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Why should SAFETY be even MORE important in 2021?

Updated: Jun 2

This month marks Safe Work Month and the start of Queensland Mental Health week beginning 9th October. Who better to ask than a person in the safety field to get some insight into just why safety should be considered even more important in 2021. We asked Dee Brough (Safety Advisor) to share her thoughts for Safe Work Month.

What’s changed in 2021 since our last blog (2020) about Safety?

Dee: The subject of Safety is on everyone’s lips now. The truth is we live and breathe it in our daily lives now, due to the devastating impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the world and is expected to continue to have on the world for some time to come. It is a topic that is inescapable from all sources of media. All people irrespective of age, cultural or social background have been affected to varying degrees by the pandemic, some more than others.

Whilst the pandemic has put the topic of safety on everyone's lips - there's more to safety

It is interesting though as whilst the pandemic has pushed the topic of safety to the forefront of minds for many, it has always been a critical and integral part of any business operation. The scope of safety is far beyond just infection control risks as the current topic demands.

What do you mean by the scope of safety being far beyond the current topic?

Dee: If we start talking about safety in the workplace, what we know are that 113 people were killed in Australian workplaces in 2020 and 106 260 experienced serious workplace injuries (2016 -2017).

There are still way too many serious injuries and fatalities happening in Australian workplaces

Every single worker should expect to be able to return home safely after their day at work, however the figures are still alarmingly high in Australia for both fatality and serious injury.

We are currently seeing a spike in other injuries that are occurring during the pandemic, which includes musculoskeletal injuries from working at home and psychological claims due to a combination of factors. Even more concerning, is the huge number of people showing signs of serious mental stress and fatigue during this time. Traditional services are overwhelmed, and demand is ever-growing.

People are feeling stressed and overwhelmed during 2021

Safety is about understanding your people, your business and the risks. The bottom line is that how a person does their work can have either a positive or negative impact to their health. Safety is about assessing how the work is done and what can be done to influence positive outcomes.

It encompasses (but not limited to):

· Good Work Design

· Leadership commitment

· Risk Management

· Good Communication and Consultation

· Training, supervision and observation

· Reporting (hazards and incidents)

· Creating a healthy and safe workplace.

· Succinct Policy and Procedures

· Safe Systems of work

If you are approaching safety with positive or negative consequence to manage safety, both shall work, however the differing approaches may have impact to culture and values within a business.

Let me give you an example – a large construction company undertaking a project in a third world country may use a local labour workforce. It may seem normal, even expected in some third world countries that a fatality (or many) may occur as part of a project on a construction site. It happens now and sadly with little regard to human life. A company may choose to lead their safety through use of negative consequence. The company may state that if a fatality for any worker occurs on a worksite during the project build, then a senior manager will be dismissed effective immediately (i.e. a negative and immediate consequence for the senior manager).

What will happen and how does this negative consequence support safety?

That senior manager will ensure that safety is taken very seriously (as his job is on the line), filtering down to all workers, having an impact to the culture and in turn influencing values of all workers. This senior manager will ensure communication and consultation is a key focus for the business. In this instance, negative consequence can and has worked within companies who have dealt with this exact scenario.

Would this work for all businesses?

It may, but would it be beneficial? What if using negative consequence was done for a smaller organisation or perhaps for an organisation that doesn’t have a certain level of safety maturity yet? Taking this lead with negative, immediate consequence may have a negative impact for workers.

How so?

It may drive reporting underground, create fear amongst workers to report and without that transparency, there will be an accident. It is just a matter of when.

Have you ever heard of a business where they have proudly spruiked zero incidents or injury for a period of years and then out of the blue there is a worker fatality (or many fatalities). Everyone seems surprised, yet this has been like a hidden part of the iceberg under the water for years. The danger lurking below the surface.

The lack of or absence of reporting is a huge risk.

Reporting helps a business to understand what is truly happening on the ground. It will help businesses to:-

· Learn from the incident

· Ascertain what controls are needed to avoid a reoccurrence.

· Identify organisational failures

· Improve culture

If a business takes the approach of positive consequence – how will that influence safety behaviours?

Let me give you an example – if you spotted a worker wearing their PPE appropriately, following hygiene protocols, you may call it out (i.e. acknowledge that they are putting safety first and thank them for their efforts). A simple thank you or praising at the right time goes a long way to show your appreciation. (i.e. Positive, immediate consequence).

Call out the positive behaviours

When workers feel positive consequences at work, what do you think that promotes?

That’s right – more of the same behaviour. When you have multiple workers following the same positive behaviours…. that’s the beginning of cultural change. Positive consequence makes for the biggest impact to long lasting change.

Once it’s well embedded – a business maintains a strong safety culture and focus. A win/win for both the business and workers.

EVERYONE gets to go home safely - isn't that the goal?!

Positive consequence will work towards building culture and long lasting behavioural change

What are the biggest roadblocks to great safety?

Dee: If I could send one message – it’s Keep it Simple! If you have a safety system that is overly complex and difficult for your workers to comprehend or follow, then it simply won’t work. There are a number of factors to include in your safety framework to promote and sustain safety within your workplace.

They are:

  • Good communication and consultation - Active listening, are you really hearing what your workers have to say? Find out from your team what ideas they have, at the end of the day, they do the job, so is super important to involve workers to understand what will work to reduce or eliminate the risks.

Involve your team in decision making. Communication and consultation are important to build trust
  • Empowerment – involve your team in the decision making processes. Allow your team to be able to decide on immediate or interim actions to eliminate or minimise risks.

  • Be Visible and approachable - If you are a leader, make the time to be both visible AND approachable. It is important to do both. I worked with an Operations Manager who expressed his concern that he did many safety walks, so believed he was being visible, but still didn't feel a connection to the team. I chatted with him to ask him about how approachable he thought he was. Joining him on safety walks, we started to get involved in safety conversations. Get to know your people - what motivates them to get home safely? Once he adopted being more approachable, the trust was built over time so that people felt 'safe' to have a safety conversation with him.

  • Start a safety conversation – whomever said safety conversations are easy, hasn’t really had one. This is a learned skill and the more you do it, the easier it will be become. Encourage teams to put safety on the agenda and speak up. Help your team to understand that the business genuinely believes in the safety-first message.

  • Observe – this is incredibly important. Did you watch the NRL grand final whereby the crowds were required to wear masks to attend? What did you observe? Hardly a mask (or at least one being worn, in sight). Why was that? Look to people’s behaviours – if a large crowd or group are not wearing masks, peers will follow the group. It is the same in a workplace. You can have all the rules in place on paper that you like, however it comes down to culture and values. To track that, you need to observe and if safety measures are not being followed, take steps to understand why. There will always be a reason as to why.

People wearing makeshift masks
Talk to you team to understand why things aren't working

Leading safety from a management level should never be underestimated.

Building trust with your team around safety is critical to cultural and long-lasting behavioural changes.

What should a business do to get started?

Simply that, get started. It is never too late to begin.

Look to your basic compliance and ensure this is in place and regularly refreshed. These are business must-do’s. E.g. First Aid, CPR/CPR refreshers, Warden Training, Fire Safety Training, Low Voltage Rescue etc.

This type of training continues pandemic or not. Your team requires compliance training and F.A.S.T. First Aid training are here to support the delivery of training in any way your business requires. We are here to help :)

Work as a team to understand the highest risks within the business, undertake risk assessments so you can understand how to manage them. This doesn’t need to be complex, the goal is to understand what they are, how to eliminate or reduce the risk/s. Read the Codes of Practice as this will help you know what is required.

Consult, Consult, Consult – keep communications open with the team so you can work together on how to manage safety in the workplace.

Keep talking with the team - communication is key

F.A.S.T. First Aid Training are also proud to be offering programs that also support Mental Health and Well-being.

F.A.S.T. First Aid Training are your one-stop shop, not only delivering First Aid and CPR, but also relatable and impactful training to help teams at risk of stress and overwhelm. Our team of accredited and experienced First Aid and Mental Health first aiders are here to support.

Together we can help to make a difference and save lives.

A big thank you to Dee for giving us some insights to why safety is even more important in 2021!

Please leave a comment.

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