Australian Country Choice
The impact of COVID-19 on the meat processing industry extends from the health and wellbeing of employees, to staff in rural and remote locations being isolated by lockdowns, through to the commercial impact on the supply chain, from farms, to domestic and export freight, as well as the challenges of maintaining continuity through to retailers and customers.
Australian Country Choice (ACC) is an agricultural producer and meat processor with over 1200 employees. It responded immediately and efficiently to the pandemic and transformed the way its business operated in feedlots, properties and processing facilities.
Leadership was demonstrated from the beginning with open and constant communication to all employees and in a variety of languages other than English for their culturally diverse workforce. The senior executive team met routinely to identify risks and develop strategies to control them.
Amongst many other innovative solutions to the challenges of the pandemic, ACC provided paid leave for staff who may have been at risk of exposure to COIVD-19 to encourage them to take extra precautions and self-isolate, sending the message that management was prepared to share the responsibility with all the workforce and support staff to ‘do the right thing’.
Their comprehensive response had a focus on employee safety, wellbeing and business continuity. It has transformed the way that the business operates and has long-term benefits for their workplace culture, production and staff satisfaction.
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Anthony Lee, CEO
Australian Country Choice is a beef and cattle business. We have rural properties spanning 4.5 million acres. We have multiple feed lots and a processing facility in Cannon Hill. And we're really a service provider for our clients selling beef globally. When COVID firstly hit, we saw the writing on the wall before it even really got to Australia. It was important for us to get the crisis team together, our senior leadership team, and really make sure that everyone was aware and up to speed about what our thoughts were and where we were going. And then the second part was to get third party expertise in that could really help us understand how pandemics work, how viruses work, to allow us to make the most appropriate decisions. Some of the key things that we did early on before anyone was doing it, we really acted quickly, and they were: Masks came on immediately, everyone on site. We had quarantine areas where anyone of concern was isolated and checked by a doctor. We had segregation of offices. We set up multiple offices and sent people home. We had lunchrooms segregated, brought in more lunchrooms and put the Perspex dividers up for physical barriers. All our annual leave forms were adjusted to allow us to understand where everyone had been and going so we could understand how they integrated back in. We were early adopters of temperature guns at the gatehouse. Declaration forms for people, where they'd travelled to. And again, remembering, these are all things that came out before they were sort of commonplace these days. Cultural diversity, for us, is an ongoing, not challenge, it's a part of life for us. We have 61 nationalities just here at our facility. So, that was always a consideration about how we got messages out, in what formats and forums. Community leaders are key parts of that, the engagement with them. I think what drove the success was not one in particular thing. I think it was constant energy, and focus, and reflection. I think it was a whole myriad of actions collectively that has helped us get us to where we are today. Safe Food Queensland and Queensland Health have been very complementary and have taken a lot of what we've done on board and, I believe, have shared that with others. The most important thing for us, though, has been our employees and making sure that they feel safe, and that their families are safe, and the business is safe. And we've been working very hard at making that the right outcome and working as if we're a family in a family business.
Stanwell has successfully created a workplace culture that reduces stigma around mental health and encourages workers to open up. Stanwell’s leadership play an active, visible role in the success of its health and wellbeing program which is built on a high level of trust with workers though coaching, mateship and connectedness.
Each morning a leader will share a personal story related to Stanwell’s values (We Care, We Adapt, We Deliver) with the team leaders’ group. These stories are then shared amongst the work groups. This personal approach has a been big part of breaking down stigma, by making these conversations a part of Stanwell’s day to day activities.
Counsellors attend pre-start meetings and are available for informal conversations with field staff to connect workers with suitable services. Additionally, field-based leaders are trained to go beyond asking ‘Are you Okay?’ and recognise signs and symptoms when someone may need to be connected. This front-end approach creates an environment where people feel comfortable to speak up and leaders feel comfortable to reach out.
Some of the other initiatives include:
- maintaining existing alliances with Mates in Energy and Benestar
- coaching conversations: using the power of open questions to tackle burnout and stress
- mateship: social events during work and break times to build comradery and understanding.
While working in the energy and construction industries, across remote sites, with FIFO/DIDO workers, Stanwell have found effective solutions to prioritise and address mental health.
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Owen Bevan, Health and Safety Manager
My name is Owen Bevan. I'm the Health and Safety Manager at the Tarong Power Station, and we work for Stanwell Corporation Limited. Stanwell provides electricity to the Queensland market and the national electricity market. Directly, we employ 700 people, indirectly 400, and during our shut programs, up to 600 additional workers. Due to COVID, we'd identified that many workers would be away from home for up to six months. We had three back-to-back outages, and we wanted to ensure that people had the right access to mental health programs. This involved education programs, coaching programs, and also having a visible mental health professional out in the field, making direct contact with workers proactively. The risk we identified was that people weren't utilizing our traditional EAP service, which is like a telephone line where people go for help. So, what we thought we would do is develop a system which would see front-end access to mental health services. Rather than waiting for an event to happen and parking the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, we wanted to prevent people getting to the cliff at all. And our solution became six parts. There was an education, coaching and approachability piece. We developed a purposeful leadership program where leaders were in the field conducting coaching conversations. Our leaders on the sharp wore speaking shirts. These were slightly different coloured shirt to regular, and this allowed workers to identify someone to go up to and have a chat with. Once we could increase the level of conversation, we knew that we would reduce the stigma around mental health and increase participation. The benefit of having the mental health practitioners in the field was amazing. This initiative has broad applications across a variety of industries. Already, we've seen elements of our program adopted by the Kingaroy Chamber of Commerce and Industry, where 115 businesses have signed up to participate in their SMILE Program. Also, we've shared our learnings with the Queensland Generators Safety Forum, and right across the generation industry, we're seeing a willingness to participate and to adopt some of these modules to increase the awareness of mental health in the workplace. In reflection, the program gives me a high level of satisfaction. I'm an advocate for regional development and rural health, and mental health is a stigma. We, as people from the bush, don't really wanna speak about it, but when we do, we wanna speak face to face. And, when I look back on the program and know that we've changed people's lives, I just carry pride.
Nancy Andrian, Lendlease
Nancy Andrian is the Injury Care and Recovery Manager for Lendlease Queensland. Her core service is to support a total of 810 staff in their wellness journey and return them to their best lifestyle after an injury or illness.
Nancy inspires others by leading from the front, seeking continuous improvement through innovation and challenging the status quo. She demonstrates leadership qualities of honesty, integrity and confidence and adopts an ethics-based philosophy on return to work underpinned by science and knowledge. Her approach is to:
- recognise that the most valuable asset to a business are its employees, and its commitment to assisting them navigate the return-to-work process
- provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with a physical or mental health injury that allows them to perform the essential functions of their jobs or another appropriate job
- establish a return to work program that is interactive, immersive, participatory and collaborative.
Nancy communicates effectively and positively influences all stakeholders involved in the rehabilitation process. She builds rapport through collaboration and is committed to sharing knowledge and experience to genuinely co-create a vision of success with the people who are responsible for making it happen.
She is the driving force behind innovative, creative return to work and wellness solutions by developing and implementing a new online application called LEWI – Lendlease Employee Wellness Information. The app is a digital wellbeing toolkit that supports staff to take the appropriate steps to ensure the physical and psychological safety of people.
Nancy has been described by her peers as a highly skilled, intuitive, nurturing leader who goes above and beyond for the staff at Lendlease.
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Nancy Andrian, Injury Care and Recovery Manager
Hi, I'm Nancy. I'm the Injury Care and Recovery Manager for Lendlease. I've been with Lendlease for 11 years and have been in this role for the past six years. Our role involves facilitating a journey for our injured workers and returning them back to optimal health and lifestyle and ultimately, back to work. One of the things I saw was a huge disconnect between site personnel and the corporate personnel, I really believe the minute someone believes that people are caring for them, and they're legitimately wanting to support them, that drives that motivation for them to want to get better. And I think that made a huge difference, changing the mindset of the managers to care for their employees, rather than just leave it up to me and have them participate in the return to work, participate and collaborate in the development of the suitable duties plans showed that the worker felt part of the team, the worker felt needed and wanted and I guess felt the love in developing a return to work journey.
Kathryn Agius, Brisbane Motorway Services
Nancy provides an enormous amount of support to our business, to myself, as well as to our staff in getting them back to work as quickly as possible. Part of our job is 24/7 incident response on a major motorway in Brisbane. We have a really positive response to Nancy's philosophy. She's positive with them on the phone. She'll go the extra mile. She works out of hours to provide support to them, and I've only ever had great feedback about her. One of her strengths is that she's able to explain things in layman's terms and make us aware of our responsibilities and the employee aware of their responsibilities as well. So, Nancy developed the app, LEWI, that's available to our staff 24/7. We have a number of staff that suffer from PTSD. So, it's important for them to be able to get support when they need it and it's sometimes that's the middle of the night. It's a mechanism for our staff to be able to check in and monitor themselves and reach out for additional support if that's what's required.
Nancy Andrian, Injury Care and Recovery Manager
I had an idea to develop the app after seeing some pain points on site. In a way my app was to empower people managers to seek supports that would benefit them in managing and looking after their employees. The most rewarding part of my role is when people get back to work and back to health and when they thank me and state, that thank you is genuine, it's an amazing feeling to have a thank you from somebody that's gone through a difficult time. And we know we've removed barriers and supported them through a journey that then has led them to an outcome where they're back to their happy selves and normal selves. That's the most rewarding part.
Nuflow inspects, cleans, clears, repairs and relines residential and commercial pipes as well as researching and manufacturing customised and innovative solutions to fix pies.
A Nuflow staff member, Marty, suffered a stroke at work and was later placed into an induced coma. Marty’s stroke affected his ability to speak, walk and the functionality of his right arm and leg. Marty went through an intense rehabilitation that included learning to walk, communicate and use his right arm while overcoming the challenge of not being able to drive or return to his job as a chemical mixologist driving forklifts.
Nuflow’s strong comradery played a crucial role in Marty’s return to work. Throughout his rehabilitation he was visited by his colleagues and manager and invited to a staff BBQ. Nuflow continued to pay Marty his full wage, had a sign (Marty’s Shed) made and put in place at the shed that Marty used to mix chemicals.
Nuflow worked with Marty, his rehabilitation coordinator and physio to get Marty back into the workplace in a new role operating the laminating machine. Nuflow management and health and safety officers wrote a new risk assessment and standard operating procedure for the role to make sure it was suitable for Marty’s physical limitations and included teammates working with him to complete tasks.
Not only has Marty benefited physically and mentally by being able to return to work, Nuflow has also found:
- it was able to keep a valued employee
- production has increased
- young workers see the value of looking after staff
- an increase in morale
- it contributed to Marty’s sense of purpose.
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Steven Murphy, Safety Officer
My name is Steve Murphy and here at Nuflow I'm the Safety Officer. My role as Safety Officer is the day-to-day safety and the wellbeing of the employees. Nuflow, as a company, we repair underground pipes. So it's, it's a no dig repair. Marty suffered a massive stroke while he was out in one of the company vehicles with me at the time, actually. I was driving and we got him back to work fairly quickly and called the ambulance. I stayed with him while at time. After Marty was in hospital for three months and parts of his rehabilitation, it’s just started at that time, after three months. And, and we decided to just have a, a barbecue here for Marty.
After the barbecue, we decided that we would try and get Marty back to work, at one of our machines, a laminator. So, we called out his occupational therapist. They assessed it with me, and it was all agreed within four months of Marty having a stroke, he was back to work. So that was the first return to work case that we've ever had. But I think what that's done now, it's given us some guidelines, how we can help any injured employees in the future. Marty is come on leaps and bounds. One instance of that was when he has to write with his left hand, because he was right-handed, we couldn't read his writing whatsoever. Now, if you go and look at it, every single person can read it. So, it's helped him, in his physical parts of that. And also, it get him back to work, his mental health parts is fantastic as well.
To get the management buy-in was quite easy, very easy, in fact. They were supportive in any ideas we had and very responsive to action what was proposed. There's so many outcomes that is, that it shows that our company actually cares about its employees and their families, and getting them back to work. My advice for any other return to coordinators, keep looking. Don't just look at the small picture, try and adapt things that you've already got in place, adapt it to the person who needs it and always keep looking. The rewarding parts of, of the role is the end result. So it might be a little bit harder at the beginning to get the ball rolling, but definitely the rewards is looking at the guy we've got working up there, Marty, and seeing the end results.
Protech was established in 2006 as a technically specialised, customer-focused workforce solutions partner. Ellie, a Protech employee, was involved in a car accident while travelling between sites for a civil construction client. She suffered multiple injuries which resulted in a high amputation of her left leg. Ellie was hospitalised for months where she received intensive rehabilitation, including psychological support to cope with her losses.
Protech’s commitment to Ellie’s return to work was demonstrated by a high level of involvement from the executive team and regular contact with her by phone, text and face-to face catch ups during her rehabilitation.
Once Ellie was ready to return to work Protech looked beyond its own workplace to find suitable work for Ellie. Protech’s general manager approached its client RoadTek to see if it would consider Ellie for a traineeship.
RoadTek recognised Ellie’s potential value for its team and promptly made arrangements to have the office and facilities assessed for wheelchair accessibility and safety. It also committed to commencing a Certificate III in Business traineeship when Ellie is ready for additional work and study hours.
Both organisations keep in regular contact regarding Ellie’s progress, achievements, and areas for improvement. Both Protech and RoadTek showed great leadership to find innovative return to work solutions as well as commitment to diversity, inclusion, and improving individual contributions to their lives and the community.
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Simon Gibson, Regional Manager
I'm Simon Gibson. I'm from Protech and I'm the Regional Manager for Southeast Queensland and Northern New South Wales. Protech are a labour hire and workforce management company. We've got 160 internal staff and about 3,500 contractors working in a variety of industries from manufacturing and specialising in construction and technical trades. So, one of our employees Ellie, was involved in a really serious motor vehicle accident a few years ago, was really lucky to survive, suffered some really horrific injuries in terms of losing a leg and losing a lot of her day-to-day function. When Ellie was at a stage of her recovery, where we were talking about what does that next role look like, and how can we get you back into the workforce, we looked to the clients that we work with within Ellie's area, and Protech was one that we knew how to we were really engaged with supporting workers back into suitable duties. So, we engaged with them here in Toowoomba, and were really fortunate that together we could put together a plan for Ellie that would support her return to the workforce. We consistently had better outcomes for the workers when they're engaged in a work. They've got purpose, they've got motivation to get up every day and get involved in something other than their own recovery. We have much better outcomes and the workers will tell us that it's a better experience.
Ellie Dunn, Protech employee
So, Protech was great with supporting me throughout my rehabilitation. They, you know, we're constantly in contact, and I felt connected with that company, even though I wasn't there, which was great. It's very easy to shut away and forget about the world a little bit. So, having everyone around you to support you was the reason I guess I'm here now.
Simon Gibson, Regional Manager
It was really challenging. Ellie was in a site-based role, a blue-collar role where her skills and experience were on the tools day-to-day. And, having to then transfer Ellie's skillset to a white-collar skillset where she's sitting behind a computer and adding value to a company in a different way, was really challenging, and we've had to do a few little unique things to be able to support that.
Ellie Dunn, Protech employee
I was terrible at computers before coming to Protech, and all the girls here have just have made it a really easy transition. They're always willing to teach me new things, which is pretty often.
Simon Gibson, Regional Manager
I think the key to Ellie's success in recovery, in her rehabilitation and return to work was that we've maintained consistent communication with Ellie, whether it's our injury management coordinator and injury management team, our local account managers, even myself coming out, and we've been up to see Ellie in hospital, we've seen her at her house as she's been on that journey, we've continuously worked with her over the years to get her back to this point. It didn't just happen because there was someone else driving in the background. Protech drove that with the support of a huge number of people. I think the key learning here for other businesses is to be engaged with your workers and support them. And, that anything really is possible if you engage and you've got the right team, and are really looking to put the outcome of the worker first.