Leading Safety in Challenging Times

The Department of Minerals and Petroleum recently released their report on serious injury data in the Western Australian mining industry, seeking to answer the question: what lessons can we learn? Interestingly, the recommendations from the report mirror the recommendations made in the DMP’s 2014 report on fatal accidents in the Western Australian mining industry, and include the need for hazard identification and risk assessment, principal hazard management plans, the involvement of workers in development of safe work systems, training of workers and supervisors, and support/familiarisation for new employees.

These recommendations come against a back drop of negativity for the mining industry, with significant media highlighting the financial challenges, environmental concerns, the impact of FIFO rosters and high levels of redundancies across the sector and around the globe. Surely this must be having an impact on morale, and ultimately on safety in the industry? If we look at the data, it suggests that it does. The Minerals Council of Australia report on fatalities in the minerals sector shows that 2013-14 saw 17 fatalities, comparable to 2008-09 when the sector recorded 18 fatalities. Like today’s climate it was a time of significant financial challenge and redundancies in the industry on the back of the global financial crisis. In the four years between these two periods, there was an average of five fatalities per year in the sector.

There is no doubt, these are challenging times for the mining industry. Organisations are looking to improve efficiencies and reduce costs, the front line are being asked to do more with less, and it’s likely that leaders and teams alike are wondering what the future holds for the sector. The reality is that mining is a cyclical industry, the lows follow the highs, and the highs eventually get their turn again. Sentiment changes and confidence returns. But that is not where we are right now.

When we tease apart the recommendations, what stands out is that we need to find ways of supporting those at the front line to maintain a focus on safety, regardless of what else is going on around them. As leaders, the question is, how can we remove distractions, and ensure that those exposed to risk in our industry, can focus on what is most important right now…the task at hand.

I want you to briefly cast your mind across to the sporting arena. As we approach the business end of the season for our football codes (or get ready for the world cup?), it becomes clear that it’s the teams who can stay focused through each game, and through the season, that have the greatest level of success. To keep the team focused, the players are surrounded by support staff, a range of coaches, physios, psychologists and many more who spend their time keeping the team on track. They spend hours each week, in planning out their approach, finding the gaps in their opposition and devising strategies to get the upper hand. When it comes to keeping our teams focused, I wonder how our investment stacks up.

If the front line supervisors represent the ‘captains’ of our teams: have we invested in them effectively? Have we supported them to develop the capabilities required to keep their team focused, on track, and above all else, safe. The reality is that leadership is a skill that can be learnt and developed, like any other, and it’s a skill that is critical in challenging times like these.

At a senior level, how we model the leadership we want at our front line is equally critical. When you are communicating with your team, are you helping them to stay focused? Are you demonstrating grace under pressure? Are you able to inspire the team and motivate them toward the important goal of safe production, or are you making it harder? Are you acknowledging the brutal facts, while maintaining a belief that the team can succeed?


Director and Principal Consultant

I work with organisations combining psychology, change management and leadership theory to drive cultural changes that achieve substantial improvements in safety, wellbeing, employee engagement and leadership performance.

In addition to leading teams I have experience in leading regional business start-ups, design and implementation of leadership development programs for a multi-billion mining construction project, training and coaching of senior leaders, and consulting projects that have delivered significant reductions in lost time and recordable injury rates. I have also worked with organisations to enhance their business wide communications around safety and wellbeing, and have facilitated team development, conflict management and team alignment workshops, to enhance team functioning and performance.

I have provided coaching to leaders and employees at all levels of an organisation, assisting with leadership development, employee engagement and performance management, as well as providing organisational and individual assessments on a range of organisational dimensions.

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