Safe Conversations – Part two

Safe Conversations Part Two

​An interview with John Salter, Level Crossing Removal Project

Part two of our National Safe Work Month industry conversations is John Salter, former Safety, Environment, Risk and Quality (SERQ) Program Manager for LXRP at Metro Trains. John has been guiding Safety, Environment, Risk and Quality at Metro Trains working on the Level Crossing Removal Project.

The Level Crossing Removal Project (LXRP) was established by the Victorian Government to oversee one of the largest rail infrastructure projects in the state's history. Central to the project is the elimination of 75 level crossings across metropolitan Melbourne by 2025, in addition to other rail network upgrades such as new train stations, track duplication and train stabling yards.

See below as John shares his thoughts on National Safe Work Month and its importance.

Tell us about National Safe Work Month – what it is?

For me, National Safe Work Month starts around May/June, where we focus on something in the business that requires attention from a safety perspective, for example it could be how we manage critical risk.

Then from May/June onwards, we engage with our employees to analyse what are the perceived risks or hazards and create a range of actions to mitigate or eradicate the risks. We then implement that plan during the run up to National Safe Work Month in October with the objective that the plan be adopted well after safe work month.

What have you loved seeing about National Safe Work Month in the industry so far?

What I’ve loved seeing recently is the focus on wellbeing, because by in large there hasn’t been a focus on the wellbeing of people. The philosophical view I have, is the notion of borrowing mums and dads, sons and daughters. I believe we borrow you from your family, you’re not a contractor or employee. You’re a son, daughter, husband or wife of a family, we are borrowing you from your family to come and work with us and that families trust that we are going to look after your welfare and send you home in one piece. I think a lot more focus on wellness – as well as research on fatigue, and what it’s doing to people - is very justified.

Anything that you’ve seen that you’re not fond of?

Over the years I’ve seen a number of things. I don’t like seeing a company just “creating a poster”; it’s like, let’s talk about a particular issue, get some posters, have a couple of lunch and learns and at the end of the month it’s gone, and we move onto the next key initiative. I think its disrespectful and not what National Safe Work Month is about.

How do we change the way they address National Safe Work Month?

Well, we must educate them, I think in many instances, I don’t think people know what good looks like, they only know what they know. I believe they don’t take time out to think it through, it’s the business – the business and operations which demands our key focus. Companies certainly care about their people, but they don’t allocate enough time to think about what National Safe Work Month could do for them. It’s all about allocating time and changing mindsets to get the benefits.

If you show people what good looks like (and there are wonderful examples in the industry), and if people took the time to research what’s occurring (rather than what can we do), they would better understand what good looks like. But there must be the will to action it, otherwise nothing changes.

Does that ‘will’ need to be enforced to come from a governing body.

I don’t think so, it must come from people within the workplace to say, “look we have an opportunity to make this special and make a difference”.

I went for a job once where I outlined a range of initiatives, the person interviewing said, “we don’t have the courage to do that and we aren’t ready”. Having the will and courage to change a way of thinking or the philosophical view as to what should be done, can only be achieved when you’re exposed to the issues that resonate to you.

I’ve worked with businesses that made safety personal and very compelling – like my earlier example of the “mums and dads”, “brothers and sisters”, it’s this connection that can evoke change. When we ran the mums and dads campaign at Regional Rail, it really resonated with our contractors they felt recognised as part of the extended family, rather than being “just a contractor”. We got incredible results because we used the fundamental basis of caring.

So, is partnering, the way to get real buy-in from people or should there be a joint venture or a governing body in control that uses an iron fist?

No, partnering is absolutely the way to go. Ruling with an iron fist, that’s the old school method of thinking, and it will never last. Recognising people as a business partner and working as business partners to come up with solutions is much more effective.

Has that change happened?

In part, yes. It’s all about having the ‘will’ to do it.

Why is highlighting National Safe Work Month important to you?

Because, it’s an impetus for additional change in your business. It’s easy to go along and do business as usual, and then the operational demands come in over the top, and safety loses focus. It provides a hiatus; it gives us time to think about how we are managing health and safety and if are our values are appropriate. Are we driving the right things to make people go home safe? In my mind it’s a period of reflection. As I’ve said National Safe Work Month encompasses many, many months.

So, how do we get engagement at troop level?

Engagement at troop level – this is where the empowering people really works.  If you took the notion of ”freedom within a framework” which is, let’s get people the competencies they need, so we can widen that framework, and empower the people to make decisions.

When you do this, three things happen:

  1. You get a better result

  2. People are happier in their roles – so retention rate improves

  3. The quality of your job is much better

But, let’s also talk about critical risk. The old school thinking is; “here’s a list of procedures, if you don’t follow them, you better watch out”.

What we should be saying is there’s freedom within a framework – here are the boundaries, you can make all the decisions and we’ll give you the competencies to make them. Once we’re confident, then you tell us what needs to happen and as you demonstrate competency, we will widen the framework.

All of a sudden – you have empowered people and I’ve seen remarkable results when this is done.

How do you get people to put those ideas forward? Many companies have lengthy processes for bright ideas…

So, let’s talk about another opportunity with National Safe Work Month. If you set up an ‘innovation hub’ two- three months beforehand, and you invite ideas about safety. You are more likely to get people’s buy-in. Then you take all the ideas and during the month is where you put the initiatives in place – we asked – you informed us – we’re now doing it during this month.

What has MTM done for National Safe Work Month

MTM has a focus on health wellness and wellbeing. We had a series of videos created after speaking to employees of how they improve their own personal wellbeing. We asked, “How they managed the hurry scurry of work and how they keep on an ’even keel’ during this busy period of work.” We then created videos around the responses and put them online.

The whole range of activities videoed, that people did to “keep their sanity” during the busy periods, was a light relief and people enjoyed watching those videos. Our focus was on mental health and that’s continuing over time not just this month.

With the high-risk nature, pace and pressure of the rail infrastructure projects and the work done by civil contracting firms – will it be a long time until mental health is a priority?

Great question. Let me give you an example – around the wold, the quality of work is being recognised as an important part of safety outcomes. Research has indicated 30% of workplace incidents occur due to the result of re-works. Research shows if you do it right first time, then you will cut down your range of incidents by about 30% –that’s significant – and that doesn’t even include the costs!

This is an investment – in the new way of thinking, knowing that at the end of the day, you are going to get a far better result/safer workplace/commercial outcomes and people are going to stick around and be a far more engaged workforce. 

What about the smaller businesses who might not be able to afford this investment?

It’s no different for the smaller businesses. You know the margins are slimmer – but really if you have one bad incident you can wipe your margins out for the next five-seven years. Smaller firms are known to have a more family feel, don’t you want to look after your family? In my eyes, It’s a really good investment.

What should we be doing as a Safety, Environment, Risk and Quality (SERQ) Specialist and a Recruiter within HSE to push and promote health and safety?

We change the name; this isn’t about health and safety, its broader. Safety is more than the absolute discipline of safety. The future is people who are multi-disciplined, they know human factors, impact of people’s behaviours on safety outcomes, know safety in design, and about quality and environmental impacts.

It’s more about all those disciplines that make the workplace a safe place to be. So, I don’t know if they are called safety, I know safety is about organisational change – bringing people on the journey – it’s those people that perform a safety function that also perform a human factors function and relationships with human factors, environment and quality.

A SERQ advisor is not a Safety Advisor or Manager. You have a 101 knowledge of those disciplines and you can call in your Subject Matter Expert for particular areas, but you have a very good understanding of all functions of SERQ.

People in your position Ben, should be talking to employers about what this looks like. I think going forward, SERQ professionals would be far more employable and both of us, could promote a very well rounded SERQ professional.

Is there anything else about safety that people should know?

I’ve indicated about making safety very personable, if we do that, our view on safety will change and it will encourage a call to action. We need to see people as members of society and if we take that view, it will be very compelling, and change will come. Give yourself time each week and think it through, don’t skip it, make it personal. The rest will follow.