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Safety leadership and culture stories

Hear from safety leaders sharing their experience building and maintaining a positive safety culture in their workplace.

Greg Smith, General Manager, Toll NQX

This films shows what drives industry leader, Toll NQX to invest resources to influence safety culture in the transport industry. It features Greg Smith, General Manager at Toll NQX and shows how senior management demonstrate safety leadership.

Download a copy of this film (ZIP/MP4, 173MB)

On Screen Text

My name is Greg Smith, I'm the General Manager for Toll NQX.

I've been with the business for about sixteen years now and in my current roll for about thirteen.

I joined the industry over 30 years ago, and I began as a truck driver. I've driven trucks, I've been on forklifts, so I've got a good understanding and a very very healthy respect for the sorts of hazards that our employees face on a day to day basis.

We are primarily a road transport company but we also have significant rail services and a coastal shipping service.

Two of Toll NQX's core beliefs are firstly that everybody has the right to go home safely and secondly that every incident is preventable.

For us to live that belief it's not just about our own employees or the people our employees engage with the fact is that we go to all sorts of customers sites all sorts of other transport companies our people are interacting with other people all the time, other businesses and for us to enact our commitment that everyone has the right to go home safely we have to try and make sure that everywhere that we go there is the highest possible standard from a safety perspective.

Part of what drives my actions and my belief in the need for a safe working environment is that quite some years ago one of my work mates was killed in a work place incident and I knew all of the people that were involved at the time. I saw the damage that was done to the customers' business and the people who were involved in there. The damage that was done to the business I was working for where my friend was working, it had a huge impact on myself and my family. It's extreme but that very much drives my belief and my behaviour.

We started the journey trying to develop processes and procedures and to get people to follow processes and procedures and we were successful to a point but we didn't really get to where we believed where we wanted to go. We weren't really impacting culture. What we learned is that we needed to change our approach and actually make it very very personal. The biggest single change to our safety culture was when we made it personal and people started to understand that if I take risks at work, I'm going to risk everything that's important to me.

Our senior management team are heavily engaged in safety and one of the things that we have begun quite recently is that each senior manager has taken on board a couple of branches. We actually now have a weekly hook up with that branch to review the incidents in that branch, understand what initiatives are in place and just offer them support in the safety journey. What we are trying to do there is we are trying to show leadership from that senior management team but also a level of interest and engagement that can keep the message fresh. Our senior management staff in fact all of management staff are empowered to intervene at any time when they see something that's unsafe or could develop into an unsafe position.

At Toll we believe we have a leadership role in the transport industry, we take that very seriously. Recently we had the safety show case here at our Brisbane site. We were involved in the first one of those at the port of Brisbane and it was a really good event. What we saw was a lot of things that were coming from other businesses and we were able to contribute significantly as well. So the opportunity to have that here on our site and have a lot of people interact with it was one we couldn't miss out on. So it was about a sharing of learned experiences and we thought that was very much of value.

Another area where we believe we can take a leadership role is that we have spent some years at looking at camera technology to try and understand what's happening with our vehicles on the road. We've had a lot of our competitors come to us and actually ask us can you give us some information on the cameras, how they work, what your experiences are. We are happy to share that and have done on many occasions and it's not about proprietary information its actually much more about trying to make sure that the roads are safer for everybody.

I'm particularly pleased with what we have achieved at Toll NQX, we have actually changed the culture. People are generally interested in coming to work and working safely for themselves for their work mates, for their family. We have a more connected workforce, a more consistent workforce, people realise that you are generally interested in their wellbeing. So the commitment from the people has allowed us to continue to progress our safety culture which needs to continue to evolve, there is no end game. It must stay alive, it must continue to evolve.

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RUN TIME:  4 min 26 sec

Mark Plummer, Senior Construction Manager, Lend Lease

This film features Mark Plumber, Senior Construction Manager for Lend Lease on the Sunshine Coast Public University Hospital site, sharing his personal approach and views about safety leadership.

Download a copy of this film (ZIP/MP4, 106MB)

Mark Plumber

Senior Construction Manager, Lend Lease

On Screen Text I'm Mark Plumber, I'm the senior construction manager on, for Lend Lease on the Sunshine coast public university hospital.

This project is a 1.8 billion dollar project for the Queensland Government. Sustaining the culture of safety on a project is very important and it's a challenge, so from our side of things the first thing we do is you must believe in what you are doing, you have to believe in what you are doing is the right thing. In achieving the first million hours without a lost time injury, management's component is only one part in the whole process. Our part is very much about setting the direction and the expectations that the team have to achieve it's about making sure the message is very concise and simple in its delivery so people can understand and can follow that direction. Maintaining the energy in safety is always a challenge on a project. You need to be at all stages holding each other accountable, so at one stage when one person drops the ball these another person in the back ground backing you up. We know where our expectations are, we know where our goals are so as a team we can keep that momentum going on safety.

We have a very simple message about factory clean, we want it to look like a factory floor.

So from the moment people walk on the project they see that the project is well set up and well laid out and we carry that expectation through to our sub-contractors about that's how we want them to perform, so there is a far bit of expectation management from the moment they walk on to the moment they start work on the project. Our final part of communicating with our sub-contractors and keeping them engaged is making sure we listen to what their saying. They know their work very well, better than we do so it's about listening to them and making sure their concerns and comments are incorporated and addressed The challenge with safety is always to make sure people feel comfortable of saying, hey I don't feel safe or I see there's a concern and you need to encourage your workforce to be confident that they can stick their hand up and say, I see a risk.

You got to treat every comment and every concern raised as valid and address it with the respect that it deserves.

As you walk around the job you see the pride in some of the guys from what they are doing and that gives me a real buzz.

I care about the guys on site I really want to go home each and feel comfortable that we have done everything in our power to make that they have gone home safely.

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David Foote, CEO, Australian Country Choice

This film features David Foote, Chief Executive Office, Australian Country Choice, sharing his personal approach and views about safety leadership.

Download a copy of this film (ZIP/MP4, 202MB)

David Foote

CEO, Australian Country Choice

On Screen Text

My names David Foote I'm the CEO of a family owned company, Australian Country Choice, based in Brisbane but operating across most of South Western Queensland and here in Brisbane we have meat processing facility that does primary processing, value adding, retail packing, and we employee 1220 Queenslanders.

I come to this industry after a lifetime in agricultural, been a farmer but haven't had a short break in as an underground miner in the nickel operations in the desert Western Australia which is both life changing and both monetary rewards and life changing in my attitude toward two important parts of life now, safety and work practices.

Whilst I only spent eleven and a half months as an underground miner I actually lost five co-workers. We were actually attending a funeral therefore every two months and chipping in out of our weekly wage to widows who were probably my age as well, 23 or 24 and probably a kid in a pram or a kid on the way, So it's taken probably 30 years for that to sink in and work out that doesn't have to be the norm.

On Screen Text

ACC took over the Cannon Hill site back in 2000 and it would be fair to say that probably the safety culture in the site ant the workforce at that time may have been at a near all-time low.
We entered here with one of the worst insurance premium rates for work cover and over the time we worked out that ever impact that we could have on reducing that actually was a financial benefit. So within three years of taking over the site we actually managed to reduce our initial premium by 50%. That financial benefit not only gave us more productivity and less lost time but it also created some dollars to start to development some safety processes and importantly install some safety equipment across the site and maybe bring the site up, which has been here in existence for 90 years to a more modern level of a work place.

On Screen Text

Whilst ACC strives and we talk about best practice, we talk about leadership we want to be at the front, we want to be a good role model, were not perfect we are not incident free, We've had two major incidences in the last ten years that involved either a forklift incident here at the factory and a serious injury to a young lady and we have had a more recent amputation at one of our feed mill operations out in rural.

The amputation incident out at the feed lot which is quite a small workforce community where they all live together, work together was dramatic the district was flooded, we could not get any ambulance in or out, we couldn't get traffic in or out, the only helicopter in the district was 6 hours away so we actually had to provide medical assistance on site to a major amputation and the emotional impact that had on staff is still telling today in fact some of our staff are still been receiving counselling over that incident more than a year later.

The incidence give you a consistent reminder are you doing everything that you can, have you got every yellow line painted on the ground? Have you got every sign up that you can? Is your production management team really responding to your safety management team? Or are your safety people, are they just going around doing the tick and flick with actually been able to drive change cultures, what you got to do, you actually got to give your safety team the confidence that they are of as equal importance and standing in your work structure as the production people.

On Screen Text

Taking workers for the journey and making it front of their mind is actually one of the greater challenges in business.

We actually have a stop for safety work day now as part of our practice, so for the last 5 years we shut the factory down for two periods a day because we are on two shifts and we actually try instead of the boss bashing them, cause that's what bosses do, we actually bring in outsiders to try and deliver a message and a different message each year.
So we stop the factory, get lunch, its 500 people, it's not an easy process feeding 500 people and we bring on a speaker, we have had Mal Meninga when he was safety ambassador, we are trying to use other people other than the boss banging the table to get our message across that we actually care about you and if we care about you maybe you would like to care about you a little more as well.

On Screen Text

The CEO in any organisation has to lead the safety challenge in their business, otherwise it's just lip service or people doing what they feel they have to do. If it doesn't come from the top it will take twice as long to get to the bottom.

First thing is, don't give up. It's not easy, don't do it cause you have to, do it because you want to but you aren't on your own. so there is a whole group of business out there that are prepared to help and pitch in so you are not on your own and its worth doing.

On Screen Text

RUN TIME:  5 min 26 sec

Barbara Rusinko, Senior Vice President, Bechtel Corporation

This film features Barbara Rusinko, Senior Vice President and Senior Project Manager of the Curtis Island LNG Project for Bechtel Australia, sharing her personal approach and views about safety leadership.

Download a copy of this film (ZIP/MP4, 261MB)

Barbara Rusinko

Senior Vice President, Bechtel Australia

My name is Barbara Rusinko and I'm a Senior Vice President with Bechtel Corporation. We're an engineering, procurement, construction and project management company. A global operation with portfolios in mining and metals, oil and gas, power and civil.

So my personal safety journey started when I was a construction field engineer early in my career. And that happened because I was out in the field seeing guys working and were able to affect how they did work. So we were able to plan work on the ground so they didn't have to work at height. So it became clear to me pretty early on that our ability to plan and work makes it safer for the guys in the field.

My journey probably jumped ahead a lot when I was a project manager on a job in Thailand and we lost a man and Khun Tiam Daeng-na lost his life. And being with him for those final moments of his life really changed me. It made me be the leader that I am today in safety because I know how important it is.

Safety leadership at every level

So, the Bechtel safety journey really is not just one person. We have over 53 000 colleagues in this company. Our vision is 'safety is our value'. And that value of coming to work and working safely and going home to your family every day is really a responsibility we all have.

It's good business practice to have a safe operation. Our colleagues and our customers rely on us to have a safe operation and make sure our folks go home every day so there is no inconsistency and there is no battle between the business and running the project and keeping people safe.

I am never going to say Bechtel is ahead of the game in safety. I think we do an admirable job, but I'm never going to be satisfied that we are the best we can ever be until we do have zero incidents on our job sites.

Safety challenges in construction projects

The challenge when you have a job that goes on for several years and you have a workforce that transitions over and over again, you really need to count on your basics. You need to make sure your safety inductions are solid, and that all of our follow up communications with the folks out in the field are consistent and they have the same approach. That's the main thing we can do in order to—as we have turnover with personnel.

Quality communication in safety

I think middle managers probably have the toughest job of all when it comes to safety. We need to have them operate in a bi-directional basis. They need to take the messages that leadership is sending about how important safety is on the job and translate that down to the workforce. And at the same time, they need to take the issues and the concerns of the workforce up to management to get those things resolved. And the workforce needs to trust in these middle managers to be able to deliver that message.

We have some, what I call tools of our trade, that we use for communicating safety things. We have pre-starts every single day that go out with a message the night before, so supervisors can look at them ahead of time and deliver those safety topics. We have close-outs at the end of every day, again for them to get their group back together before they go home and talk about lessons learned. And we also provide our supervisors with toolbox talks. So these are more detailed safety communications that they can use with their teams when they are about to embark on a new or different kind of work activity.

Valuing safety participation

The key thing with all of those is it's not a one way lecture. Each one of those needs to be done in an interactive way where the workforce can also speak out and they get to share the lessons learned amongst themselves.

One of the challenges we have of getting folks involved in safety and keeping their interest active is to get the folks who have a passion for it and give them an opportunity to shine. So on our projects we take full advantage of our health and safety reps. They were elected by the workforce within their discipline and we have integrated them into work processes that we know need improvement and change. So that's one way we get them involved in our work.

I think the other key thing is our people-based safety initiative. At peak, we had over 200 observers who go out and do peer-to-peer interactions on safety, and that provides a really good opportunity for one-to-one communication and it gets the employees actively engaged in the safety of their team mates as well.

Building safety leadership capability

Initially I would have thought that when you talk about developing safety capacity it's a technical skill set, but it really isn't. I think the two most important skills that we can give people are communication skills and planning skills. We want to be able to teach people how to communicate so they feel comfortable going out in the field and stating a safety intervention if they see something that's not safe. We also want them to be able to get in front of a group of people and talk about important safety things. The issue about planning is, I have seen most of our incidents happen when we're doing short time work, things that haven't been planned effectively. So we want to be able to give people the planning skills, to give them the opportunity to look at the task, identify the hazards and then put some measures in place to prevent incidents and injuries from happening.

The importance of leadership style

I don't think there's one leadership style that works for safety. If we're trying to develop a team and get them behind this safety message that we want—leadership from the top down—you really want a collaborative, coaching kind of style. That's going to get people around the table and develop that one team message that we have about safety.

But sometimes when there's an incident or something that needs immediate corrective action you do need to have a leader that has a little bit more discipline and a more direct style. So I think there's an opportunity to use all our leadership skills when it comes to safety.

I think the way we motivate our folks on the job, both at the craft level and our leadership is really to get them to take it personally on board. I want every one of them to know that instances regarding safety can have consequences that can't be undone and they need to be able to make it personal. Once they've done that, then they'll be much better able to look out after their mates and make sure that they go home safely.

Be relentless

I think my advice would be, be relentless. This is a subject where you can't just do it on a part time basis. Their message has to be absolutely consistent to your leaders and to your workforce and you can't compromise. Safety has to be the value that goes before all else.

Mick Crowe, Managing Director, G&S Engineering

This film explores the link between safety leadership and culture in Queensland, featuring Mick Crowe, Managing Director, G&S Engineering.

Download a copy of this film (ZIP/MP4, 395MB)

Mick Crowe

Managing Director, G&S Engineering

G&S Engineering is a heavy engineering service provider. We provide blue collar, mechanical, electrical, trades, supporting heavy industry—maintenance and construction, mining, sugar, iron ore, on a national basis but largely focused in Queensland.

While G&S has a national exposure we're predominantly in the Mackay region. And the Resource Industry Network is local businesses that have banded together to collaboratively improve. So I'm involved on two levels. I'm on the Board, which is interested in whole-of-industry; but more specifically, the last three or four years I've been the Chair of the Workplace Health and Safety Committee, which brings members together to collaborate on safety in the region.

The reason I got involved was….We've got a thousand, thirteen hundred employees in G&S. So I get exposure to relevant statistics, I get weekly reminders that hazards occur, incidents occur, and risks are in the workplace. It always connected with me that inside Mackay there'd be companies that don't have that level of exposure, or the warning signs. But over the last five or six years there's been deaths in 20-person industries. And to me, it really hit me that those people don't get any warnings.

So two things happened. We worked together collaboratively to say, 'You might only be 20, but if there's 50 of them, there's a thousand people'. And what do our stats look like, and what are our trends? Then if you can get that awareness up, how do you then help people improve that? So we seek to basically share and collaborate so we hurt less people, and share and collaborate so we can influence the industry sector so it's actually easier for people to be safe.

Benefits of being part of a safety network

Being involved in industry networks around safety—for me, it's just like an acceleration program. You're automatically being exposed to a broader range of experience, a broader range of problems, and a broader group that helps personalise the issues.

You have to stay so focussed on it. You need to know of every time there's a learning. And if you're just looking at yourself, you're slowing down how fast you can learn. Secondly, you'll also get energy from others who are doing good things, because….safety's hard work. You have to stay on it, you have to stay focused. And being around other people who are getting wins as well, helps remind you that 'Hey, this is worth it, and we've got to stay on this'. So I just think it's the collaborative environment, the increased knowledge just through exposure. It's no different to anything else: if you want to be great at your sport, you're not going to get that in your lounge room at home by yourself.

Being part of a network, you get more learning opportunities, so hopefully your learning opportunities are minor issues, not major issues. And that's a big goal in any safety program—make sure you're learning off the near misses, not off the injuries to people.

Developing a local safety culture

The resource sector in Queensland is big and diverse, and there are lots of different companies that compete and everyone takes an absolutely serious approach to safety. One of the down sides to that is they'll all set up rules that pertain to their own particular sites, and a lot of our members are exposed to multiple sites. To get great safety, the exposed person has to believe why you're doing it. Every time you do something to that exposed person that makes them think 'This is more about ticking boxes than it is about my safety', you shift their risk bar: 'I'll do that because I have to, not because I care about me and you care about me'. And look, this is difficult stuff ok, you could never have a site that didn't completely own the safety of its people and make sure they were trained. Similarly, if you take people who visit multiple sites and give them the same information four different ways, that essentially says the same thing, that's not engaging them around safety.

So we're working hard with sharing that message with our clients to say, 'Hey look, appreciate that you've got a complicated problem, but the end game of all of this is safer people on the ground, and the key to that is their mind in the game'. And every time we give them some repetitive, non-value-add piece of safety experience, that degrades how far their mind is in the game. Then there's more practical things like common standards around vehicles, because probably the biggest risk to our employees is actually travelling on the road. And minimising that is a way to reduce exposure to people. That then means, again, engaging with clients with different standards to make sure we can use common vehicles between sites.

Some of the bigger picture stuff—at the end of the day, each individual business has to own its own safety problems and lead in that way, and the network can help people do that. But then probably our broader approach is what can we do to actually reduce the base level of risk in the industry—as I said, better inductions, more consistent messaging and reduced travel time.

The Resource Industry Network Safety Committee is an influencing body. Our members are there voluntarily because they're obviously interested in improving their safety but also in improving the region.

I think we can only grow the capacity through motivating, aligning and assisting in keeping our various members committed to the cause. It would be no different to when you decide you want to get fit—what do you need a personal trainer for? But you go better with a personal trainer because there's someone coming along who's just reminding you of the right things to do and sharing a few smarter ideas, but largely just keeping you on the path and sticking at it. The strength in any network is its actual members and what they do and I think we build the capacity in the region through collaborating and through keeping everyone motivated and committed to the cause.

Mick's personal safety leadership style

I think the leadership style in safety for me, you always start with the person you're trying to influence. And the person I'm trying to influence is a guy who's on his fourth night shift, it's raining, it's cold, he's doing a dirty job, when he finishes this job they can go home, he wants to go home, he's been away from his family. And it's all of these things that are making him think about everything except the job. So the leadership style needs to connect to that guy. Because the person who gets hurt isn't the clean area, everything laid out, no pressure, happy to be here, it's the person who's under pressure. And so to connect with that person your leadership style has to be relevant to them. And you know, a thousand people, particularly with high turnover in the project spaces, how do I know? So for me you have to keep it very, very simple and very, very honest. And that particular person might have a risk profile that's considerably outside what we'd like. He might be a compliant safety person. So you just be honest and you have to be transparent, and you have to be available, and you have to bring it back to things that matter to them which is, 'Mate I don't want to meet your family for the wrong reasons'.

So it's got to be a value in your people and you've got to keep, through your leadership, showing that it's your priority and that you expect and need it to be their priority in your supervision. And we need it to be the priority for the worker. And how well you lead will be a factor of how well that happens.

But, I've worked overseas as well and I've worked in places. I've got a safety award shirt for an LTI free year, and we killed seven people that year. But in that country, if you weren't alive at the start of the next shift you weren't deemed to have missed a shift. So when people talk to me about, 'This safety stuff, it gets in your road'—well there are countries you can go live in where it doesn't. Just keep in good touch with your mates, because you're not sure how long they'll be around.

So as a leader, if there are things that frustrate your people about safety, you've got to make it easier for them to be safe, you know. And where it's not easy, you've got to absolutely communicate the 'why'. It's no different to anything. If you want someone to do something that is harder than another option, you've got to spend all your time on the 'why'. And the 'why' is: why are you here at work in the first place? Who matters to you in the world? What would happen to them if you weren't around? And okay, from that basis, now how are we going to do today's job?

If your actions aren't there to make sure no one's life is seriously harmed through your actions, well what are you doing? And draw on that, and that'll help shape your behaviour and you know what? Your people will respond to it. People respond to knowing that you care and knowing that you're worried about them. And then once they realise that, they'll help you in that cause and then it helps the rest of your business too, because they're engaged, they see it as 'we're here for each other'.

Strengthen your safety leadership

My advice to people who want to strengthen their safety leadership commitment can only come from me and what works for me. What I do is, I think about what happens if I fail as a safety leader, as the person accountable for the wellbeing of all the people in our organisation. The reality is that if we fail in that, we could have a death or a serious permanent injury.

I strengthen my leadership by thinking about what more can I do, and then using the unacceptability of if it went wrong, if someone in our care wasn't there for their kids, wasn't there for their family, and that was under our control. And that's the primary thing I use to strengthen my resolve, because that's unacceptable. I don't know, I don't know how you'd have that conversation with someone's partner and kids, knowing that you can avoid his injuries, with enough effort you can avoid it. So it's a circular loop. The consequence is unacceptable. As a leader you're in charge, you know you can influence the outcome and avoid it ever happening, so think about what all of your work is going towards and that's your motivation for doing whatever it takes.

Further information

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