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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

Flying differently

Flying differently
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Publication Date:
New Zealand

“Our vision for safety is about actively supporting operations, not hindering them. It’s moving from fixing the worker to fixing work.”

With that introduction, alert attendees at the Safeguard conference would already have picked up that keynote speaker René van der Merwe comes at things from a Safety Differently perspective.

The head of workplace H&S with Qantas said that safety people typically focus on negative outcomes and try to minimise them using policies, procedures and attempts to intervene in human behaviour. The airline has moved away from this approach.

“If we want to shift safety we must shift where we focus, from error management to learning what enables positive results.”

She said that to unleash the local expertise of workers, and to thus unleash their intrinsic motivation, requires a focus on building autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy comes about by empowering people on the front line to own the solutions they come up with; mastery is about building their skills and capability, “to be good at what matters”; and purpose is about connecting people’s own contribution to the organisation’s overall vision and strategy.

Similarly, leaders in this new environment have the opportunity to move from seeing themselves as “heroes” to being seen as hosts of the good ideas of workers; to have the courage not to have the answers but ask more open questions; and to move away from constraints and towards facilitation.

Van der Merwe said one of the prompts to this new approach was a fall-from-height near miss a couple of years ago at the QantasLink maintenance hangar in Canberra, involving spiderweb tape over a door opening and the movement of a stand. At the time, QantasLink was averaging five such incidents a month.

To get a measure of the issue seven focus groups were held, talking to 44 people and gathering 171 stories about work. No safety manager was allowed to take part, “to ensure very open conversations”.

A cross-section of people from every level of the business, including some who had taken part in the focus groups, immersed themselves in all the stories, clustered them into themes and defined 14 problem statements to reflect each theme, such as “When the time you have left is less than the time to do the job”.

“What’s missing from these 14 statements? None of them mention the word safety. None of them mention compliance or policies or procedures. They are all related to work, because safety is an outcome of work.”

Site improvement teams were established to work on the issues raised, and two years later they have become business as usual, self-perpetuating, still identifying new areas for improvement and keeping open communication, gaining insights from front line staff.

“The unit has changed managers three times since April 2016. All three of them understand safety is an outcome of work. It’s about leaders setting the tone and reinvigorating those conversations in your business.”



People Mentioned:
René van der Merwe
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From Alert24 - Safeguard Update

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