In the 32 years that we have been working within the safety arena, there has been an underlying current of resistance that has gradually built up over time toward the very systems and functions, that are designed to keep people safe. While it is imperative to have safety measures in place, it is also crucial to understand and address the causes of this resistance if it’s apparent.
Safety systems have evolved to become increasingly complex, inadvertently making them less user-friendly for those who rely on them. As regulations continually expand, they often perpetuate an over-engineered pathway that can overwhelm or confuse the very individuals these systems are designed to protect. Often leading to shortcuts or worse, a complete disregard for the system or process itself.
Consequently, as an industry, we may unintentionally be depriving our workforce of the autonomy to think critically and independently about their own safety. It is essential, therefore, to strike a delicate balance between implementation and fostering a culture of cooperation and respect.
A glaring example of this resistance can be traced back to an experience I had about 12 years ago, when I was part of an offshore Project Management team, serving as the lead for safety. Approximately 1800 skilled workers, 600 per day over 3 days, were required to attend a half-day induction for the installation of an offshore oil production facility in the offshore oil and gas fields of northern Western Australia.
On the very first day, the Project Manager, whom we’ll refer to as Paul, delivered a captivating and costly presentation on the project. The presentation used a professional animation that showed every stage of the installation, even including fish swimming in the waters below. This animation not only demonstrated the attention to detail but also the lengths that the company was willing to go to in order to effectively communicate the project’s complexities.
Paul’s presentation captivated the audience for approximately 90 minutes, which was quite impressive considering the diverse demographics of the attendees. Throughout the entire duration, the workers displayed remarkable attention and interest in the intricate details of the project. However, as the presentation came to an end, and Paul mentioned the next segment would be about ‘safety’, a significant change in ‘energy’ occurred.
Almost immediately, there was a noticeable shift in the audience from its upbeat space. Their posture changed, and they exhibited increased distractions and side conversations that were clear as crystal. This shift was so apparent, that I felt compelled to ask Paul if the room could take a 15-minute break. Upon his agreement, the attendees dispersed before reconvening to continue the induction.
My safety presentation was scheduled for an hour, and I must admit, I was quietly crapping myself as I faced the prospect of 600 pairs of eyes intently focused on me. The anticipation of their gaze felt almost tangible as if they were silently hoping I would crumble under the pressure or flee the room.
Feeling the energy shift in the room, I knew it was time to take action so I turned to Paul and said, “Paul, I want to go off-script, is that okay?” Since we had worked together many times before and had built a solid foundation of trust, he swiftly gave his approval. I felt a sense of immense relief and gratitude that I could address the audience in a completely different and meaningful way, that would hopefully re-engage them and make the information matter.
So, up onto the stage I got! My safety induction began, and I delivered it almost word for word as shown below.
“Hi everyone, my name is Clay and I’m part of the Project Management team. I ‘could’ stand up here and take you through the endless documents, approvals, plans, systems, and expectations we have for safety…but I’m not going to do that. All I will say to you is that you will see, at least 2 members of this Project Management team, offshore at any given time throughout the duration of the Project, and if there are ‘any’ safety issues, welfare issues, or ways in which we can help you, we will be right there to resolve them. Any questions?”
My safety ‘induction’ took less than a minute to present, yet its impact was undeniable. Not a single document was viewed and not a single system, procedure, plan, or expectation was placed before them. Despite this, the responses we received and the number of positive discussions that took place at the end of the day were nothing like I’d experienced before in a safety professional’s capacity.
The Project went ahead several weeks later and I can state that it was the safest project ever undertaken by our company in Australia. A project duration of 8 months, 1800 workers, over 2 and a half million man-hours, without a single recordable injury.
Whilst I was offshore during this Project, I walked the decks and spoke to everyone I could, not necessarily about safety, but just life in general. More often than not, I was the one being approached to talk about safety, so for me, the penny had well and truly dropped.
The moral of the story, or what I and we as a safety solutions business have taken from it, is this. You simply cannot ‘dictate’ safety to people. It’s a cooperative and collaborative process that’s based upon engagement, respect, and a genuine connection with ‘people’.
This is just one of the lessons ‘and’ philosophies, the iCARE Safety Group, believes in, prescribes to, and delivers for every single safety-related task or project we undertake. We hope you do too…