How can leaders empower workers to engage with safety?

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Thursday, 23 September, 2021 - 12:45
Industry news
National News

A lack of empowerment among workers is one of the biggest challenges for organisations looking to improve safety mindfulness, according to a safety leadership expert.

Until workers feel like they own the safety culture of an organisation and until leaders provide them with authority and empowerment, organisations will likely experience minimal change on a culture level, said Anton Guinea, director of The Guinea Group.

“We’re not going to see change because culture is driven from the top, and it’s changed from the bottom,” he said.

“It’s not about what leaders say, it’s about what leaders do. And then it’s about how that’s embraced at the bottom of the organisation and how people buy into that.”

Guinea, who was speaking ahead of the AIHS Electrical Safety Conference which will be held from 12–14 October 2021, said it is important that leaders be willing to change belief systems in their organisation and to reinforce the idea that incidents, injuries and fatalities are preventable.

“That’s the big thing that we need to do. We need to help encourage people to believe that workplace incidents, injuries and fatalities are preventable,” said Guinea, who said leaders need to understand what drives behaviour and what drives decision-making, and then work hard on engaging with their staff on those points.

“Beliefs drive our behaviour. If we believe it’s okay to take a risk, we will. If we believe incidents are preventable and that we are in control, empowered to make a difference and to prevent these things from occurring, we will.”

Guinea said leaders need to listen to their teams, as team members are the ones who do the work and understand how to perform the work in the best way.

“Leaders need to make it okay and comfortable for teams, to empower them to share their ideas, opinions and suggestions in a safe way – and not to resent or ridicule those ideas,” he said.

“Then we start seeing a culture shift, because when people are willing to share psychological safety, and leaders are willing to listen and then make relevant changes – guess what, people stay more physically safe,” he said.

Guinea also referenced the Brady review of fatal accidents in Queensland mines and quarries from 2000 to 2019.

The review examined many factors including a range of lag indicators, but Guinea said it is more important to understand what organisations are doing before incidents occur.

“I’d like to know what we are doing to change belief systems, why do we never have to report on those?” he said.

Guinea explained the most common barriers to safety leadership are other priorities which lead workers to make decisions based on cost, schedule or quality ahead of safety.

He said the government’s pink batts program scheme, which subsequently led to a Royal Commission into the deaths of four insulation installers, was an example of other priorities taking precedence over safety.

And with the government recently announcing $1.2 billion of funding for apprentices, Guinea said there should be funding for leadership training to ensure apprentices will be led well and led safely.

Many SMEs will be receiving this funding and Guinea said parents would want to know they are sending their children to safe businesses in the future.

“We keep injecting funds into the training of young people, but we don’t inject funds into the safety training of more mature people who will be responsible for leading those young people,” he said.


Guinea will be speaking at the AIHS Electrical Safety Conference which will be held from 12–14 October 2021. For more information please view the conference program, call (03) 8336 1995, email or visit the event website.