Kiwa inspector conducting Safety Culture Ladder certification audit in a factory
3 min

All hands on deck for safety

Dutch infrastructure specialist Van Vulpen ensures safe working at SCL level 4

With the Safety Culture Ladder (SCL) organizations can gradually increase their employees' safety awareness and reduce the number of accidents in the workplace. This is still necessary, even in civil engineering, where Dutch infrastructure specialist Van Vulpen is active. The company has been certified at SCL level 4 for several years. Jaco van der Ree, a safety expert at Van Vulpen, explains more about it.
The Safety Culture Ladder is a tool that organizations can use to anchor safety in their way of working. ‘With the SCL, employees' safety awareness can be measured, and the processes related to it can be streamlined,’ says Jaco van Vulpen. ‘Organizations can have an independent accredited body like Kiwa assess them. The current situation is then mapped out and linked to one of the five SCL levels based on interviews and observations. By actively stimulating employees' safety awareness, organizations can work towards a higher level and the corresponding certification.’

Mandatory component

The SCL was developed over ten years ago by Dutch rail transport provider ProRail and Dutch standardization institute NEN to promote and encourage safe working in the rail sector. Since then, the SCL is also being used outside the rail sector, in the Netherlands and in countries such as Germany, Belgium, France and Norway. Several large contractors in the Netherlands and the Dutch state real estate company use the SCL to select suppliers and since 2022, it has been a mandatory component in many tenders and contracts in the Dutch building sector.

Early adopter

Van Vulpen, one of the Netherlands' largest contractors in the field of underground infrastructure, is an early adopter of the SCL. The company has been certified since 2014, with the last three years at level 4. ‘Level 4 of the SCL is also known as the "behavioral level." This means that there’s a structured and active safety policy within the organization, and employees are aware of the risks and hazards in the workplace and proactively deal with them. This means employees feel responsible for their own safety and that of their colleagues and address each other when necessary.’

Safety Culture Ladder inspection by Kiwa auditors

Continuous improvement

According to Van der Ree, everything is done at SCL level 4 to improve and maintain the safety culture within the organization. Van Vulpen achieves this through training, safety campaigns, actively monitoring and reporting safety incidents, systematic risk analyses and evaluations of safety measures to continuously improve. Moreover, Van Vulpen works to improve the entire industry.

Consistent story

SCL-certified companies are audited annually on site. As a safety expert, Jaco van der Ree was closely involved in Van Vulpen's last SCL audit. ‘These are fundamentally different audits from, for example, the average ISO standard. With the SCL, everything revolves around attitude and behavior, and you can only measure that by involving the entire organization. From reception to the crane operator outside, all roles are questioned, and a consistent story must emerge. This is especially true for certification at SCL level 4, where you logically have to score much better than at SCL level 3 on all assessment aspects.’

Maintaining a Safety Culture

Although SCL level 5 may be possible at a project level under certain circumstances, according to Van der Ree, SCL level 4 is the highest achievable level for an organization like Van Vulpen. ‘We are active underground and in public spaces with thousands of people every day. If we can maintain and expand this level of safety, then we can truly be satisfied. We are an organization that is growing rapidly, with many new people joining and working with subcontractors. It's all hands on deck every day to maintain our safety culture. If you relax, you will fall back!’