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More than ever, integrating ‘people’ in all aspects of health and safety is important

Safety workers
24 October 2022

We don’t go to work independently of our internal thought processes, and these internal, (sometimes unconscious) thoughts impact how work is perceived, performed and experienced.

Workplaces that put people in the centre of their safety strategy recognise today’s very challenging world socio-political-environmental context and design safety programs to support physical and psychological wellbeing. Such workplaces have a goal of helping people go home in a better condition than they arrived.

An example of increasing worker expectations from employers is the recent finding that more than one third of employees look to their employer as the main source of mental health support.[1]

Workplace health and safety has evolved from systems that protect the physicality of people to programs looking after the whole person. At one level, safety has legislative requirements that organisations must comply with. But less obvious, and just as important, when we design systems and communications for safety in the work environment is that we are employing individually-minded humans. That’s our colleagues, managers and everyone we interact with at work.

This approach to health and safety has shifted to recognise that we are whole people with fluctuating approaches to risk management. In addition, our life experience impacts how we engage with our working world.

Today, investing in workplace safety emphasises support for the psychosocial mental health and wellbeing and psychological safety of people.

Recognising worker’s personal outlooks

Tanya Pelja, Executive Director HSEQ – APAC explains that good safety practitioners consider the whole person in the workplace as well as the context in which work is performed. “As an example, end of year is a time of celebrations and gatherings, but it can also be a season where we see increased Employee Assistance Program usage where anxiety, loneliness, and stress are prevalent,” says Tanya.

The end of year means some people are looking forward to time with family and friends and enjoying a beverage with their peers. For others, social interactions can be unwelcome. Time with family may be non-existent or a reluctant interaction, and exposure to increased alcohol and financial spending can be stress factors.

“A few months ago, BGIS promoted financial wellbeing month. AMP research reported that in 2022 almost a million Australian workers are severely financially distressed[2]. Most people don’t think of that in terms of health and safety, however this is a great example of the psychological thoughts and context many workers bring with them to work, and it’s one of our programs that had the most uptake.

The psychosocial risk factors in an organisation and the relevant risk controls are considered in progressive organisations to ensure the safety of the whole person and to lower risks related to these as low as reasonably practicable.”

Safer Together: Everyone has a role

At BGIS, our focus is safety beyond compliance. Our ‘Safer Together’ brand underpins how we approach safety.

‘Safer Together’ considers all people within the organisation, including our directors, the senior leadership team, visitors to our workplace and the public who may interact with us when we’re out and about.

BGIS invests in industry leading safety practitioners who are either embedded into BGIS client accounts or sit within an organisational corporate framework. Tanya leads our health, safety, environment and quality (HSEQ) team. The HSEQ team oversee the development, implementation and continuous improvement of related systems for our safety culture to thrive into a spectrum that transcends ‘the rules’. Many of the psychological and psychosocial risk mitigation work gains great traction when the team collaborates closely and enthusiastically with the People and Culture directorate.

The HSEQ team is dedicated to consulting with workers who are key contributors to the safety systems at work. Workers are the key to understanding work being completed and systems of work. Consultation helps bridge the gap between how people think work is undertaken and how the work is actually undertaken.

“At BGIS our dedicated leadership conducts safety walks and talks, exercising due diligence and confirming that what they think is happening, is actually happening in the workplace. Importantly we have also created a safe space for workers to let us know if systems are not suitable or to stop work if conditions are too hazardous to progress safely.”

Safety obstacles

As with any strategy, there are challenges. Tanya says that organisational honesty in assessment of risk factors and meaningful communication are key driving factors of a successful health and safety strategy. Further, safety practitioners need to move beyond relying on resilience programs and really consider the organisational risk factors and work to reduce the risk of those hazards.

“BGIS is a large organisation that delivers work in a variety of ways. We have technicians embedded on accounts and roaming technicians who visit different workplaces and spend a lot of time on the road. We have account teams working closely with clients and the client systems of work, and project teams that work across a variety of sites.

‘To put people at the heart of what we do, we need to ensure all of those people in all of those environments have perceive that the health and safety systems ensure their physical and mental wellbeing.”

Doing safety differently

BGIS has taken a proactive approach to making safety accessible to everyone, led by a CEO who is passionate about health and safety. Fulfilment of physical, mental, social and cognitive needs and expectations of a worker related to their work have the following benefits:

  • Improved engagement
  • Enhanced productivity
  • Increased innovation
  • Organisational stability

Fulfilment of the above also reduces the risk of:

  • Absence from work
  • Turnover
  • Reduced product/service quality
  • Workplace investigations and litigation
  • Damage to the organisation’s reputation

At BGIS, we structure our health and wellbeing programs into pillars of Physical, Mental and Social. The Social pertains to community and connection.

To build what Tanya describes as a ‘culture of care’, our offerings include: Employee wellbeing and benefits that cover health and wellness, financial wellbeing, flexibility, family and community support, Mental Health First Aider program, free expert medical advice, regular wellbeing check ins, Operational and Executive health and safety steering committees, safety walks, free meditation apps and free psychologist visits.

Putting workers at the heart of safety programs spells new opportunities to really bring psychological safety and mitigation of psychosocial risk factors to the forefront.

Our Take 5 program is one example. It’s launching this month to encourage people to take five minutes, look at the work they’re doing, and then ask: do I have the right risk controls in place? Is what I planned actually what’s happening today?

We have a journey ahead. As part of our growth, we are introducing new and meaningful lead indicators to our existing suite of lead indicators. We’re also bolstering our systems to ensure they are fit for purpose, and decluttering our Safety Management System to distil communications even further.

Engaging with all people in the lifecycle of the health and safety process increases operational performance, and helps establish a culture of care where we connect the hearts and minds of all our people.

[1] Atlassian, Return on Action Report: the Rising Responsibility of Business, 2021

[2] AMP Financial Wellness, ‘Easing the Pressure: The AMP 2022 Financial Wellness Report’. https://www.amp.com.au/content/dam/amp-au/documents/financial-hub/Financial-Wellness-2022.pdf

<strong>Tanya Pelja</strong>Executive Director, HSEQ, Asia Pacific