Safety Differently: A Practical Implementation with Queensland Urban Utilities - Webinar Recording

Posted by Craig Thornton

Organisations the world over are experiencing a lack of involvement and participation by both management and employees in their safety systems.

They see their systems have becoming more and more bureaucratic. Workers at the coal-face now just see them as a “tick-the-box’ or “tick-and-flick” exercise.

Not only that, but workers see an organisation culture of who to blame when things go wrong.

Queensland Urban Utilities, over the last few years, have implemented some new techniques around safety that they hope will address these concerns.

They have taken some of the ideas of Safety Differently from Griffith University’s Sidney Dekker and made practical changes to their business to help their workers work in a safer environment.



In this webinar I will be joined by Steve Harvey and Tony McConachie from Queensland Urban Utilities on the successes and challengers on implementing Safety Differently. 


Here are the slides from the webinar. 


You can view the YouTube Videos discussed in the presentation here: 

- Urban Utilities Safety Strategy - 

- Urban Utilities Safety Differently - 

- Urban Utilities Work Insights - 

- Safety Differently: Urban Utilities Safety in 120 seconds - 

- Urban Utilities Learning Teams - 

- Sidney Dekker Doing Safety Differently - 


Video Transcription

Craig Thornton, Mango

Today we have Steve Harvey and Tony McConachie from Queensland Urban Utilities to discuss how they implemented safety differently into their organisation. Hopefully this is a warts and all presentation, what works and what doesn't.

Steve Harvey, Urban Utilities

Hopefully, you guys will enjoy this stuff. Certainly, we have a lot of fun doing it and we can have a good Chat around what we're working on too.

We conducted a survey in 2018, asking our people:

‘What was the most frustrating thing that Urban Utilities made you do, in the name of safety?’

That got a massive response and these are all quotes from our people working in our business.

We had a fragmented relationship with the organisation, so it really was time for a change. Blame and punishment, was just really the norm when something went wrong, there was no critical thinking around investigations, and most of the time investigations weren’t really done, or they were poorly done, and they certainly don't go past human error as a root cause.

What we were also discovering, was the teams at the pointy ends, who were doing the work, would use language around being written-up for the tiniest of breaches.

When the safety team were going to site, there's no conversations around high risk tasks. So the dialogue that we would normally have with those guys would be around rolling up our sleeves on our shirts, or wearing hard hats on sites when there are no overhead hazards.

But one thing one of the guys said to me when I was out in the fields, they were talking working in water and sewerage, he said to me, “have you ever tried washing your dishes with your sleeves rolled up?” And it totally, totally makes sense.

Some of the other things that we looked at as well was, our leaders were incentivized to report hazards, so, we were really missing out on some of those valuable operational intelligence. As you can imagine, the system was filled up with banana peels and low-quality risks. The only thing you can take from this is what I know for certain, in my opinion, is that if you're incentivizing hazard reporting, you're just going to get bad analytics, and I can tell you that's what we were getting for sure.

Tony McConachie

Just to add to that, that hazard share we were following the Heinrich triangle methodology or approach to hazards. We were facing the belief that the more hazards and the more near misses we put in, the safer our people would be the, and the less people will be seriously injured or killed.

But to Steve's point, we were driving a ridiculous barrage of low-level hazards, that were just swamping our system up. Basically, we found ourselves in a position where we needed to look at doing something a little bit differently. We had to try and build a case for change, we had to do some really heavy stakeholder engagement to truly understand, from our executive, from our CEO and from the sharp end, from the people that do the work,

  • What are some of the challenges?
  • What are the things that get in the way of doing normal work?
  • What are some of the things that are actually working really well for you that we can continue to keep leveraging off?

We went on a several month discovery spree, to really unpack what is the safety climate like at Urban Utilities and using that voice to help propel something a little bit different moving forward? We were really fortunate too with our leader Ken Bancroft, the health and safety manager, as we moved into that design and implement phase, to design a wonderful educational program around Safety-II, which we branded as Safe.Simple.

It’s a four-day safety leadership program that was designed purely around a lot of the work that Erik Hollnagel, Dave Provan, Sidney Dekker, and many other thought leaders in this space, we sort of piggybacked off a lot of their research and designed what's been a really effective program.

We've now taken close to 300 leaders and HSR’s in our organisation through this program, and now moved across into our delivery partners as well, and we've taken approximately 60 delivery partners through Safe.Simple now as well.

It's been a wonderful process of ‘it's all well and good for the safety team to want to approach Safety-II, but you need to be out there and educating and providing awareness, to the operational groups around

  • What is this Safety-II thing?
  • What does this mean for us?
  • How do we challenge our thinking around moving into this space?

The other thing that partnered in with Safe.Simple was the development of our health and safety strategy. It was really critical to get that sign off for the new direction from our board and from the CEO.

A lot of that was successful, purely based on the fact that we used evidence and research to help inform the change. A lot of the things that we were doing were not based on science, they weren't based on any research that was backing that that was an effective way to approach the health and safety of our people, and so we used research and evidence from those people, from David Provan, from Erik Hollnagel, from Sidney Dekker, that help influence and encourage change at that senior level.

But some of the things that we're going to talk about today as we moved into these changes, and we really want to sort of share with you some of the specific things that we've done to actually make Safety-II stick in an organisation. We've kind of moved into this habituate phase now, where we're really embedding some of these processes, some of them are just the way that we think and view work and other humans. But some of these things we want to share with you today, are around Critical Control work insights that we've implemented, and embedded, learning teams, and some safety pulse dashboards and different measures that we've put in place.

Our decluttering efforts that we've done with our safety management systems are really trying to get away from that bureaucratic health and safety approach that was bogging us down previously.  A little bit about our story, culture, and just some of those measurements as well around the Safety-II world and some of those changes that we've made for some of those outcomes that we're chasing there. Really creating that learning culture, engaging heavily with the ‘sharp end’ so that people at the frontline that do the work, and really chopping our safety management system to pieces, and really taking it from that bloated system into something that's much more aligned to what's actually happening outside, and then measuring differently as well.


That has summed it up really well there, Safe.Simple is like a really amazing bespoke training program that we have. It gets delivered by a guy called Jonathan Lincoln, he's quite a leading thinker in this space also. We didn’t mess around; we got the leading thinkers in to help us piece this work together.

Our health and safety policy is a cartoon.

I think it's totally different to what you would normally see in any organisation and we really loved it. We felt that it was a reflection on our safety values, which is making safety fun and interesting.

The policy included everything that you would normally see in policies and including commitment to people when striving towards best practice, as well as a little nod to restorative culture when things go wrong.

But the policy, just didn’t take off as well as we hoped.

People were a bit apathetic about it.

But for me, it’s a safety policy that I've read right through, more than once, to be honest, and that I'd love to hear what people think of this.

Some people just say, ‘Oh, they’re not taking safety seriously’ or ‘you shouldn't present policies like that’ but we absolutely loved it, I still love it.

We might do something different next time when it comes to reviewing it.

Craig Thornton, Mango

Why do you think people were apathetic, even though you've done it in a fun, engaging, cartoon-like way?


Maybe they're just not used to seeing this stuff, particularly in safety, that was my whole feeling on it. And I was super enthusiastic, super excited when this came through, I was like, ‘people are gonna love this! People are gonna think this is the greatest thing they’ve ever seen!’ and it just hasn't taken off.

Actually, what we did do, is we created another policy, the second behind it, so we had the cartoon policy, then we have our official looking policy, and it seems to be that most people prefer to use the official looking policy.

Maybe they're just scared to rock the boat. When I go to the depots I ask where’s the policy, not that policy, the other policy, the one that people will read.

I'd love to hear what people think. Normally we don’t share this slide but I thought it would be good to get your audience to look at it, but I’d like to know what people think about it.


I've never seen anything like this ever. I've never seen a cartoon policy on anything. I guess you're right no one is used to this. I think it's fantastic but if you're not getting engagement, then really, it's not going to work.


Honestly, it’s the only policy that I will consistently read every time, I'll have a look at it and have a great chuckle at it.

But it's got a great message and we're happy to share that with people if they want to see it. It doesn't have a fluffy message; it really talks about the things that an ordinary policy should really talk to.


Was there a certain level of the business that that accepted this policy?


It was endorsed by the CEO. In this organisation, we can't do anything without the endorsement of the CEO level or the executive level. So they know everything that we're doing


I'm not sure the ‘pointy end’ would say ever say, safety is fun. But your cartoon policy is a great idea to change the way you present policy. Keep trying different things. Challenge the status quo. I guess that's the point that's important,


I think, I would like to probably disagree, it's one of my big values. When I when I do safety, it's not, you often hear me say in the office ‘if it's not fun, I just want to be part of it.’

So, we'll make it fun, maybe in a toolbox talk.

I always try to have some storytelling element and trying to make fun of that, still having a serious message if we need to have it. I think traditionally safety is seen as a bit conservative. I'm wanting to change that paradigm for sure.


Look, I cannot overstate how important this Safe.Simple leadership program was to us at Urban Utilities. We needed to create an opportunity for people to hear what this Safety-II thing is, and we needed to give people an opportunity to essentially test all of their previous thinking and their biases, around their approach to health and safety. We needed to create that space to partly educate and partly influence our leadership group, to really test themselves because we set the tone early on that this is not something that we have been doing previously, this is something new, so we really want you to open yourself up to exploring what this looks like.

It’s part about the brain, and how that works and how you view others and how work gets done, and then it's also part around a lot of the Safety-II type of theory that's out there.

As I said, before, Todd Conklin, Drew Ray, Dave Provan, Hollnagel, Dekker etc. We pulled apart all the research to help design this bespoke program and as I said, we're getting some really good wins from this, but it's designed around the three principles around safety differently.

Principle one,

Accepting people as complex, and then empowering them as the solution.

That's really about engaging heavily with the ‘sharp end’ and designing things with them, so co-creation of the new safety management system with them. They are the experts, and they help to design, that “work-as-imagined” piece.

Principle two

Tries to really shift the dial, it’s around learning from what goes right. We're really trying to turn the dial on health and safety to not just getting obsessed about honing in when something goes wrong. Traditional safety tends to get all hyped up and really overzealous and excited when something goes wrong, and they throw the kitchen sink at a root cause analysis process to try and over analyse what's happened, just to those 0.5% of the time that things go wrong.

So, we're really trying to turn the dial around, we want to learn about normal work, we want to learn about the high-risk activities that our people do. And we do that through the introduction of this work insights approach.

This is one of the marquee products that we've pushed into the business, where we're really wanting to study high risk, normal work. We really want to understand that kind of “work-as-done” online, we're not concerned about “work-as-imagined” when we're doing these insights, we really want to unpack it and understand the story from the worker, and help shape our system against that. I've really heavily angled towards that sharp end.

Principle three

Safety is an ethical responsibility, but really trying to move away from that traditional administrative bureaucracy with the health and safety world going completely mad and bonkers around the introduction of food, too much paperwork.

We're going to talk a little bit around how easy it is to lose control of your “work-as-imagined” and your system becoming overly bloated and actually exposing yourself even further as an organisation.

The products that we're pushing here are learning teams’ approach by the introduction of learning teams into our organisation, and really about the decluttering case.

  • How do we focus on the safety of work, rather than safety work?
  • How do we lighten this pack that we've really overloaded?
  • And how do we get rid of the stuff that isn't adding value to the sharp end?
  • What are the things that are helping them do their work in a safe manner?

I’m getting rid of that clutter, all done with that human centred mindset.

Everything's, done with those people that have the tools in their hand, that are in the trenches, that are fixing our piping, that are out there working on our treatment plants, it is all about them.

It's not to do with that “work-as-imagined” corporate space in this world.

Safe.Simple, I absolutely love it. It's been an incredible program of work; it’s been super successful. I've got quite a bit of bias towards it, obviously, but I think it's just been a wonderful experience and the impact that it's having, the pre and post measures that we've got around the program, have all been really statistically significant, in terms of the dial that it shifted for participants.

I really can't talk highly enough about it, and as I said, we're happy to share this little infographic all together as well.


I'm sitting back reflecting back on that last one in terms of principle 2.

We can see in the field and we can explain to the guys in easy terms about their place, particularly around the points that have stuck at the bottom. You can talk about “this is you, you’re at the sharp end, you guys have to adopt, you have to continuously innovate get your work done.”

And then I say I'm here at the blunt end, that diagram just illustrates what actually happens.


Are we allowed to use those posters in the workplace?


Yeah, we've created sort of, corporate posters around them and digital versions and we've got these things on our Utilities website, so happy to share these around.


Can you give us some concrete examples on what safety elements go into the clutter?


Decluttering, the type of organisation that we are, we definitely have lots of process and lots of procedures, basically, decluttering is also defined by the accumulation of safety procedure documents, roles and activities that are performed in the name of safety.

You’ve probably seen all the work that Dave Provan and Drew Rae those guys are leading the way in that space.

But we know they don't contribute really in any way into how safe is done.

Over here in Australia, we've got a massive problem here, red tape is rife.

There are self-imposed rules, regulations, processes and procedures that stifle innovation really that doesn't make any difference.

I have a couple of stats here that I'll show you, there's like AUD14.3 billion, being spent on critically important rules. Then there's an additional AUD85 billion, being wasted on unimportant non-essential, non-regulated, compliance-based rules.

It's just incredible.

I know I’ve been guilty of adding additional safety activities, additional processes, particularly after an ICAM or something you’ll say “the procedure wrong, let's add some steps in the procedure, lets change this or whatever”.

The trustee checklists, I’m now getting to the stage where I really am critical of them, and if anyone mentions to me that they're going to do it, then I will challenge them for sure.

What we found in Urban Utilities is, when we reviewed the system, there was honestly, thousands of documents, thousands and there was 200 different checklists, which most were unused.

You would go out with these documents, to the fields and say, “What do you know about this?” and they would reply “I remember that from Brisbane Water days” or from years gone by.

We thought we’d highlight them and we'll cut them down.

We really chopped anything that wasn't critical, that we didn't need to have, they were gone. But also, we had to make sure that it had a purpose that was stuff like checklists.

One good example is the guys had an excavation checklist that they had to complete after one metre entry. They also did codes, and it's like 1.5, I think in New Zealand that you guys actually have to notify the Regulators. The guys just weren’t using them saying ‘we don't need to because we’ve got it all under control.’ So that was one of those that was highlighted for removal and we took it out.

But what we found though, as we were removing documents, people were putting them back in, just in a different format.

Safety checklists and processes are like a safety comfort blanket. For some reason, people really, take to them.

The biggest myth of all the more signatures the better. We had a prestart document that required three signatures before we even started talking about risk, which I just find incredible.

We got rid of that as well.

It was a really big problem for us, and one of the big feedbacks that we got, doing that survey in 2018, was the paperwork that we have to do was a burden for our staff. So, the guys were getting really quite frustrated and very cynical of any safety activity that came their way.

In terms of decluttering, for people at the pointy end, I think one of the things I'm probably most proud of is, we took our SWMs, and critically looked at them. We thought what need is there for that? What did the guys actually need when they’re doing this work?

The SWMs had the risk matrix on them, they had reference documents, they had all sorts of things that weren’t benefits to the work. We took all that away, and just stuck with the task and stuck with the controls. They went from being 70 pages, down to one and even two pages. And we got the lads who did the work to design these, I just put them together, we got everyone in a room and asked: “What needs to be here? What's the non-negotiables when it comes to putting this work in?”

We try to create a freedom within a framework, I don’t know if you’ve heard that term before, when we put the SWMs together. It all went really well. The guys, I'm not going to say to use them for every single job, but they certainly are aware of them now and they know that they’ve been designed with their best interests at heart.

We changed the language on them too, the previous versions I could see, were written by safety people, because some of the language that was used was basically written in case we got prosecuted or something, quite difficult language. One example was, getting prescribed information for those who are digging a ditch, what does that mean? Just get the dials.

We changed that, we really made it easy for those guys to use.

We did know the guys absolutely hated the pre-start paperwork; we'll have a chat about that later on. Do you have anything to add Tony, in terms of decluttering?


I’ll just add that decluttering sometimes results in more rigor around a process, it hasn't always resulted in a reduction of something.

An example would be, we had a gap around our approach to managing fatigue, so we used the voice of the worker to help actually design an advanced fatigue management framework that’s going to help support them in managing that risk around fatigue. We've got more rigor around the way that we assess fatigue risk in the work that we do now than what we previously had in place.

I guess in order to work out what is clutter and what isn't clutter, a really good model that's out there that Dave Provan and Drew Rae developed, is around this safety work and safety of work model. It really gets you to think about what are the things that we're doing in the name of safety? And what buckets do they come underneath in this particular model.

I'll just give you a brief sort of descriptor around what these look like, essentially Provan and Rae, are trying to get people to move across to the right hand side of this graphic that you see in front of you, they really want you to invest the time in that operational activity, the safety of work, while also acknowledging that we still do need to do pieces of work and we need effort in those other areas but just trying to minimize those where we can. Social safety, for all of you safety folk out there, you would be well aware of the social safety stuff, this is things like safety slogans such as zero harm, putting effort into those safety programs, those wonderful safety shares that people come up with at the start of toolbox talks and meetings that add very little value 99% of the time.

It's the things that we do to make each other feel better, a bit of a slap on the back moment around, Yeah, we're doing safety everyone, Yippee! But that social safety piece, the demonstrated safety stuff is out of control in the safety world, the demonstrated safety piece. This is the one that really needs to get curtailed in, this is the things that you do to prove that you are doing safety.

  • This is all of the paperwork that you get your workers to fill in.
  • These are the monthly reporting that gets out of control in the health and safety world,

all of the things that you're showing internal and external people saying, ‘Hey, look at us, we're doing safety, so leave us alone.’ The administrative safety piece, talking about all the stuff that's required by legislation, but also there's a lot of self-imposed administrative work that goes on into the health and safety space. And that's not necessarily adding value to the people at the sharp end.

You can see a bit of a line there between administrative safety and our physical safety. Physical safety is actually starting to cross over into the realms of helping out frontline workers. We’re talking about things like:

  • barriers around a trench or,
  • extra protective equipment to undertake confined space work.

We're talking about actual physical stuff, to help the people do the work.

On the operational activities, that safety of work stuff is really honing in on the actual work that our people are doing out there and looking at ways that we can potentially, engineer out things, actually honing in on:

“What are some of the improvements we can do to help ensure that we're removing risk from the guys at the front line?”

Really trying to invest in that physical safety and operational activity. The actual steps that the lads and the girls out there are following when they're doing their work. We use this model, to try and place things underneath each of those five buckets, and really try and reduce some of the stuff on the left hand side and ramp up on that right-hand side.


What we had was a bit like the equivalent of a Take-5 process.

Again, as part of our survey, the lads who were working in the front line were thinking, “this thing is a complete waste of time, it offers nothing”. They absolutely hated it. And, as I said, it needed a lot of signatures before you could even start talking about risk.

We conducted some insights and what the use of this thing was.

What we found was, that people would complete them, like after they did complete them, when they complete them half-way through the job, at the end of the job, or when someone like me was turning up to site.

And they were only doing them because we're forcing them.

We even discovered that the guys were changing dates and things like that, so it presented a challenge for the business.

What was happening, the guys were doing them in the truck, and then going to the job and actually talking about the job. We picked up on that and we did what we did before and how can we make this transition easier? And there's a few people who are going “ooohhhhh! you’re taking away paperwork? This is this is a big deal”.

This was also a challenge for us.

“This just an ass-covering document, and it's not our asses your covering.”

We took that on board and took it back to business, we brought one of our HSR’s into an executive meeting, and I asked him to explain what the WRAP was all about. I made it quite clear that it wasn't being used, with the intent of how it should have been used and probably when it was designed. The board and the SMT endorsed the removal of it.

That left us with a lot of work to do.

We got guys like Michael Tooma involved.

He’s a famous safety lawyer in Australia. If you don't know him look him up, he does some great work. His book is fantastic.

We just have a great fun when we talk to him, he’s super smart.

We have to be really careful when we're removing this document. So, we ran a competition around what we call this new Take-5 process. One of the guys recorded the Chat.

But, again, we've got help from Griffith University to piece this together. We made sure it wasn't just a haphazard approach to managing like hazards on site, we really got the guys involved, and we got our teams, our HSR teams to actually design their questions. You may see on a slide there, the Chat sort of sticker on the back of one, we have put these everywhere, so they are really visible.

Obviously, the intent is to actually get them to tell the story of the job. That's why the purpose of that piece of work is around.

Some people don’t like it. People just get comfortable, they like the signatures.

But using people like Michael and Greg (Smith) and what they’re doing to show, just because I’ve signed it, that doesn't mean it's been done properly.

The challenges have been really the guy that worked in mining and construction, they say they love it, they love the Chat, but they just feel a bit uncomfortable, because they’re not signing something.

We have created a document which is basically just the Chat poster is there, that you can sign on the bottom. Slowly, but surely, the guys are coming round because we are educating them, we’re showing them the research, we’re introducing them to Michael and Greg

The lads in the field, they think it's the greatest thing that we have ever done, and if we don't do anything more or treat them differently in Safety-II, I think we could probably dine out on this for a while.


This is just one thing, there's nothing in the legislation that states that you need to document a risk assessment process, all the legislation states is that you need to proactively manage risk.

It's all about how you are enabling and actually boots on the ground practically managing the risk, there's nothing in there around actually documenting that. We sort of really leveraged off Michael Tooma there and our own interpretation of the legislation to strengthen that case for change around no more documentation.

We’ll move across to our HSR folks, I’ll briefly touch on this one.

We really had to significantly change the environment that we had in place previously around our HSRs. We had a token one hour meeting every month, pretty varied attendance, and they didn't really get stuck into too much around what they were actually doing out at site.

A big change is actually been to get them off the tools for a full day, every month now, and what we do is split that day in half, and we do a half a day, going out into the field and conducting Critical Control work insights, and really understanding “work-as-done” against our high risk activities through the lens of our workers.

And then the other half is around review of Safety Management system, I guess documentation. We've spent a lot of time reviewing our SWMs and any of the relevant procedures for the work that those HSRs do. We've also embedded the learning teams approach onto these days as well, that then gets us that truthful account of what actually happens at site around the work that we do. It’s still a work in progress but have a really good shift and a turning of the dial.

We try and create visuals and graphics around the things that we do rather than another boring five-page long HSR charter that no one ever wants to read.

We try and create really cool posters around these things and have them up and bright and colourful and visual to try and catch people's eye and that seems to work.


The best example that we've got really is around mobile phone use in vehicles.

We have golden rules that said you cannot use Bluetooth devices in any Urban Utilities vehicle.

When we did a bit of discovery, we found that was happening a lot.

People were using their phones via Bluetooth, which is perfectly legal, but we had this rule in place that said we can't do it.

We done heaps and heaps of research into this. We’ve done a lot of work internally, just trying to really discover, why phones need to be used. We basically got to the stage where if we remove mobile phones from vehicles, or removed Bluetooth from vehicles, we would have some safety issues, we have productivity issues and work issues.

One of the most critical ones was around if there was a fire somewhere in southeast Queensland, our lads are sometimes called to those fires to help reduce the pressure, so if they weren’t allowed to use their mobile phones in their trucks, they're going to have an issue.

We had a trial where we actually stopped people from using their phones in the trucks in one team, and in the other team they were allowed to, and it just created havoc.

Again, we went to the management team and said we’ve got this rule that’s been created here – not even sure who created it.

We’re in the process of removing not just one of them but the a lot of them.

That was one of the things that we've done. We went in and had a look, at what was work-as-done using the phones vs work-as-imagined for the business that there is no Bluetooth in any vehicles.

So it took a bit of time but we got there.


Just to add to that, we removed our nine golden rules.

We got rid of those.

They were only used to copy and paste into disciplinary letters for punishment.

We removed those rules, and we created 12 enterprise wide high-risk activities to ramp up our work insights approach around those.


We conduct these little work insights, we go into the field, we ask some questions, start collecting themes, we start collecting conflicts, we analyse:

  • Are these genuine?
  • Are these things that we want to look at?

And then obviously we put actions in against them, and then review them.

That's really as simple as that.

We often hear people say ‘what can we do in health and safety, our company doesn't really believe in safety differently, or safety II, work insights is probably the easiest thing that you can start. If you’re discovering the work-as-imagined and what really happens in the field.


The main change for people conducting these, is actually not to be putting down your descriptor of the work getting done, it's actually just capturing the story of the worker. What's their version of how they get that particular job done?

Really honing in on what they're describing around complexity and variability and just focusing on that sharp end, rather than anything to do around it, predetermined view about how work gets done.

We've basically wrapped the whole principles around our work insights and learning teams approach.

  • Error is normal
  • Blame fixes nothing
  • Systems drive behaviour
  • Learning is vital
  • Response matters.

We spend a lot of time in our Safe.Simple leadership program educating leaders around what this looks like.

Learning Teams

We had to change the way that we investigated health and safety events. Previously, we were using ICAM or TapRoot in our organisation to investigate things that went wrong;

  • injuries,
  • errors,
  • near misses

In saying that, the level of investigating was quite inconsistent.

We had to move away from using those methodologies and frame up this approach that aligns more with the Safety-II thinking.

This learning team's approach, we've had some really great support from Mark Alston from Immotus Consulting. He's really helped us shape up our approach to learning from normal work.

The major benefit of a learning team approach is that, it does start with and focus heavily around what actually normally happens around that particular task. If we're talking about excavation and trenching, let's talk about normal work, what does that look like for you guys, when you are excavating and trenching? We don't go to the event itself in that first learning team, I seek to understand normal work. You spend a bit of time in that space, to really understand it before at a secondary session moving into the actual event itself, to learn about the “work-as-done” in that space.

The main thing I love about learning teams, is it's the same experience for the workers for the sharp end, where you're doing a learning team on a post job review, you might be doing a learning team on some of the challenges that they're experiencing with the work they do, you might do a learning team on a error that's occurred, or you might have a learning team on an injury that's happened, every single time a learning team is run, it is the same experience for the people coming in, and they know that it's a safe space, free of blame.

It really has opened up the conversation, and we learn a lot about what people are facing, so that subject of excavation and trenching, we facilitated a learning team recently around that, and we really opened up a whole bunch of aspects that the guys are faced with when they're doing their work. Things like the challenges around getting shoring boxes to help shore up a trench once it goes beyond 1.5 meters is a lot of travel time, it can be up to two hours to get a shoring trailer from one of the depots, so, looking at adding more accessibility for shoring trailers moving forward.

Really unpack actually a lot of the pressures around the KPIs that the guys are faced with to try and get water back on for our customers and really unpack some of the things that they're faced with in that space.

A little bit of difficulty, around making jobs compliant can increase the amount of complaints that come in based on the fact that the longer the water is off, the more complaints that come in on social media and phone calls around no water coming through. We could probably spend a couple of hours talking about that particular learning team itself, but really starting to get a lot of value from these learning things.

The only challenge with a learning team is, you tend to get a lot of information and a lot of unanswered questions off the back of learning teams, and that's actually pretty exciting for someone who's got a curious, open mindset about wanting to learn more. But that can be challenging for people that just want an immediate root cause answer in response to that particular event.

We’re getting some good traction with this.

It's taken a couple of years is to keep refining it, getting a little bit more rigor around it, generating some good actions off the back of them, but I think we're in a pretty good space now in terms of getting out of them.


If you’re going to have learning teams, you have to be prepared to hear bad news.

You will definitely hear scary stories.

How you respond to those stories really matters. I can guarantee that is going to happen and just like Tony said, the only criticism I have with the learning teams, not me but what I’ve heard is, they will leave you with more questions, and for me, that's brilliant, I mean, it just makes for more learning teams.

We had a list of 20 things that were done, but I'm just going to pick off some of the real big ticket items that have been there as part of our changes.

  • We removed zero harm slogans from the business. We took them away and introduced work insights on normal work and work insights on critical controls, anyone can do that, I would definitely recommend that.
  • Introduce learning teams as part of your investigation and remove ICAM and TapRoot.

I am ICAM trained and I have done a lot of ICAM investigations over the years. But once I discovered learning teams, a few years ago, I just couldn't go back and do an ICAM report again, I couldn’t issue controls around, some of the root cause analysis of being a procedure was wrong, supervision or training, with learning teams it really opened up that up.


Some of the other things that we've done:

  • Completely overhauled and simplified our hazard reporting process.
  • We've done the same with our incident reporting form.
  • We’ve removed the paperwork with risk assessments with the introduction of the Chat.
  • We've removed a lot of duplicate documents from our safety management system.
  • We've aligned our lockout / tagout procedure to “work-as-done”
  • We’re doing the same with our permit-to-work approach.
  • Removed our 9 Golden Rules.
  • We’ve removed reporting around LTI and we're now focusing on the critical controls on our high-risk activities,
  • We've introduced intuitive Power BI dashboards around learning teams, around our work insights
  • We've removed blame language in the provisions of our code of conduct.
  • We've changed the way that our leaders respond to error, which has been really important.

We haven't really talked about it today, just based on time, but we've got the Health and Wellbeing arm of our strategy as well.

  • Focusing on job design
  • Focusing on better spaces to work in
  • Financial wellbeing
  • Mental health.

We’ve been really busy, we’re two and a half years into our three-year strategy now, about to move into the space of rewriting, what we are going to head into next starting next year.


How do you measure improvements to engagement and safety practices generally?


We introduced an annual decluttering survey.

At the end of every year we've got measures in place to look at getting our workers to respond to a series of questions to look at:

  • Are the changes having an impact on them?
  • Are they feeling that the things that we're doing are helping their safety at work more?

So, you have that annual, measure and survey in place. But we've also got our evaluation piece as part of our project planning process, change management plans, once we've implemented, we do go back and we use our health and safety assurance framework to basically evaluate the effectiveness of any of those change pieces.


People talk to me; I can go into work talks, and tool talks and operational meetings and people will talk to me about safety issues, for me that's the big thing.

People will want to come and talk to you and just tell you what's happening around the place. Okay, that's a big shift.


Are you accredited to Federal Safety Commission and if so, are they okay with you removing all these documents and forms?


We have ISO 45001.

Remember the documents we’re removing are not legally required.

They’re the ones that we have perfectly targeted, but even if documents are legally required like SWMs, we chopped them and changed them and made them fit for purpose.


We're lucky that some of the regulators are actually jumping on board with the safety differently movement as well over in Australia, in Queensland.


I frequently invite them to some of the things that we do, we've got a good relationship with those guys.


How do you promote sharing of learnings from the HSR learning teams?


We usually share the operational learnings. We'll create one page on operational learning and then we'll distribute that through tool box talks and we just encourage discussion around it. That's probably the easiest answer I'm offering.


I think that the contributions to operational learning of have been a big increase, in terms of just using the word insights and learning team methodologies in those full days really has opened up what we now know about how work gets done, and Steve’s right, we do share that back through operational learning updates.


We’re now at level one in terms of our COVID, and we've got no reported community transmission anywhere in New Zealand. And I think the messaging that they did around that, and why we did so well, had Safety-II principles behind it.

There was a no blame culture. One of the key messages was that people weren't the problem, people were the solution, and that was a key message that everybody got excited about, because people weren't to blame.

And there was fantastic messaging around leadership, and making sure that everybody had the same message, they knew what the rules were and what they could and couldn't do although there was a few that broke the rules.

I just think that's why we've been successful as a country here in New Zealand. I'm sure it's the same Queensland in Australia, in some of the areas there. I think some of these Safety-II principles have now become almost mainstream, and they're working really well.

If you've got any questions, send them either through to me or jump on LinkedIn, connect with these guys and ask questions, they're very friendly and open and I’m sure they're happy to share their knowledge.

Tags: Health & Safety, Workplace Health and Safety, Webinar, Safety Differently