Interview Carl Powell: No incidents, no accidents

Safety is key for Schiphol, and thus for safety manager Carl Powell. He is responsible for the safe work environment for contractors and others involved in the construction of the new pier and terminal. Often described as passionate, and willing to challenge unsafe acts or conditions, no contractor escapes his watchful eye. “’No incidents, no accidents’. It is part of Schiphol’s core values and that is why I am here.”

From Kazakhstan to Hong Kong

From oil fields in Kazakhstan, Airports in the middle EAST to bridges in Hong Kong; Carl has worked on diverse, large and mega construction projects all over the world. It is only logical that the comprehensive project of the new pier and terminal and associated infrastructure lured him to the Netherlands. It simply had to be a position within safety though, as that has been his focus for years. Being part of many successful projects and witness to.

One day, three accidents

For over 16 years Carl has worked on a large project overseas. Working at height is the biggest killer in the construction industry, and he painfully recalls a day from a previous project when in the space of 24 hour three colleagues fell from height, one was seriously hurt and was never able to go back to work. This very same day, at separate times and locations not one but two of his colleagues lose their life falling from height. Carl is sent to their families to bring the bad news. ‘That is seared into my brain, he shares. ‘You cannot imagine how it feels to bring family members such news, until you see the pain in their eyes yourself. From that day forward, I have always advocated for safety at construction projects.’

From compliments to reprimanding

Carl’s daily tasks are diverse. ‘Setting goals, as well as strategic visions, audits and plans for the following year. We are continually seeking improvement, and must remember it’s all about making people safe. Furthermore, I regularly make the rounds along the construction sites to see how things are going over there. That is where the work happens, not in an office. We will only achieve the desired levels of health and safety by working together, understanding the risks and preventing incidents, and the contractor and PMCM teams are integral and play a huge part in this success. We consciously work with these three layers to ensure structural control and the highest possible safety levels.

Offer travelers the very best

Carl enjoys working at Schiphol. ‘As a matter of fact, I am feeling more and more at home. I have worked and lived all over the world, but the Netherlands has captured my heart. I would not mind staying here. And no: I have not said that often.” He calls Schiphol a jewel. ‘Everyone here is hard at work offering travelers the very best experience. I want the construction projects to be arranged so well, that passengers will want to come back in a few years’ time to see how beautiful it has become.’

Good is not good enough

Why settle for good when we can achieve great. It’s a personal motto, and something I full believe. It’s central to how I work and expect for the safety standards at Schiphol. That’s not the only thing we work with’, Carl says. ‘Besides the existing HSE laws and legislation, we also have our Schiphol 12 golden rules as well as the safety and security handbook.’ The way we present our standards makes our expectations for anyone working for the Capital Programme, clearly and easy to understand. He recognizes that in using these rules Schiphol is asking more from the contractors involved. ‘Our expectations of them are high. But that does attract from only wanting to protect our people and provide an environment where our passengers feel safe and comfortable. By providing the best of the best, in the best way possible.’

Someone’s child or grandchild

Carl flashes back to his thirties. ‘At one point in time I was a manager at a project’, he explains. ‘There was a contractor there with whom I argued almost every day, and most days I would walk up to him with heavy boots. Until one day I decided to change my approach. I started to chat with him about his kids and grandkids. For the first time, we were having an open conversation. We even laughed together. Afterwards I pointed at his construction site and asked if he would let his grandkids play there.’ Absolutely not. Carl’s message works. The contractor looks at him evocatively for a while, rounded up his men and from that day forward had the safety completely taken care of. Carl decides: ‘This is how it should be, and this is how we work at Schiphol; don’t stop challenging unsafe acts or conditions, but think how that interaction is being perceived, it’s true, you do get further winning hearts and minds, but never be afraid to challenge. Everyone that visits or works here should be safe, 100 percent. Because we are all someone’s child or loved one.