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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

High performance, high engagement

KiwiRail won the worker involvement category with its Hot Works project. PETER BATEMAN talks to Strachan Crang about the distinctive methodology used.

SAFEGUARD: What is your role?

I’m industrial relations principal adviser. I work in the High Performance High Engagement (HPHE) project, an engagement strategy which uses people on the front line closest to the action to solve workplace problems and disputes.

SG: What is the HPHE structure?

We have joint co-leadership and co-sponsorship from the union and the company. Team members operate without titles. We have a joint agreed issue or mission statement. Then we look at the underlying motivations and concerns, what we call “interests”, and then from those interests we delve into problem solving and developing options, looking at possible solutions. Then we come together and construct an option. They could be half-day projects or take a year, but we follow the same principles.

KiwiRail is starting our journey in HPHE. This is about a culture change, both for the union and management, towards worker participation in everything we do. It’s not just about health and safety. Using HPHE we’re making some big changes in direction, some big investments in our plant and machinery and in our workshops, because we get better, longer lasting solutions by using our frontline employees to help solve our problems.

Q: Tell me about the incident that prompted the Hot Works project.

We have 450 maintenance staff around the country. Since 2012 there had been more than 60 hotworks reported incidents from gas-cutting and welding. In April 2016 a mechanical engineer was performing a weld repair under a rail wagon in the Christchurch depot. Boiling residue from the welding torch fell into his overall sleeve. His shirt caught fire and he received severe deep tissue burns on the underside of his upper right arm.

We had recently introduced another new workplace tool called just and fair culture, which helped us understand our systems around training, follow-up and providing consistent PPE had let him down.

We knew that you can’t just impose more rules from the top because we looked across all our sites and realised these issues were systemic across all our welding/hotworks areas.

We knew we needed to get the union and workers involved in changing the culture of wearing personal protection when welding. Welding and hot works is quite a lot about PPE because you’ve got to protect the body from the sparks and the fire. There is a lot of welding going on, and there were quite a few shortcuts where guys weren’t wearing the proper equipment.

Q: So guys weren’t wearing their gear all the time?

Yeah. There was a culture which said, well, this is only going to be a 30-second weld so I’ll put my mask on and deflect sparks away from me.

We found that we supplied PPE but didn’t have consistent guidelines for tasks. We said “wear appropriate PPE” when doing the work. But what is appropriate? We concluded it was just someone’s perception at the time based on experience

Q: What is the first stage in the HPHE process?

The first day is about establishing the team and starting to explore what HPHE is. We give the team skills around active listening, we explore perceptions, how to give feedback, and then we set the ground rules: meeting protocols, who is going to chair, take minutes etc. Then we look at “interest-based problem solving”, which is the core of HPHE. It’s a four-step process.

For the hotworks project we had people from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Palmerston North, Tauranga. They included boilermakers plus a regional manager, a business services manager, and the South Island regional manager. And just at the start we had a zero harm manager who gave us some stats. Our sponsor was the group GM of the business unit.

Q: Does each HPHE team require a sponsor to fund it?

Yes. In our big projects that person would be part of the leadership team, because HPHE is a joint management-union structure within KiwiRail. The sponsors are usually at group GM level and senior paid union official level. There are two co-leaders for each team, eg the union organiser and a senior manager.

Q: What is step 1?

Interest-based problem solving (IBPS). The first thing is to agree on the issue we are trying to resolve. Some people struggle with this because they have already come to solutions by the time that you’ve agreed on the issue! So we take time, we use consensus decision making, which means you don’t have to agree with everything but it’s something you can publicly support.

The first step of IBPS is to develop an issue statement. Everyone has to agree on this. It’s always posed as a question: How can we? Or, What can we do? Because at end of the process you want to come back and ensure you’ve answered the question you set out to solve.

Q: OK, what’s step 2?

To identify the interests – the underlying motivational concerns that brought parties to the table. Interests don’t have to shared or agreed upon. It’s just what each party is there for. There are normally multiple interests and multiple stakeholders. We get the groups to talk about their interests and try to explore as much as possible so the other parties or groups in the room fully understand what is the underlying motivation for them. It helps during the problem-solving parts when you are trying to develop options that address the underlying motivational concern of the other group. Up to this point we haven’t even started talking about possible solutions.

Q: People always like to rush to solutions, don’t they?

Yes. At this time we could be going out exploring, such as we break and go out and walk a day in the manager’s shoes, or in the worker’s shoes. The beauty of HPHE is that each team sets the parameters. If you want to put the resource in and really want to spend the time to solve the problem, you can really go and walk in the shoes of the other party.

After you identify your interests you go through them and say whether each one is a mutual interest or not. My personal view is that 80% of the time you have shared objectives or “interests”, because we all want to go to work and come back in one piece, so safety is a shared interest.

Q: What happens if an interest is identified as not mutual?

It’s put on the wall. We use flip charts so we can always go back and refer to them. It doesn’t meant it is ignored, because if you try to address the person’s interests – even if that interest is not shared – then you are more likely to get consensus agreement at the end of the process and to solve the problem.

Step 3 is about developing options. We like to explore many different options, so this is not a time to critically analyse or debate them, just to get a free flow of ideas. This could be run in a room with a couple of flip charts. At this time we start developing a straw man: what are the bones of a possible solution?

Q: What did that look like for the hot works project?

We knew we needed to develop PPE national standards that would better protect our people, but we didn’t know the detail. We knew we needed to develop some in-depth training around safety, setting up equipment correctly, making sure that we had up to date and user friendly task instructions, that we had a hotworks sign-off procedure for maintenance staff who weren’t boilermakers, with safety observations later. But we didn’t know the detail. So when we talk about a straw man, it’s basically a framework for doing some in-depth work to put meat on the bones. You could call it a skeleton agreement.

So you agree on what the straw man looks like. Then we broke into groups, one looking at PPE, one at training, one at qualified welders, etc. This included the guys from the shop floor. It’s driven by them, not some expert.

Step 4 is pulling the solution together and getting consensus agreement. Crafting the solution. Then we use the teams to go out throughout the workplace and spread it.

Q: You use the team as ambassadors for the solution?

Yes. It was a roadshow. We went to all of our sites. At our big sites we spent up to two days, including the night shift. We held numerous meetings so we could ensure we had a number of touch points. We started with an all-staff meeting. We set up stations around the room. At stations we had the journey that we’d been on. We had pictures of our teams doing whiteboard exercises, brainstorming. We had all our PPE, we worked with Blackwoods to get a PPE guideline that they could supply us with, we took all the gear around so guys could touch it. Another station had all the welding procedures, our welding engineer came along talking to guys about correct way to weld.

Q: Did you get pushback from the old hands?

Yep, we had some feedback that the new procedures were over the top. So we let the guys on the team from the shop floor answer those questions. They were really good at relating it back to the aim to protect the guys while performing the job.. We also had the overalls from the initial incident as an example of what can go wrong The guys did really well at referring back to those overalls. This guy had been welding for 30 years as well which shows you can be complacent when welding.

The other main question was: do I have to do this for a 30-second job? Because it would take me 5 to 10 minutes to get the gear on for a 30-second weld. The guys on the team would answer yes, you need to get that gear on, and then the response was often: but that’s going to slow down my work. Then a manager on the team would be able to reply: it’s perfectly OK for you to slow down the job, it’s about safety not productivity.

Then we would talk about how this change of behaviour – of taking time to set up properly – creates better planning because you do all your welding at one time, or you have a dedicated welder, or you put your gear on at the start. We know that if you weld, before you weld you normally grind, and after too, so normally it’s not just a one-piece weld, there’s normally associated hot work.

Q: Does each HPHE team solve only one issue?

Not necessarily. You can recycle the team. Solve one problem, go and do another. In KiwiRail, in our Hutt Workshop groups, we’ve solved around seven or eight problems or issues and developed three business cases. One has been accepted for capital expenditure, two are in the process of. So it’s not just a one-off project.


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