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How Redland City Council can show positive health and safety outcomes from proactively integrating work health and wellbeing into their safety management system

Peter Gould

Presented by: Peter Gould (Workplace Health, Safety and Wellbeing, Redland City Council)

Run time: 14:23

Download a copy of this podcast (MP3, 19 MB)

How Redland City Council can show positive health and safety outcomes from proactively integrating work health and wellbeing into their safety management system

Presented by: Peter Gould, Workplace Health, Safety and Wellbeing, Redland City Council

[Start of transcript]

Anthony Frangi:

Peter Gould is Service Manager Workplace Health, Safety and Wellbeing at Redland City Council, and one of the speakers here at the 2019 Work health and wellbeing forum in Brisbane. Welcome, Peter.Peter Gould:

Thanks Anthony. Great morning here in Brisbane.

Anthony Frangi:

Beautiful morning. We're outside, the birds are chirping. Couldn't ask for a better place.

Peter Gould:

Absolutely.

Anthony Frangi:

You were a very popular speaker today. A lot in the audience were keen to hear your stories because you bring a practical side to this issue, don't you?

Peter Gould:

Oh, we certainly try to. And I think you don't know what you don't know until you start sharing it. So it was really good to have engagement from other businesses today, and we were really pleased to share our journey as a little council, just sort of bumbling along, working our way as we go. But yeah, really refreshing today to get people together and talking through their challenges and then how we all might be able to help each other together.

Anthony Frangi:

For those who are listening who are not familiar with the Redland City Council story. Share it with us. Yeah.

Peter Gould:

We probably started our wellbeing agenda probably 20 years ago, where we introduced five free physio visits for each of our staff each year. That was all about trying to manage our workers' compensation claim management side of things, for trying to keep the little niggles and pains out of this sort of a compound system. And we've sort of chipped away from there. And last, I would say, six years, we've really focused in on each year picking a topic and saying, well, how can we do wellbeing better with our workforce? And we've now of done different agendas each year. We've covered off psychosocial safety, we've covered off sedentary workforce issues, we've covered off ageing workforce issues, we've covered off mental health and wellbeing side. And we did it with a separation between it so people didn't confuse the two.

Peter Gould:

And then we've also, just recently this year, done a bit of a consolidation year. Looked back, look forward, worked on some sort of more generic occupational health issues that have come from compliance matters. So it was really nice to look at some compliance issues and how we could join them together with the wellbeing issue. And then moving forward, we're starting to look forward to next year and really starting to make chronic health disease awareness in our workplace the norm. More than the sort of the add on, I suppose.

Anthony Frangi:

Can you remember the first health issue that you brought to the attention of the staff at council?

Peter Gould:

The memorable one for me, we had a field worker who was in a very strenuous sort of role. This guy was probably just under 30. he certainly was in a state of where you would say he would be morbidly obese. And everyone was trying to help him, including himself. He had awareness of the issues and all those sort of things. The challenge for us was that his job required him to do some strenuous things that he would just wasn't able to achieve. So we put the proactive piece over the top of it and him lots of support and we provided some nutritional help with him, a number of other things. But what I saw was sometimes that we really promote care.

Peter Gould:

But I had to pull up a manager one day when this manager said, oh look, this car is up for renewal and this worker had to actually work out of this vehicle, and they were going to buy a bigger truck just to support this one workers need. And I said, look, I don't think that's a good idea. I think we're trying to actually get him to look after himself more and become more aware and actually treat his obesity as a factor affecting his work. And that was a really interesting sort of space where I started to realise that sometimes, we don't see things how others see. And we worked with that fellow up to a point where he did change his life, but he actually came to his own decision in the end where he realised that his lifestyle, as in his partner and all that sort of stuff, they really enjoyed going out and eating fried chicken and stuff like that. So he made his own decision and he basically changed roles. He found himself another job and he left council. So sad in one way, but you know, we did all we could.

Peter Gould:

And I think that's where we each individual case is what we really need to look at. Each worker's got individual needs. Their wellbeing has to be holistic for them. And I think the key factor for us is making sure that we put that holistic approach over it. Don't just look at the physical components. Don't just say you shouldn't smoke, because we will know that. But what can we do as a workplace to assist and reinforce and drive some of that.

Anthony Frangi:

You talked about having to talk to a manager in that scenario. How do you get management on board? What are some of the resources or tools or skills that you've had to apply?

Peter Gould:

I think being very truthful is very, very important. Not only in what you have to give to them to consider, but giving them factual stuff. Really showing, these are the facts behind what I'm trying to encourage you to do. This is about managing hazards, therefore you are reducing risks. This is not just nice stuff to do. Some people spend a lot of time at work, so if they are not in a really good wellbeing space, we're certainly much more at risk. And when people start to get that mindset, I think they're able to make more management decisions based around those sort of factors.

Peter Gould:

And I think the key thing for a lot of managers is, it's not about the money. For them, it is about what's the best way I can spend money to give the best outcome for my workers? And in small businesses, it's a little amount of money. So how can we make the most of that, versus a larger size organisation who might put a fruit bowl in the lunch room and say, we're doing a great job, but no one takes any fruit. So what's the outcome?

Peter Gould:

So we really got to keep focusing on the outcomes and understanding the demographic of the actual people in your workforce. And it evolves. Marginalization's got half of our workforce over 45. And we're now making sure we understand those demographics because as we age, not everything works as well. So we've got more impact, then, of their wellbeing being affected. People being anxious about retirement, not having enough money to retire. They're all impacting on their day to day work.

Peter Gould:

So taking that holistic approach to their wellbeing and looking after mental, physical, social, financial. That's all key pieces to that integrated programme. And I can only say our experiences, we've created a safer workplace through just caring and making sure those things are there.

Anthony Frangi:

And Peter, what prompted all of this? Was there an individual? Or did you return from a conference inspired? A similar forum to today? Where did it all begin?

Peter Gould:

Well, I started off life as a registered nurse three decades ago. And I suppose what I saw every day working in an emergency department was, where I was fixing the wrong end. So I made a conscious decision, posted an injury for myself, my back was starting to wear out doing that sort of work in that space. So I made this change and became really interested in occupational health and safety. But I think I've always had that keen interest in the health piece because we spend so much time at work. If people can have that as a positive health experience, we've got much more of a social impact.

Peter Gould:

And funnily enough, you asked about inspiration. Nicky Ellis, who spoke today, I was in awe today, to finally... She shook my hand, I won't be able to wash it. She's a very clever lady. Lots of good ideas and really has laid out, I think, good concepts for people to follow.

Peter Gould:

But you know, theoretical models are great, but people want to know how did you do it? How did you get that impact? I think we've done it by a bit of stealth in regards to just chipping away. I'm your average health and safety manager. I've got lots of things to worry about, lots of things to address, very reactive work. But I think it's having that little bit of proactivity in the back of my mind. If I do a little something every day, every month, every year, to help that wellbeing agenda, that's how I think we've grown to be where we are today as an organisation. We've got good support over time, but people have to trust you. If you don't have that trust element with the senior management, the middle management, and particularly the workers, you just not going to get anywhere. So you've got to chip away.

Anthony Frangi:

That's where the challenges have been. In trust, in getting people on board. Because that doesn't happen overnight, does it?

Peter Gould:

No, no. Look, in every a little case that you work on, if you can get that worker to share with 10 of their colleagues what they're experience with, it's the underground that's actually driven our agenda by people saying, hey, did you know I had this positive experience? They weren't after me. My family is actually happier with the outcome. And everybody really likes that this is an employer that actually does things in my interest. They're the good news stories. That then flows up. And eventually when you asking for programme funding or keeping your programme or whatever, it's not a much as a fight. The news is already there.

Anthony Frangi:

How much within the workplace did you find, and do you continue to find, where there are positive benefits to one individual, it tends to feed off, and others are motivated by what they hear and what they see.

Peter Gould:

I think it's critical. The little tribes that we have in their different areas, depending on the experiences of some. Now, we've struggled in the past. Sometimes people have been very loud and proud to tell their story. Others have quietly just kept it to themselves and chipped away. But I do find it does eventually come out, and it's often across the park bench where they're having their smoker or whatever and someone says, well you should go, and, did you know. And so the sales pitch is really being done at that local level.

Peter Gould:

But it's not going to be a big bang. You can't just let it be, da-na, here it is. Because the more big drum beating you do, I think people go, yeah, that was a flash in the pan, we've moved on. So we've done it very stealthily and subtly. I think having the subtleties of it, where people see it is about the health and safety stuff. It's not about something that's just an add-on because someone thought it was a good idea or there's budget to spend or whatever.

Anthony Frangi:

What about those who are reluctant to change? You have an ageing workforce. I bet there are some who wanted exactly the same as it has been for years.

Peter Gould:

We have those fringe dwellers. And that's a very real part of that process.

Anthony Frangi:

It's real everywhere, isn't it?

Peter Gould:

Yes, absolutely. Every organisation has got their different dynamic. I think for us, it's finding the key in the door. And I think of one of our longer term workers who was very disengaged. And he actually started having physical symptoms in the workplace that were probably related to a bit of an anxiety situation, and it was about smell. He would actually feel that there was a smell in the workplace and he would actually make a big deal about it. He would pack up his bongo drums and he'd go home on those days. And he was prickly, and everyone just went, oh, that's just him. But in reality, when we started to talk to him about that, the noise... The noise issue was part of it. He kept having buzzing. So we tested his hearing for him and worked away way through some of those things and proved to him that it wasn't that. We went through the smell stuff and proved that... He kept saying there was a solvent smell. We said, well, it's not what we found, and we've done some tests.

Peter Gould:

So we showed that we actually listened. And he eventually got to a point where he ran out of options and he actually acknowledged that he was very anxious. What he was anxious about was that retirement was looking down the barrel, and he didn't want to spend all that time at home. He didn't know what his identity would be and things like that. So the wellbeing package for him was actually getting him some financial advice. And him understanding that post work, you needed to work on that whole, have I got enough money? We modelled that sort of stuff for him, and then encouraged him to find a new him once he left. And he successfully... And I'd been at council 11 years. This guy, I'd never seen him smile. He was the sort of guy that would answer the phone with a very direct, blunt sort of answer. It wasn't our ideal customer service type person. So in the end, he come up with his plan, put his sort of situation.

Peter Gould:

But all of these things that were holding him back related to his wellbeing. So by us joining the dots and setting those things up, he left a very happy employee that started a whole new life and is very optional, encouraging people to say, well, council did the right thing for me. Even though he was a pain. But you have to fight the fight for him and you've got to just work it through.

Anthony Frangi:

Some good advice there. And for further advice, those who are starting out, who, listening to this podcast, wanting to make change in the workplace, not quite sure really how to go about it. Although there are plenty of resources such as the toolkit that was released today at the forum. What would be some tips that you could share?

Peter Gould:

I think the toolkit provides a really good framework. And as we know, we work in that sort of corporatized environment. You've got to have a framework, you've got to have a document, you've got to have a diagram, you've got to have this. So I think having all those there is one thing, but you've got to have that want and that desire. And if you need to get some good stakeholders involved behind that in your organisation at all levels. We don't need the corporate video from the CEO. We actually need someone from your local friendly water treatment plant that actually deals with your excrement every day, giving you their story and their positive sort of interaction. And I think the power for our programme has been just the subtleties of sharing the stories.

Peter Gould:

But the key outcome is taking away the fear. We're fearful of starting these programmes, about what management may think. We're fearful of what supervisors may or may not buy in. But we keep it factual, the workers see the benefit, then the groundswell happens. And don't do too much too soon. Keep it little, chip away, and work it up.

Anthony Frangi:

What are you most proud of?

Peter Gould:

I suppose proud that people are interested enough to invite us along here today to share our story. I think we're all busy and we get caught up in mechanisms of producing all the things we need to produce. I'm proud to work for council because there are people that help other people. And I think my proudest thing is, I'm able to do little things for them that keep them in a better space to be able to actually continue that service model. So that's my driver every day.

Anthony Frangi:

Well, Peter Gould, congratulations on the work that you and your team are doing at Redland City Council. It's a great success story. May it never end, and thanks so much for joining us.

Peter Gould:

Cheers, Anthony, thanks very much.

[End of transcript]