Meet Our Members - Debra Burlington

Thursday, 1 October, 2020 - 12:45
Member update

The AIHS is excited to be launching 'Celebrate Our Membership' campaign. 

This is the opportunity to celebrate individuals as a collective, learn from others’ experiences and connect as a profession.


We would like to introduce Debra Burlington, Owner/Director at Enhance Solutions and Chairperson of the AIHS College of Fellows Mentorship Committee as our first interviewee. 

Debra has been a member of the Institute since 2009.

Why did you decide you wanted to work in health and safety?
I began my working career as a social worker, so have also had a real interest in people, and making the world a better place for them. I was working as a return to work manager and felt there had to be something that could be done to prevent the injuries that were happening, rather than working with people after the fact. Someone suggested I look into OHS because of my passion around people and my willingness to stand up for others. I wasn’t particularly enamoured with that idea, but once I looked into it, I got excited. I realized that I could bring what I learned from being a social worker into my work in OHS and really make a difference for people at work. That was about 28 years ago and I have been hooked ever since.

What was your first job within the industry?
My first job was as the OHS Manager for Masonic Homes in Adelaide. They hadn’t had an OHS person prior to me, so it was a green field site with a fabulous CEO and CFO. They supported me 100% and really helped to get OHS established within the organisation. Because of their support, Masonic Homes was the winner of one of the first Safety Achiever Bonus Schemes implemented by WorkSafe in South Australia.
What has been something you are proud of that you’ve achieved during your career?
I have had the privilege to work with many organisations on the development of their leaders within the OHS context over the years, and there have been many occasions where we have seen great results from the initiatives I have been fortunate enough to be involved with. One that stands out is a program I was involved with in Newcastle with Downer. I worked with a visionary called Martin Cole and together with his team we designed and facilitated a leadership development program that was implemented over three years. Martin Cole is one for measurement and he often talks about the decrease in LTIFR that was achieved from over 15 to below 5 in that time frame. Given the nature of the work, this was an outstanding achievement. Participants identified and implemented many initiatives that contributed to that achievement, all supported by Mary and his team.
How has the industry changed throughout your career?
Personally, I think the industry has changed from being one where policies, procedures and systems have been the only focus of OHS toward one where these areas are still essential, and it has been recognized that the skills of communication, empathy, emotional intelligence etc. are just as important. When I first started, it was all about ensuring the system was in place, that audits and inspections had been undertaken and recorded. The development of JSA’s was used for compliance rather than an opportunity for communication, consultation and team building. I’ve enjoyed how the profession has embraced the need for the ‘soft skills’ (which are usually much harder) as well as the maintenance of the system requirements.