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FCC Environment secures Five Star Audit in year of challenges

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After winning a string of awards from the British Safety Council in 2020, FCC Environment decided the time was ripe to enter the Five Star Audit, determined that the coronavirus pandemic would not stop progress.


FCC Environment is a waste management company headquartered in Northampton with 248 sites across the UK. It employs nearly 2,400 people. As well as delivering waste and recycling services to local authorities up and down the country, the company operates more than 200 recycling, treatment and disposal facilities.

It seeks to minimise the amount of waste that ends up in landfill by transforming it into valuable resources wherever possible. Each year FCC Environment recycles 1.6 million tonnes of waste and generates more than 117MW of green energy.

An FCC Environment household recycling centre. Photograph: FCC Environment

Why enter a Five Star Audit?

Paul Stokes is head of safety, health, environment and quality (SHEQ) at the company. He explains why it was important to enter the Five Star Audit. “At FCC Environment, we believe it is always positive to have your systems and processes checked over by an independent third party, which we do via the British Standards Institution on a continual basis.”

“However, it had been four years since we last tested ourselves against the Five Star Audit criteria so we felt it would be timely to do so again,” he continues. “Our focus is on health and safety in the waste and recycling sector, but as the British Safety Council works across a number of sectors, we gain the benefit of its experience within other industries; sharing best practice, helping to identify areas for improvement that may not be as obvious to us and to plan for future trends that we should be focusing on.”

Paul Stokes, Head of SHEQ: "Achieving the Five Star rating and being awarded the Sword of Honour for the second time is a great reflection of all the hard work from the FCC Environment teams across the country."

The audit process was two-part. Firstly, focusing on the head office functions. This involved British Safety Council auditors conducting three days of remote, detailed auditing of FCC Environment’s management systems, which incorporate ISO Standards 9001, 14001, 45001 and 50001.

The second phase of the audit involved visits to various sites that FCC Environment operates on behalf of local authorities in the UK. “These included household waste recycling centres, materials recycling facilities, waste transfer stations and two of our household waste collections contracts to ensure that everyone across the business is following the same procedures,” explains Paul.

Pandemic – logistical challenges

The audit was carried out in 2020. Did they not consider deferring, given all the extra challenges that coronavirus has heaped on businesses, not least for essential services? “We could have easily cancelled the audit process,” says Paul.

After a gap of four years between the last Five Star Audit, FCC Environment thought it was time to undergo it again: Photograph: FCC Environmentdo so again

“However, in March 2020 we were presented with an International Safety Award with distinction, and this gave us the impetus to continue with the audit. As lockdown eased, we knew it would be possible to undertake the site visits; however, we had to ensure that strict social distancing and other Covid control measures were followed.”

Surprisingly, perhaps, the head office audit was the more challenging aspect. Because it was conducted remotely due to Covid-19, auditors could not access FCC Environment’s systems as they would normally. To get round this, Paul says they built a document repository that aligned with the audit criteria to make it easy to find the necessary evidence.

Areas for improvement 

The Five Star Audit measures performance against key health and safety management best practice indicators and is a detailed review of more than 60 component elements.

Asking Paul to pick out just one part that has helped them to make the greatest improvements, he explains that FCC Environment’s health and safety journey is “very much about incremental gains and not massive jumps we can make to improve.”

Greatmoor Energy from Waste plant in Aylesbury. Photograph: FCC Environment

However, the audit did uncover gains to be made by structuring their mental health and wellbeing programme. “We already do a lot that people don’t see,
but this needs to be improved upon and brought out into the open,” he says.

“As part of this, we’ll be working with our Human Resources team to bring forward a wellbeing programme for the whole company that is fit for the post Covid era. We need our employees to know it’s OK not to be OK, and that help is available should they need it.”

‘A real lift’

But of course, undertaking the Five Star Audit is more than a tool to improve
and measure performance behind the scenes. It is a visible demonstration of a company’s safety credentials. “Achieving the Five Star rating and being awarded the Sword of Honour for the second time is a great reflection of all the hard work from the FCC Environment teams across the country; our operators have really raised the bar during the pandemic to have performed in the way they have done,” confirms Paul.

The award has also been a morale boost: “It has given everyone a real lift to know the practices and procedures that are in place are working and keeping people safe in what can be quite a high-risk environment,” he shares.

“It has put a spring in the step of my team. But more than anything it gives us the reassurance that we are on the right track and that what we are doing makes a difference.”

The British Safety Council is hosting a webinar on 17 June at 10am on the Five Star Audit. Register here 

Visit the Health and Safety audits section of our website here

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