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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

Building trust

The 2018 edition of our two-day conference again attracted more than 500 attendees. PETER BATEMAN jotted down some edited highlights.

The theme for this year’s Safeguard National Health & Safety Conference – “Building trust” –followed naturally from last year’s theme, “Better conversations”.

At least, that was according to the conference’s self-described pre-warmup act, also known as the Safeguard editor, who told the 500+ people in the audience that his role as a speaker was to make all other speakers look good. Mission accomplished. Day job not given up.

The real warmup act then took the stage in the person of MC David Nottage, who asked everyone to share a childhood secret they’d never told anyone before. The buzz around the room was loud, indicating that health & safety people have more than their fair share of secrets and that they are remarkably willing to share them with strangers. A TV reality show using H&S people must surely follow – the talent is out there.

But sure enough, most speakers over the conference’s two days ran with the theme, including the acting chair of WorkSafe New Zealand, Ross Wilson, who said trust is the foundation of leadership. “Trust has to exist if there’s going to be real work engagement and participation in the decisions businesses make.”

The three international keynote speakers at this year’s conference all hailed from West Island, and the first of them was Drew Rae. He last spoke at the 2016 conference, where he proved so challenging, provocative and entertaining we had to get him back. Referring to the conference theme, he opened by saying a strong culture of safety does not arise from the top of an organisation, “it comes from small acts of reciprocal trust built up over time”.

He had a go at SWMS and other documents arising from H&S management systems, describing them as part of the “safety clutter”, the safety work we do, even though no one believes it will be helpful. “We do it because we think the regulator wants us to do it.”

As for SWMS, he said they don’t exist to control how a work team does its work. “They exist to protect the team from the outside world, so they can get on and do the work.”

Like SWMS, he said other popular notions like Golden Rules and Take 5 entirely lack evidence they make any difference to operational work. He invited us to ask people this question: what one safety activity would you like to stop doing?

“When you stop trying to ‘own’ safety, you get genuine worker ownership of safety.”

WorkSafe New Zealand’s chief executive Nicole Rosie’s presentation was constantly interrupted by the regulator’s “Use Your Mouth” campaign sports commentators Pat Silverwood and Joe Munro, their purple blazers blazing as they dissected her performance as if it was a rugby match.

When she could get a word in she told us that the first input in building trust was to show you care for your people. She cited NZTE chief executive Peter Chrisp as a leader who acknowledged the need to extend thinking about H&S to beyond the workplace.

“Having mental health support for your people is absolutely part of doing health and safety effectively.”

She also invited us to help boards change the way they think about H&S, saying she encounters too many directors who tell her their organisation has safety rules which are made clear to staff so why aren’t they following them?

“We need to change the dialogue. This is not the language we should be using about H&S.”

Mouthy commentators Pat and Joe closed the session by reading out a selection of critical comments directed at WorkSafe via its social media channels. I was approached by one of the Purple Duo to read one out – something about eunuchs in a brothel – but because he couldn’t read my nametag he decided to call me “Fleetwood”. Talk that I was flattered by this random name are only, er, rumours.

Francois Barton from the Business Leaders’ H&S Forum, chairing a panel of three leaders, opened by saying that the Safeguard conference had become a sort of cultural ritual for him, “like birds flying north for the winter”.

Z Energy chief executive Mike Bennetts talked about creating a fair and just work culture, citing the company’s Fair Go guide. Part of that was not focusing on failure, but on measuring the 99.9% of the time when things go well. “If we only pay attention to you when things go wrong, how does that build trust?”

Kordia director Sheridan Broadbent said H&S has a key role in assisting a culture of “benign enquiry” by helping an organisation define problems it doesn’t know about, including issues around productivity and engagement. “H&S is a real fulcrum between the executive and what is really going on out there.”

Landcorp’s Mark Julian declared that H&S these days should now be viewed as an innovation or business transformation role: people who are really interested in the work and how to make it better. “The safety forum at Landcorp is where a safety professional can get fuel to drive change.”

Cosman Parkes director Mike Cosman told us our challenge as H&S practitioners is to remain relevant, nearly a decade on from the Pike River disaster. “If we keep on referring back to Pike River as the only reason why we do H&S our relevance will start to diminish. The boardroom now has a different set of concerns.”

On reporting to boards, he said H&S people tend to focus too much on the collection of numeric data and do not spend enough time reflecting on what it means. “Does your info to boards answer the ‘so what?’ question?”

Every conference has a lawyer and that role was filled by Kensington Swan partner Grant Nicholson, who talked us through the wide variety of sentencing bands District Court judges have tried to establish in the early days of the HSW Act. “I’m buggered if I know the difference between medium culpability and medium-high culpability. Are we just creating an artificial distinction?”

Consultant Andy White confessed that in past H&S roles he had performed the classic role of helper: someone who provided advice, who identified gaps and filled them with knowledge. Over the last six months, he said, he has come to realise that this approach relies on external or “extrinsic” motivation, and that this is both infantilizing and not sustainable. “I felt frustrated. I wanted people to start thinking for themselves.”

He said he now views the H&S role as one of coach, who influences by enquiry and guided discovery and helps people co-create change by discovering their own purpose – tapping into their intrinsic motivation.

The day’s second panel was moderated by Leading Safety director Hillary Bennett, who asked the three participants about using the business partner model for H&S. Chris Woods from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council said there is a move away from the kind of subject matter knowledge that H&S people are used to, and towards expertise in culture and behaviour change. “That’s the part of safety I enjoy the most, because you run the whole spectrum.”

In similar vein, Carla Bogue from George Weston Foods revealed that safety used to sit with her. “After six months, safety now sits with the teams. It’s my role to team up with them.”

The second Australian keynote, René van der Merwe from Qantas, said the airline in the past had taken a reactive approach to H&S, focusing on injury management and measuring performance by the absence of negative events, what she called a “fix the worker” approach.

Transforming to a “fix the work” model, she said the vision for H&S is about actively supporting operations, not hindering them – to shift from error management to learning about what enables positive results. It also means changing leadership styles.

“Leaders change from managing people to enabling people; from being heroes to being hosts. To have the courage not to have the answers, but to ask more open questions; to move away from constraints and towards facilitation.”

Closing day one was the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety Iain Lees-Galloway, who cited an enquiry received recently by WorkSafe’s call centre. The business owner called to ask how to fill out the risk register. Quick as a flash, the call centre operator said: have you asked your workers? “The people who can identify risks are right in front of you, dealing with risk every day.”

He said the Use Your Mouth campaign’s videos on YouTube have been very successful, but one of them stood out: the video on workplace bullying had been viewed more than 100,000 times, ten times more than the others, indicating, he said, the impact of psychosocial risk.

Day two was opened by Australian keynote number three, Richard Coleman, who revealed he had changed his presentation’s original title – The Power of Ignorance – after his son said: Dad, you’re going to tell a room full of Kiwis they’re ignorant?

He said the stereotypical H&S person loves to talk about numbers, but numbers don’t work well to drive change. “What does work is when you tell stories, and listen to stories, about the reality of work.” He screened the trailer for a video his company had made for a firm with heavy manufacturing plants in India. Naturally, it was pure Bollywood in style, to get the story across.

He also advised everyone not already on Twitter to do so, as it is the best source of cutting edge information. Agreed!

ACC’s Phil Riley reminded us that on that day ACC would receive another 9100 new claims. “In a country of four and half million people, that doesn’t feel right.”

Referring to the previous night’s awards dinner, he said five years ago companies would have almost been embarrassed to receive an award for H&S because they didn’t want to stick their heads above the parapet. He was delighted to see how proud award recipients were now, which he said was a sign that organisations have become aware of how good H&S can enhance their reputation. “It’s a sign of maturity.”

Sheryl Dawson, CEO of McFall Fuels, talked about giving their drivers the confidence to follow the company’s H&S procedures, even in the face of potential opposition from clients. “Our drivers spend up to 14 hours on their own in a vehicle. They have to be leaders, to model what they’ve been trained to do – to our customers, to their fellow drivers, and to themselves.”

Referring to the conference theme, she came up with the quote of the conference. “Relationships built on trust don’t die a natural death – they are murdered by ego, attitude and ignorance.”

Sanford’s Grant Day showed a photo of himself trying to fillet a hoki, part of his mission to learn all the job roles and their attendant risks. He said mental wellbeing was a big issue in South Canterbury, and that most people had been touched by suicide. The Friends in Fishing programme had seen 22 people volunteer to be connectors. “We have identified at-risk people and they have come out the other side.”

Before the lunch break it was time for some virtual reality, courtesy Amanda Lawrey from Fulton Hogan, who asked: how can we upskill people in high-risk tasks without exposing them to serious harm?

Cue a VR training tool for the bitumen boil-out procedure, demonstrated by her colleague whose view of the world was put up on the big screens. VR, she said, doesn’t replace on-the-job training but leaves people much better prepared for the tasks they face.

ConstructSafe’s Jon Harper-Slade, opening a discussion on engagement, said the people who work in your organisation have the secret of how to make your organisation better “locked up in their heads”. Massey University researcher Deirdre Farr took us through the history of legislative attempts to boost worker participation in H&S. “Everybody agrees we have made progress at the strategic level. People are even using the word tripartite!”

Mark James from E tū union said engagement was often one-way, where workers were asked to engage around the controls in the H&S system. Similarly, participation in H&S was typically directly with their own supervisor or manager. But representation allows workers to have a say in work decisions through a representative, to speak with one voice. “For workers to trust an employer, the employer has to walk the talk.”

Stephen Best, a H&S rep from Fletcher Building & Interiors, said their group has a budget so doesn’t have to go to the board asking for money each time they want to do something. A week before they meet a subject is selected, often arising from an incident, and this gives time for people to prepare for the brainstorming session at the meeting.

Shannon Dobson, from the Department of Corrections, talked about the H&S intern programme which ran last summer, and how they expected maybe three to five public sector agencies to get involved – but nine signed up, at short notice. There were 94 applications from students studying a wide range of subjects, and 12 were interviewed. Nine ended up allocated to each agency for a summer filled with work projects, ranging from manual handling to EAP analysis.

Work on next summer’s intern programme is already under way and up to 15 public sector agencies are expected to participate.

Air New Zealand’s John Whittaker described the airline’s journey from safety to health to wellbeing, and the acknowledgment that a healthy workplace is one where everyone feels accepted, welcomed, and able to give their best and make a difference.

“There is a real cost from lack of health. Health is a much bigger issue/cost for us than injury. It’s right that we focus on critical risks, of course, but the cost of lack of health is much greater.”

He said working on health and wellbeing is an opportunity to build good collaborative relationships with all stakeholders and to build a high performing workplace.

Closing the conference was futurist Dave Wild, who startled us by saying “the future is being invented all around you”, and that there were H&S start-ups we hadn’t even heard of yet. Reassuringly, perhaps, he added that change comes from the younger generation and takes about ten years to work its way through. “Have you tried emailing a teenager? They don’t check their inbox.”

He asked who had H&S posters up in their workplace; about 80% put their hands up. Who sends out email newsletters on H&S? About 60%. How many used automated texts to send H&S messages? Maybe 20%. How many had developed an app to deliver H&S info? Maybe 20%, and yet, he reminded us, the app store opened in 2008.

And with that reminder that the future isn’t necessarily so new, we just haven’t embraced it yet, the conference closed. Except that it didn’t. For Dave Wild, who had run out of time, generously said he would remain behind and run an impromptu half-hour workshop for anyone interested – and lots were, which showed impressive stamina after a two-day event.


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