 50” TVs, Bose headsets, weekends away and £100 M&S vouchers. Again this underlines the value that the company places on its staff and how much they are appreciated.

“At the end of the day we are only as good as our workforce. We therefore look after them and make sure that they receive the level of training they need to not only deliver high standards of workmanship but, most importantly, make them fully aware of the dangers they face so we can ensure their safety at all times.

“It’s all about going into detail. Whatever we do we get into the minutiae of it; there’s no half measures. This is especially true of our approach to developing our apprentices. We all make mistakes at some point, but ultimately it’s our aim to build our staff up and encourage them to reach their full potential. If we’re doing that then we’re doing something right, which in turn can only benefit the business too.”

This commitment has undoubtedly served GMG well over the past 25-plus years and, what’s more, the company looks unlikely to be resting on its laurels anytime soon.

“2018 was a great year, particularly because of the RoSPA President’s Award, but for 2019 we’re equally determined to secure our 11th RoSPA Gold award,” concludes Mr McGinn. “Our focus is as strong as ever.”

With such an unrelenting thirst for success and development it is easy to see how GMG has become such a flourishing business, in the process helping a growing number of young people forge sustainable careers. Long may it continue…