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Transdev Australasia has turned safety training around in its Queensland bus operation and introduced a successful safety culture across its entire business to take home the pinnacle award in the 2014 NSCA/GIO Workers Compensation National Safety Awards of Excellence.

In 2008 Transdev Queensland (TDQ) faced an underperforming safety record of 19 WorkCover claims, 27 medical treatment injuries, 35 First Aid Injuries and 108 Lost Time Days. On top of this, the injuries and absences had led to low staff morale. 

“With safety promoted as Transdev’s number-one priority, we needed to ‘walk the talk’,” says managing director Colin Jennings. “TDQ was keen to position itself as an employer of choice, but its underperforming safety record was damaging its credibility.” 

At the time, as the company’s relatively new managing director, Jennings observed a lack of safety training for drivers. 

So a training audit was undertaken in conjunction with the business planning and budget process. 

“It was found that a brief five-day initial induction was provided to drivers, without follow-up,” Jennings says. 

Jennings responded by appointing two full-time in-house trainers and assessors to develop and deliver induction and annual refresher safety training and ongoing driver assessments. The trainers have extensive industry experience and a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment or greater, says Jennings. 

In addition, six driver mentors were appointed. The mentors support new drivers on the job after their induction. The mentors must have at least five years’ experience in the bus industry, relevant industry qualifications, demonstrated knowledge of company policies and procedures and an exemplary safety and performance appraisal record, according to Jennings. 

An external training consultant was also engaged to lead the development of a series of in-house training packages in line with the Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF). 

“These programs were also linked with the Transport & Logistics (TLI) national package, strengthening pathways for our staff to [gain] nationally recognise[d] qualifications via recognition of prior learning,” adds Jennings. 

Other external training providers have been used to deliver additional compliance training, such as dealing with bullying and harassment and working in confined spaces. 

Overall, new drivers attend a 17-day New Start driver training program comprising classroom, on-road and safety training. Drivers also complete VigilVanguard driver assessments (video assessments of drivers in the field that were introduced in 2012), twice-yearly performance appraisals and annual driver update training. 

However, implementing this program has not been smooth sailing. For example, many of the staff were resistant to changing the status quo and participating in the new training and assessment. 

“One of the ways this was overcome was to make attendance itself one of the measures within performance appraisals,” says Jennings. 

So far, the training program has been a success. By 2013, WorkCover claims had dropped to three, medical treatment injuries to zero, First Aid Injuries to eight and Lost Time Days to 24. On top of this, staff engagement had risen from 43 per cent in 2010 to 71 per cent in 2013, says Jennings, pointing to the company’s employee opinion survey. And, since the introduction of the video assessments, at-fault accidents have halved from 94 in 2012 to 39 in 2013. 

In addition, Transdev Australasia implemented a new company-wide approach to safety to create a shared safety culture and to engage staff across an almost 24-houra-day business with 10 business units and multiple depots, stations and terminals around Australia and New Zealand. 

In 2012 the company reviewed its safety communications. “Internal research was conducted, which found that, in the past, safety communication had been inconsistent and impersonal, and that localised issues had been overlooked in favour of a ‘blanket’ approach,” says Transdev Australasia’s director of corporate affairs, Mark Paterson. 

In response, the 2013 ‘Safety Starts With Me’ campaign was developed. Transdev says it created a consistent campaign that could be adapted for local implementation. This included print and digital collateral, local events and a roadshow. The campaign marked the final year of Transdev’s five-year strategy (2009 to 2013) to improve its safety performance. 

The 2013 Staff Communications Survey recorded high levels of staff engagement with the ‘Safety Starts With Me’ campaign. 

“It returned the highest levels of recollection by staff over all communications programs and initiatives, with 88 per cent of participants identifying the 2013 campaign in the survey,” Paterson says. 

In addition, 2013 saw a 33 per cent reduction in the number of vehicle and vessel collisions across the business over the past year, he adds.

Download the story in PDF rsz_masthead-convertedTransdev Turns It Around (PDF, 262kB) 

Published in National Safety magazine,
November-December 2014.


Joe Moore, conflict resolution expert from Kimber Moore and Associates, speaks with Helen Borger.

Your latest workplace dispute may appear to have the plot line of a short lived soap opera—but if you fail to intervene you could find yourself playing in a long-running drama.

Some managers appear not to worry about the harmful behaviours of others. For them, it seems a relief to hear themselves or others say, “It’s just a personality clash” or “He/she is a bit of a princess” or “It’s just a bit of drama.”

But is this the case? “Surprisingly, one of the ways we start to show some interest in dealing with [harmful behaviour] is by saying things like, ‘Well, you know, it’s just a bit of drama,’” says conflict resolution expert Joe Moore.

So rather than viewing these comments as a cue to ‘exit stage left’, he says they should be seen as a signal to start conversing, to find out what’s going on. “Maybe it’s a bit of an office drama, mate—but what are the pros and cons of doing something about it?”

To those involved, the ‘drama’ is time consuming and anxiety-provoking, Moore says. It can also be a sign of worse to come.

He says managers must ask questions to find out: What behaviours led to someone saying, “This is a bit of a drama”? Who is taking responsibility for it? Is it safe to ignore the drama or is action required? If action is required, start getting the people involved to talk it through with each other.

It is also crucial for a manager to be clear about his or her role in helping to solve the problem. “You’re not taking responsibility for solving what’s going on. You’re taking responsibility for helping people figure it out,” Moore says.

But are managers capable of fulfilling this role? “It is a huge challenge. Most managers get promoted ‘off the tools’ because of their problem-solving ability. But it rarely means problem-solving ability is an expression of how they work with the team to solve problems …”

What tends to happen is that managers rush to find the cause of the issue rather than helping others to solve the problem, Moore says.

“Part of the solution lies in having serious conversations with managers about their roles—‘While you’re busy walking around solving other people’s problems, there are some key things you are not doing as a manager. A manager solving day-to-day operational problems is not being strategic’—and as soon as you make that point, you start to get them to understand,” says Moore.

But what happens when management strategy fuels less-than-optimal behaviour? Climbing the corporate ladder can be competitive, and behaviours such as lobbying and building alliances to get ideas accepted can intensify. “Lobbying and cajoling to get an idea over the line [is a red] flag for a company that has problems with the way decisions are made,” Moore says.

Companies should think about how they transact business within their organisations and ask themselves the following questions: How do we make this decision? What data do we need to make this decision? How will we know if what we decide will get us what we want? What is the review of this going to be?

If the responses to these questions lack clarity and substance, “then the only answer left is politics, in the negative sense, which is the cajoling, wheedling, and running around influencing”, Moore explains. “To dry up that behaviour, the  answer lies in devoting time to getting clear responses.

“Organisations that excel at making decisions understand the important decisions affecting performance. They make the way material decisions are made routine by removing the guesswork from knowing who recommends, who needs to agree, who has the veto power, who should have input, who provides the data, which data is required to help make a decision, and who is accountable for follow-through,” Moore says.

Generally, when it comes to managing harmful behaviour, Moore suggests keeping in mind that such behaviour can take many forms. “You can’t [possibly] have a protocol for [managing] every kind of difficult behaviour,” he says.

Rather, use examples of good behaviour, reward and praise people for doing the right thing, and penalise poor behaviour. “Then you start to create an expectation at work that, when push comes to shove, we want to be able to get along with one another.”

Also address specific behaviour in conversations, Moore says. Avoid giving lectures; build conversations around what happened, the effects, and why getting along is important; and ask for the person’s thoughts. “It’s about what is important, why it is important, and how we can [encourage] healthy relationships,” he says.

Tackling harmful behaviours early is critical, otherwise they can escalate. “It would be very rare for someone to come to work one day and, with no prior warning, [start] to bully,” Moore says, adding, “Minimise the chances of people getting away with behaving [badly] and taking that as an invitation to behave [worse].”

This won’t eradicate all of the worst kinds of behaviours, Moore warns, but you will experience a reduction of them.

In addition, organisational, not just individual, responses are needed to help keep harmful behaviours at bay. This includes, for example, talking about these issues openly and often.

A good place to start is to think about the age-old question: How would you like to be treated?


Download the story in PDF
Embrace Harmful Behaviour (PDF, 200kB)

Published in National Safety magazine,  September-October 2014.

Rescuing a shark in the wild gives new meaning to managing work health and safety, writes Fleur Bull, head of health and safety, Sea Life

 “How do you catch a shark?” was the opening headline on Sydney’s Channel 7 evening news in February as vision aired of a daring and successful grey nurse shark rescue off Magic Point in Maroubra, NSW.

The rescue mission resulted from local divers reporting sightings of a 1.5-metre female juvenile grey nurse shark. Dubbed ‘Tangles’, the shark had an elastic cord wrapped around its head and gills. From the local divers’ reports of its laboured breathing and their images, staff from Sea Life Sydney Aquarium and Manly Sea Life Sanctuary could see the shark was slowly dying. Dr Rob Jones, Sea Life veterinarian, said the elastic was cutting deeper and deeper into its neck.

The grey nurse shark is listed as a critically endangered species by the NSW Fisheries Management Act 1994. Despite their ferocious appearance, these sharks are placid unless provoked and are often referred to as the ‘labradors of the sea’. These animals are particularly vulnerable due to their late maturation and low breeding success. They reach sexual maturity at approximately eight to 10 years of age and give birth to one or two young only every two years, so the population grows very slowly.

NSW Fisheries, which is part of the NSW Department of Primary Industries, issued a permit to rescue Tangles. But such a permit had not been issued for more than 20 years, which meant no-one had any recent experience of catching a shark in the wild.

New depths

Although everyone has a responsibility to identify and eliminate or control hazards, as the head of health and safety, it was my job to give the health and safety sign-off to catch the shark in open water. My first thought was it would end up like a scene from the film Jaws: people screaming, blood gurgling and limbs missing. This was going to be a unique risk management issue. The importance of managing the risks and limiting exposure to the hazards would be critical during this shark rescue operation. The team’s safety had to remain the priority—Sea Life’s business principles state that safety is its number-one priority.

It wasn’t going to be a simple matter of jumping in a boat, launching it into the sea, catching the shark, removing the elastic, administering antibiotics and releasing the shark to live happily ever after.

Just like most health and safety professionals, my aim is to eliminate the hazards while still being reasonably practicable. However, eliminating the hazards in this operation was impossible —for one thing, the team was going to be diving into shark-infested waters.

Normally when a shark is injured it will stay close to the area it knows. The Magic Point area has two shark ledges teeming with life. This meant there would potentially be about 50 other sharks in the rescue location.

So deciding what was reasonably practicable was a fundamental question that needed to be answered. It needed to be balanced against the degree of harm and likelihood of injury. Importantly, the knowledge and competence of the divers needed to be considered, particularly the divers’ knowledge of shark behaviour.

Significantly, our divers could already tell when a shark or sharks were feeling threatened and/or unsure of a situation and identify the potential for aggressive shark behaviour. Emergency management and preparedness was also a key component in this operation. Although it was a different scenario, I was able to draw on my experience of responding to the earthquakes around the Canterbury region of New Zealand to help develop a plan of action. It was important to ‘prepare for the worst and expect the best’.

Details, details

A team of 11 staff members was assembled to save Tangles.

The team was made up of Sea Life Sydney Aquarium and Manly Sea Life Sanctuary staff members and included a full dive team, Manly Sea Life Sanctuary general manager Ian Wood, veterinarian Dr Rob Jones and marine biologist Craig Thorburn.

The delicate operation needed to ensure shark attack and all other health and safety risks were ironed out before and during the rescue—for the sake of the staff involved and, of course, to ensure the best outcome for Tangles.

Over three weeks the designated team developed and confirmed a plan and produced a detailed risk assessment and hazard management controls (see examples below).

From drawing board to water

On the day of ‘Operation Tangles’ it was sunny, the weather forecast was spot-on and the team was given the green light. The team headed from Manly Cove with the aim of catching the shark. This time there was no Jaws music playing in my head, and the team was confident with the risk and hazard management plans we’d put in place.

The boat dropped anchor and the team completed the reconnaissance dive. The team’s only complication was the depth of the safety platform.

The management plan called for a safety platform to be located at a maximum depth of 10 metres. This was not possible due to sea swell movement.

However, the team located a safety platform at a depth of 16 metres. This was agreed to, on the condition that the team needed to increase the time required for divers to resurface, eliminating potential diving sickness.

Next, the sock (a device for capturing the shark) trial dive was completed successfully. No further adjustments were needed.

The rescue dive could now take place. It turned out to be the shortest of the dives and went without issue.

On the first attempt the team guided Tangles straight into the sock, enabling them to wrap a stretcher around her and bring her to the surface, where Dr Jones cut the cord and injected a course of antibiotics. Tangles was then released back into the water.

Ten weeks later, Tangles was spotted off Magic Point making remarkable progress, her wounds healing well.

Significant risks, hazards and controls

• Weather—before going ahead, the weather forecast and satellite imagery on the day were to be assessed and a visual check of wave height and wind speed was to be made at the dive location.

• Underwater safety platform—a reconnaissance dive was to be completed by two divers to confirm the location of a safe working platform at a maximum depth of 10 metres. Divers were to surface and discuss the situation with the dive team.

• Diver communication—a full-face mask was to be worn by each member of the dive team.

• No mid-water rescue attempt— the rescue was to only take place on the safety platform.

• A maximum of three rescue attempts—otherwise it would increase the risk of the shark becoming aggressive. If any diver felt that after one attempt the shark was already aggressive the rescue was to be postponed.

• Sock trial dive—the dive team was to practise setting the sock for capturing the shark. They were to surface to provide feedback and discuss the rescue procedure. The actual rescue dive was to proceed only if everyone was 100 per cent sure the hazards and risks were at an acceptable level.

• Divers’ knowledge and competence—divers needed aquarium and open-water shark diving experience, appropriate dive qualifications, and to have completed Sea Life’s internal diver training competences.

• Emergency management preparedness—the team needed to be able to respond to the many potential emergency situations.

Download the story in PDF How to Catch a Shark (PDF 1219 kB)

Published in National Safety magazine,  July-August 2014.


11 Jun 2014

Mind Set

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By Helen Borger

If we’re serious about addressing mental health risks at work, we must aim to remove harm at the source and intervene early, not just paint over or massage the symptoms, writes Helen Borger.

A quick online search reveals a plethora of advice and information about choosing the right mood-altering paint colours for office walls and selecting the best beanbags for worksite chill-out spaces. Not to mention the availability of on-site massages to ease employee tension and anxiety.

National Safety Magazine Continue reading or download the full story of Mind Set (PDF, 264kB) here.

Published in National Safety magazine, May-June 2014.



By Denise Cullen

Mental Health may be on many workplace agendas, but whether it is being managed appropriately is questionable.

More than five million Australians participated in last year’s R U OK? Day by holding ‘meaningful conversations … to support those struggling with life’. Other campaigns, such as SANE Australia’s ‘Say no to stigma!’ and beyondblue’s ‘blueVoices’, similarly seek to raise awareness of mental illness.

Hollywood, too, does its bit to portray conditions ranging from depression (Side Effects) to schizophrenia (A Beautiful Mind). Then there are mental health ‘ambassadors’, such as tennis player Pat Cash and actor Garry McDonald, who openly describe the destructive force that mood disorders have had on their lives.

Yet, for all our chatter, people suffering mental illness still dwell in the shadows. It’s generally accepted that one in five Australians experience some form of mental illness each year. But a large-scale SANE Australia study released in November 2013 revealed that almost 50 per cent of workers who had taken time off work because of depression kept the reason hidden from their employer, fearing the loss of their jobs.

“It’s concerning that despite all the good work done to increase awareness about depression, many people still don’t feel it’s OK to talk about their illness,” says SANE Australia CEO Jack Heath.

The Australian Psychological Society’s (APS) ‘Stress and wellbeing in Australia survey 2013’ found that one in seven Australians reported depressive symptoms in the severe to extremely severe range. Another report, released in September 2013 and aptly titled ‘The Elephant in the Boardroom’, noted that 86 per cent of people with mood disorders would rather suffer in silence than discuss their condition with colleagues. Author of the study and director of ICMI Work Health Safety Solutions Graeme Cowan says respondents feared that disclosure would compromise their current projects or future careers: “With 83 per cent of respondents experiencing stigma in some form as a result of their mood disorder, this fear is not without merit,” he adds.

What not to do

Performance-driven work cultures might pay lip service to the maintenance of good mental health, but anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. Often, employers find workers experiencing mental illness tiresome to manage.

Even well-intentioned managers can get it wrong. Horror stories include: a director violating a hospitalised employee’s privacy, because they felt the person’s colleagues ‘had a right to know’; colleagues railing against reasonable adjustments to which workers are entitled under anti-discrimination laws; and supervisors treating mental health problems as performance issues.

Roland Hassall, a partner with Sparke Helmore Lawyers, has seen it all too often. “I’m called in after someone has been terminated, and (the employer) is coming to me to help them mop up,” he says.

Why do such stories still emerge with grim frequency? One reason may be the subtext to the conversations we’re having—that mental illness springs, unbidden, from some mysterious part of the psyche; that we are powerless to prevent its appearance; that ‘it can happen to anyone at any time’. This is only partly true.

It’s recognised that some people are genetically more prone than others to bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, psychotic depression or a host of other conditions. But parallel lines of research are now probing other factors, such as stress levels, job design, high work demands, low levels of perceived control, bullying, incivility and even budget cuts. In other words, certain work environments are predictive of poorer mental health, irrespective of how genetically predisposed —or how resilient—employees are. Simply, some workplaces make people sick.

What’s being managed?

Current mental health management strategies are weighted towards recognising and responding to ‘early warning signs’ in individuals.

For example, an employee might look dishevelled or start isolating themselves from workmates. Having identified such indicators, supervisors or colleagues are urged to talk to the affected person, support him or her in visiting a GP or accessing the organisation’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and, according to R U OK? Day’s four-step process, put a note in their diaries to “call them in one week … (or) if they’re desperate, follow up sooner”.

Such approaches are predicated on a healthy, supportive work culture being in place. But even then, lending a listening ear is necessary but insufficient. Similarly, other techniques, focused on helping employees manage stresses as they arise (‘reframe the problem’, ‘get a massage’, ‘focus on what you can control’), are helpful but inadequate.

There is no doubt that work stress contributes towards ill health—and stress levels are skyrocketing. Working Australians reported significantly lower overall worker wellbeing and job satisfaction in the APS ‘Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey 2013’ compared to previous years. Cowan notes this may be due to organisations needing to do more with less. Combined with long working hours, this “drives stress to harmful levels”, he says.

R U OK? Day research from 2011 found 40 per cent of people were typically “stressed out every day”, while 12 per cent rated their stress as extreme—at eight, nine or 10 on a 10-point scale—while the ‘Konekt Market Report’ from December 2013 found that mental injury cases incurred the highest average rehabilitation service cost, at an average of $1364, compared with other types of injury.

Signs of things to come

Against this backdrop, the prevailing practice of ‘patching damaged workers up and sending them back into the trenches’ seems to make little sense.

An alternative view is the notion that workers with mental illness are, to steal a family therapy term, society’s ‘symptom bearers’.  That is, the way we ‘do’ work is the problem, and the workers who break down are simply the most visible manifestations of a deeply dysfunctional system.

An upcoming Australian paper in the International Journal of Stress Management notes that interventions need to target work stress “at its source, with a view to prevention, rather than focus on individual approaches that are of  dubious long-term benefit”.

Co-author of the paper, the University of South Australia’s professor Maureen Dollard, explores how to ‘prevent circumstances that create mental illness’.  She has developed the concept of a workplace ‘psychosocial safety climate (PSC)’, which flows from the priority that senior managers place on production and profits versus workers’ psychological wellbeing. PSC incorporates a host of factors, including worker control over work timing and methods, opportunities to develop new skills, resource allocation and remuneration.

“It’s all a balancing act,” Dollard explains.  “It considers whether managers are OK about burning out workers and hiring new ones to replace them, for example, or whether there are top management supports for stress prevention … It might be that some control residing at managerial level can be shifted, to enable workers to control more of what goes on in terms of scheduling work, or determining how and where it is done.”

Employees working within organisations that have a strong PSC are likely to have high levels of psychological health and engagement. Equally, Dollard notes, “we see low PSC as the pre-eminent psychosocial risk factor at work, capable of causing psychological and social harm through its influence on other psychosocial risk factors.”

Money talks

Organisations unmoved by the moral imperative to ensure healthy workplaces may nevertheless be sold on the productivity benefits. Cowan says more than 70 per cent of organisational change efforts fail to boost productivity and profitability because workers’ mental stress is overlooked. It is, he adds, important to forestall the potential expenses involved in workers’ compensation claims or recruitment and retraining costs “if the employee decides they are not supported in the workplace and can no longer cope with the demands of the job”.

These might be stand-alone measures, such as offering a physical and mental wellbeing program, as employees with  a positive mood are 31 per cent more productive, sell 37 per cent more and  are 300 per cent more creative, according to a Harvard Business Review report.

Reviewing job design and whether employees are actually in the right roles is also crucial, as employees who use their  top five strengths on a daily basis are 600 per cent more likely to be engaged at work, according to Tom Rath and Barry  Conchie’s Strengths Based Leadership.

The costs of poor mental health on productivity are profound. A 2013 report published by the Sax Institute for the Mental Health Commission of NSW distilled findings from 45 different studies exploring the costs and impacts of mental ill health on the economy and  productivity. It found that mental illness served as a barrier to school completion and employment —for example, Australians with a mental health condition have unemployment rates up to four times higher than healthy others. At an organisational level, high psychological distress increases absenteeism by 1.7 per cent and decreases employee performance at work by 6.1 per cent, resulting in a net productivity loss of 6.7 per cent.

The ‘National Mental Health Report’ (2010) further pegged the nationwide impost, noting that outlays by governments and health insurers on mental health services in 2007–2008 totalled $5.32 billion, representing 7.5 per cent of all government health spending. Professor Allan Fels AO, chair of the National Mental Health Commission, points to the latest (2010) ‘Treasury Intergenerational Report’, which describes productivity as the key to higher economic growth in the face of an ageing population.

“Workforce participation rates by people with mental illness are lower in Australia than the majority of OECD countries,” he explains. Boosting participation rates would likely lift productivity too, suggesting, he says, that “mentally healthy workplaces are good for business”.

National Safety Magazine


Download the story in PDF The Slow Burn, By Denise Cullen (PDF, 348kB)

Published in National Safety magazine,  March-April 2014.



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