West Australian water utility company Aroona Alliance has been through a significant organisational transformation which has streamlined costs, improved safety outcomes and increased productivity.
Despite 90-degree PDR (planning, development and review) processes and a comprehensive approach to safety management, safety was still a challenge as people were still getting hurt in the Aroona Alliance workplace, according to Sasha Burnham, lead researcher and senior performance coach at corporate psychology consultancy Veraison Training and Development.
“They knew they had to reach another level with regards to safety and performance but didn’t know how to go about it – they had a gut feel; there was more they didn’t know,” said Burnham, who was speaking ahead of the AIHS National Health and Safety Conference – ONLINE, which will be held from 22–24 June 2020.
That led to the development of a safety transformation program which began with a series of assessments to understand the current situation: “to find out what they didn’t know they even needed to know (i.e. blind spots) to improve safety and performance,” she said.
The safety transformation program was a multi-layered and multidimensional program with activities delivered across every level and section.
“What increased their chances of transformation was revealing blind spots and gaps for leaders (through ISA360) and the whole organisation (through IASC),” said Burnham.
“Then the two most effective engagement/development elements were the field coaching and safety culture optimisation groups.”
The field coaching activities took traditional safety leadership development out of the classroom and into the field, “where it actually matters and where it’s actually really hard to do well.”
Leaders were given live coaching as they engaged with the frontline, conducted job safety visits and resolved issues to ensure they weren’t just a ‘box-ticking’ exercise, said Burnham.
Three safety culture optimisation groups over 18 months engaged 12 staff members, with each safety culture optimisation group representing all levels and sections to come together and work on challenging and transforming traditional, deep rooted safety culture beliefs that were holding the organisation back (for example, “if you report a safety issue you will get your ass kicked.”)
“These were real beliefs for the frontline, that inhibited any process or initiative aimed at improving reporting from actually working,” said Burnham.
“Each safety culture optimisation group team worked together over a three-month period to understand these beliefs and create strategies to genuinely challenge or transform these across the organisation.”
Embedding the safety transformation program in the Aroona Alliance five-year strategy was mission critical to ensuring its long-term commitment and success, said Burnham. “Embedding it at a strategic level meant that it couldn’t become a ‘flavour of the month,’ or seen as a separate activity to business as usual.
“At every level, staff were ‘doing safety culture’ anyway, so intentionally working at creating a more effective safety culture had to be achieved in parallel with productivity,” she said.
Including all leaders (even safety representatives) in the 360-degree feedback assessments (ISA 360 – including initial assessments and retests) ensured awareness into leadership impact on safety culture was created at every level and shifts in capability and impact could be recognised.
Embedding the four pillars and safety programs into existing safety initiatives and activities such as safety summits, investigations and field guides helped make it business as usual, while Burnham said the safety culture optimisation group activities genuinely engaged and empowered the frontline in making the workplace more safe and more productive.
“There were varying levels of engagement at the beginning, with some even senior leaders acting more as ‘passengers’,” said Burnham.
Until the management team developed a meaningful connection with the cost of not doing anything, they did not become partners in the process.
“We also learned that the section managers (next level down) were critical to making change happen, and we engaged them too late in the journey after focussing the early days on the management team,” said Burnham.
“Once they were engaged, we really saw momentum happen.”
Convincing leaders and the frontline equally that this approach could work was a challenge, as Burnham said they had used other culture diagnostics and programs which had not shifted culture and behaviours.
“This is the power of a retest (to show movement) and the tactics mentioned above to engage as many as possible across levels and areas,” she said.
The safety transformation program has met with a significant number of achievements.
Safety performance improved over a two-year period with a 79 per cent decrease in TRIFR as well as a 43 per cent decrease in SIFR.
There was also a 60 per cent reduction in vehicle collisions (despite monthly kilometres travelled remaining the same).
Performance and productivity also improved with productivity (planned field activity) increasing by 10 per cent.
Maintenance completed on-time also increased 6 per cent (up to 86 per cent) while Burnham observed that staff were genuinely more engaged, evidenced by a number of factors including a 23 per cent improvement in asset condition reporting by the frontline.
Burnham will be speaking at the AIHS National Health and Safety Conference – ONLINE, which will be held from 22–24 June 2020. For more information call (03) 8336 1995, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://aihsnationalconference.com.au/.