Entry into Comcare’s offices is restricted due to COVID-19. Ongoing lockdowns may result in service delays. Be assured that we are still working and available to assist you. We appreciate your understanding and apologise for any inconvenience. Find out how you can contact us during this time.

Use space to open navigation items

Comcare webinar - COVID-19, safety systems and safety culture video transcript

Video transcript of COVID-19, safety systems and safety culture presented on 28 October 2020.

Watch the video of the Comcare webinar.


Master of Ceremonies (MC):

I'd like to acknowledge the land on which we're all virtually meeting, traditional custodians of those lands, the elders, past, present and emerging, and to anyone in our audience with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage. So for some introductions and welcome. As I said, my name's Andrew Crane and I'm part of Comcare's education and engagement team and I'll be your host for today's webinar.

This webinar is part of Comcare Safe Work Month activities and events, and connects to this year's theme, work health and safety through COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic has put many organisations in their ability to rapidly respond and manage emergent health and safety risks to the test.

Today, we'll be discussing safety culture, safety systems and some of the lessons that have been learned during COVID-19 pandemic that can better prepare us for the next emerging health and safety challenge or risk that we're faced with.

Safety management systems are a regulatory priority for Comcare because we know that systematic and proactive management of workplace safety hazards and their associated risks is more effective than using an ad hoc approach that only addresses issues as they arise.

Comcare's audit findings show that some organisations within the scheme can struggle with the development and implementation of the safety systems, which in turn impacts the organisation safety culture. I should point out that during this webinar, when we talk about scheme and jurisdiction, we're talking about the Comcare scheme and jurisdiction.

So any data, anecdotes or guidance material that's referred to relates to the Comcare scheme.
I know many of you joining us today fall within the Comcare scheme, but there are also many of you joining today who are covered by other work health safety regulators in your state and territory.

So please be sure to always refer to the work health and safety regulator relevant to your workplace in the first instance for the most appropriate guidance advice and data. That said, questions and issues around safety systems and safety culture are wrestled with by people across most jurisdictions. What's more important? Which comes first. Is it the chicken or the egg?

Safety systems or safety culture? Hopefully, whatever jurisdiction you're in, you'll get something out of today's session to keep the conversation live about work health and safety in your workplace. So today, we're joined by Bev Smith, who's the director of regulatory operations in New South Wales.

She has qualifications in physiotherapy, law and work health and safety and extensive experience across the fields of workplace rehabilitation, regulatory practice and work health and safety. We also have Colin McNab, who's the assistant director in Comcare's national operations group.

Colin is a tertiary qualified work health and safety professional with over 22 years' experience in senior work health and safety levels and has had extensive experience in auditing work health safety management systems in many organisations across a range of industries.

Bev's going to start us off with a bit of discussion about COVID-19 and safety culture followed by Colin, who will outline some important elements of safety systems. And then we'll have some time for questions that you've put through the registration in the webinar Q&A. So to get us going, some discussion about safety culture, welcome, Bev Smith.

Bev Smith:
Thanks, Andrew. Today, Colin and l will be providing regulator insight on safety culture and safety management systems and how they perform in the context of the current COVID 19 pandemic from the perspective of the regulator. Comcare regulates work health and safety under the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act.

Our jurisdiction covers Commonwealth partners and authorities and some large private sector organisations in the fields of transport, telecommunications, banking and construction. So any data or insight offered during this presentation falls comes from that jurisdiction only. So why are we covering both culture and systems in this presentation?

It is because they're interdependent on each other to be effective and sustainable. It's vital that we acknowledge and remember that safety systems are all about people. They not only need to be developed with your workers in mind at a conceptual level, but at a practical and cultural level too because, of course, it's your people, your workers, and the way they actually work, not the way we imagine them to, who we need to work with and implement any safety system.

So if workplace safety is not seen as a priority and other factors are perceived as more important, your safety system may not be used as intended. There is ample research evidence from high-risk industries such as the nuclear sector, which shows that when your work health and safety management strategies are introduced and they fail to result in improved work health and safety performance, it is often because the strategies did not include safety culture as a key element in their design, planning and implementation.

Conversely, there is also body evidence from organisational psychology that if you want to change or build culture, you can do this by changing formal parts of the organisation such as systems and processes. If these structural changes are implemented well, over time, they will support and reinforce the behaviours you wish to see as well as challenging pre-existing values and beliefs.

A good example is seatbelts. During the 1970s, Australia made it mandatory to wear seatbelts. Until then, a lot of people didn't use their seatbelts and there was resistance to the requirement, 'Buckle up.' The required change in behaviour was consistently reinforced with fines. And over time, the wearing of the seatbelt became a ritual.

We now get into the car and automatically buckle up without thinking about it. So this system has driven a behavioural change, but also over the longer term, it has driven a change in our values and beliefs. I know that if I get into a vehicle now, I don't feel safe unless I'm actually wearing a seatbelt. So my values have actually changed and aligned with the enforced practice.

It will be interesting to see if the push to mask up at the moment results in the same change as the push to buckle up. So having established that our systems and the culture are equally important, I will be speaking about safety culture and Colin will be speaking about work health and safety management systems and the lessons learned from COVID.

So the term safety culture was coined in the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 to describe how the mindsets and behaviours of people in the organisation who handled safety in the Chernobyl plant contributed to the accident. The underlying cause was a group of organisational and management factors they termed safety culture.

There are now multiple definitions of safety culture. I like the following one from the Health and Safety Executive in the UK. The safety culture of an organisation is a product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to and the style and proficiency of an organisation's health and safety management.

To put it simply, safety culture can be characterised as the way we do safety around here. While there are a lot of definitions of safety culture, it is generally agreed that safety culture has four layers, which can be described using an iceberg analogy. The first layer on the slide, behaviour and symbols, incorporates the safety-related actions and behaviours of employees.

This is not just about compliance with procedures. It is also about safety communication, learning from safety incidents and management commitment to safety, what priority safety is afforded and what resources are assigned. It is also the symbols of safety you can see in the workplace, so the posters and the messaging we see around the place.

Behaviour and symbols are the observable aspects of safety culture, but they only form the tip of the safety culture iceberg and therefore, they can be misleading if they're the only source of information you have about safety culture. We now go below the surface to the organisation's management systems.

Work health and safety management systems describe how safety is meant to be and how safety is put in place. They're generally seen through standards, policies, rules and procedures. The further we go down the iceberg, we get to safety climate, which is the shared perceptions of safety.

The meaning workers give to policies and practices from the behaviours they observe getting supported and rewarded on a daily basis. So a common question is what is the difference between climate and culture? Cox and Flin 1998 described culture as a personality, climate can be described as the mood. One's mood can change more quickly whereas a personality takes time to grow.

So you try and shape the culture over time by changing the climate just as you can change a personality over time by changing mood. The deepest layer of the safety culture iceberg is values and beliefs. These are the very deep assumptions about what the organisation cares about and why things are done in certain ways.

Depending on how aligned individual employees are around these values and beliefs determines how strong and consistent or enduring the safety culture is. The more aligned, the stronger the culture…

So what are the benefits of an effective safety culture? A culture of safety at work can be considered as a means of prevention.  Instilling this mindset to workers and management can help minimise unsafe practices and potential health and safety hazards. Also, as we have discussed, a work health and safety management system would not work as effectively without a safety culture. Safety systems are implemented by people.

A culture of safety, in my view, is particularly important when managing risks associated with biological hazards such as COVID-19. This is because these risks aren't visible. Workers can't see them. And we are relying on lower-order controls such as social distancing and PPE to prevent infection.

Workers are more likely to comply with those safety procedures if there's shared understanding of the risk and commitment to safety. And if there's a gap in the procedures where they don't have a specific guidance, workers will be more inclined to err on the side of safety if there's a positive safety culture. There's also a growing body evidence across a range of different industries that safety climate can impact outcomes related to safety and productivity.

Now, if we think about it, it makes sense. The perceptions people have about safety, whether they think management are committed to safety and whether they see safety as a priority will influence the way an individual worker behaves; whether they speak up about safety, whether they behave in a safe way, whether they follow the rules, wear their protective equipment and whether they report incidents.

So that in turn will lead to outcomes that are positive for that individual as well as the whole workplace. Broader than safety culture, there is also a wide and deep body of research and evidence linking organisational culture, to which safety culture is a subculture, to organisational performance and productivity. So what are the characteristics of a safety culture?

What does it look like? There is a broad consensus that the following characteristics are important; commitment of the organisation, particularly senior management to the achievement of high standards of safety and the demonstration of this commitment through communications, consistent decision-making, reward and approval systems, allocation of resources, training, a caring management attitude.

The second characteristic is an effective process of communication between all parts of the organisation. And this must be based on trust, openness and mutual respect, where managers and workers are encouraged and freely share critical safety information. The third factor is communication and maintenance of a shared view of risks and standards of acceptable behaviour.

So individuals at all levels of the organisation need to have the same perceptions and judgment about serious risks as those perceptions will affect their risk behaviour and what decisions they make in regard to safety. The fourth factor is being open-minded and learning from experience.

An organisation must possess the willingness and the confidence to draw the right conclusions from a safety information system and it has to have the will to implement the reform.

The fifth factor is ownership and acceptance of the need for health and safety controls. In a positive culture, this typically requires a participative approach to the development of those controls and a cooperative and non-confrontational approach to securing adherence to the great procedures and practices. And the last characteristic is shared expectations about performance standards.

This means a clear definition and communication of the organisation's expectations concerning the standard of safety to be achieved with each individual, both management and staff, accepting their personal role in contribution in meeting those expectations. This requires a clear line to be drawn between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

It is generally agreed that to develop a strong safety culture, that it is a bad idea to punish all errors and unsafe acts regardless of the circumstances. For example, sacking a worker after a safety incident because they missed a step in the process. This does not get to the cause of the mistake and will actually encourage the hiding of mistakes, the fear of punishment or reprisals.

The error could have been due to many organisational factors that make the employee's actions understandable in the circumstances. For example, unreasonable time pressures, lack of training, poor supervision or conflicting priorities.

A focus on understanding the problem and the systemic causes rather than targeting the individual has been described as a just culture and underpins a strong safety culture where individuals are prepared to identify and raise safety issues rather than hide or avoid them. So what does the management of risks associated with COVID-19 tell us about safety culture?

So since the 9th of March, Comcare has had 87 concerns lodged with us regarding the management of COVID-19 risk in workplaces within our jurisdiction. The number of concerns that have been lodged actually outnumbers the number of incident notifications regarding potential exposure from an infected worker.

So while there's been 87 concerns lodged, the reality was when we went out to inspect those concerns, we found that the organisations were generally managing the risk in accordance with the relevant department of health advice. So what led to this lack of confidence in the efficacy of the control measures? And what does that tell us about culture? Okay.

So this slide sets out the general characteristics of safety culture discussed previously and links them to inspection findings related to the COVID concerns raised with Comcare to try and identify opportunities for improvement in safety culture. I'll just speak to a few of our key findings. So if you recall, a key characteristic of safety culture is a demonstrated commitment to safety.

While we did not find any evidence that organisations had failed to implement COVID 19 controls at an organisational level, we did identify a number of opportunities to improve the supervision and enforce the social distancing rules at the local site level, in other words there was an opportunity to improve the local safety leadership.

The next characteristic I wish to discuss is communication, remember, founded in mutual trust. Organisations reviewed had some form of mechanism in place to keep the majority of workers informed about the management with COVID-19 risks at the workplace. This was generally in the form of internet posts, emails, through blogs, books and through consultative mechanisms in the health and safety representatives.

However, despite these communications, there was a perception amongst some workers again at the site level that organisations had not been keeping all workers fully informed of the steps taken to manage COVID-19. So this indicates a trust issue in those organisations. Also, having a culture where workers feel comfortable and confident in being able to report COVID-19 related hazards or concerns is key.

However, workers must see and believe that the concerns they raise are being taken seriously and responded to. There was a perception by some workers that the concerns that have been raised about COVID-19 had been ignored. On inspection, there was no evidence that organisations were discouraging workers from reporting COVID-19-related hazards.

However, some of the complainants genuinely felt they're being ignored and not taken seriously by some members of the local site management. This, again, points to a trust issue. Another key characteristic of a safety culture is a shared view of risks. In some of the organisations inspected, work health and safety managers and teams were not directly engaged in developing or assisting the management of the COVID-19 response.

In those organisations, the work health and safety risks were generally less well managed and the consultation about risk with other organisations which they share duties and workers was less comprehensive. The final characteristic I want to comment on is ownership and acceptance for the need for controls.

For a strong safety culture, workers need to see, believe and witness COVID controls being implemented equally in the workplace. And where they're not being applied or followed, management need to ensure these controls aren't false. The majority of complaints inspected included concerns about COVID-19 rules, particularly social distancing and enhanced cleaning not being fully implemented or complied within their workplace.

Again, this points to an issue with safety leadership, particularly at the local level. So our inspections show there is an opportunity to improve safety culture across the jurisdiction. The next question is how do we do this? So the first step is to measure your culture to get an understanding of where you need to focus.

And the slide there has the general tools that you may use to measure each layer; so the organisational factors, observation, etc. Behaviours can include questionnaires as well. And then when we get to the psychological factors, safety climate, we're looking at surveys, questionnaires and interviews. Another approach is to use the safety culture maturity model.

So since 2014, safety culture maturity models have increased in popularity as a means of diagnosing safety culture. Research to date has not been able to draw any firm conclusions about the reliability and validity of using maturity models. But there has been some mining studies that link low incident rates with the safety culture maturity.

Safety culture maturity assessment however is really about providing structured approach for organisations to understand how mature their systems are and how to develop the plan to keep improving their safety efforts and continue their cultural journey. The most effective way to do this is to put in place processes and practices that will move you one stage at a time.

You may be familiar with the Patrick Hudson model that is on the slide right now. A more approachable version developed by a team from Monash University uses three steps. According to Professor Helen De Cieri Stage one, I have to, is the beginning stage where safety is probably not a strong cultural value and driven mainly by some external nature to it such as avoiding a fine or complying with the contractual obligation.

Stage two, I want to, is more effective for safety performance because it's now a priority. The focus at this stage is embedding a value for safety and formalising it through safety systems. Stage three, it's normal. It's the most effective level of maturity for safety and means that safety and production are integrated. Safety simply becomes a natural way of doing business.

Like when you get in the car, you put on a seatbelt without thinking about it. So if we want to improve our safety culture, what are key drivers? Research showed that there are three key drivers of safety culture; management systems, organisational structure and safety leadership.

So in terms of management systems and organisational structure, the Australian Institute of Health and Safety has argued that rather than trying to change something as nebulous as safety culture, the focus should shift to changing the organisational or the management practices that have an immediate and direct impact on workplace safety.

Professor Andrew Hopkins, who I'm sure you've all heard about, argues that organisational practices are the culture, what we collectively do around here. So what these views do is emphasise the importance of the safety management system in directing organisational practices that will in turn influence worker behaviour, safety climate and ultimately, safety culture.

In terms of safety leadership as another key driver, research shows that safety leadership enhances the safety culture and improves safety behaviour. Key groups and individuals can therefore play a big role in establishing a safety culture and sustaining it.

So these should include the CEO, your senior management and leadership at all levels, your health and safety representatives are particularly important, and of course, the workers themselves. Our recent inspections of COVID-19 concerns would indicate that it is particularly important to give attention to supervisors and middle-level managers at the local level, helping them to have skills and training and knowledge they need.

So they've got the capacity to support the site practices and behaviours, and they're not going to be undermined by the pressure of deadlines or workloads. You should note that the arrows go both ways in this model and that's because as we've alluded to previously, a strong safety culture will lead to improved effectiveness of your safety systems, strategies and safety leadership.

So ultimately, you end up in a continuous loop of improvement in safety outcomes. So I'll finish with some key takeaways. Firstly, having a positive safety culture is particularly important in managing biological risks such as COVID-19, where risks are invisible and their management at the frontline often relies on low order controls.

Secondly, inspections indicate that there are opportunities to drive improvement in safety culture, particularly through improved communication, trust, safety leadership at the site level. Lastly, the importance of the safety management system in driving safety culture and vice versa. On that point, I'll hand over to Colin who will be speaking about safety systems in much more detail. Thank you.

Colin McNab:
Thanks, Bev, and good morning, everyone. While Bev spoke about safety culture, I will take you through some of the key elements of the safety system and ways to use a systems approach and response to COVID-19. In this presentation, the WHS site uses the term PCBU or person conducting a business or undertaking. When I say this, I mean employer.

As a minimum, all PCBUs must comply with or exceed WHS legislation. How this is achieved is up to the individual PCBU. All persons that are PCBU are also required to comply with due diligence responsibilities under the act. A systems approach can help with those responsibilities. The systems being described today has five elements; policy, planning, implementation, measurement and review.

Or it can be looked at as a policy, plan, do, check, act process, which is a continuous improvement cycle. So what constitutes an effective WHSMS? It's not simply the existence of policies, processes or forms, but the way they are developed and implemented in consultation with workers.

An effective WHS management system needs to be an evolving and continuously improving process that uses feedback to manage and improve safety-related outcomes. It builds upon existing WHS processes, demonstrates due diligence, provides for more informed decision-making, strengthens the corporate culture and integrates with other management systems.

Business continuity management, our colleagues at Comcare have developed this particular business continuity management model. You'll see along the bottom of the pyramid, it covers areas such as business recovery procedures, ICT disaster recovery plans, and of course, pandemic plans. The organisation will also have an enterprise risk management plan and this will also have an aligned item covered in WHS.

The integration of the WHS management system with other business processes such as the business continuity and enterprise risk strengthens the continuous improvement. So let's revisit the structure of the system. We talked about policy, planning, implementation, measurement and review. These five elements are broken down into 21 sub-elements.

These in turn are broken down into 108 criteria of the national audit tool. The following slides look at some of the problem areas identified by Comcare's inspector when managing COVID-19. Using a musical analogy, the 21 sub-elements we talked about can be thought of as individual keys that must be pressed in unison to make musical codes.

In the following slides, we will look at a code made up of legal, training, consultation, communication, hazard ID, risk assessment and control and records management. First of all, let's look at the risk management process. It has four steps; the identification of hazards, assessment of risks, the control of risks using the hierarchy of controls and the review of those control measures. A systems approach to COVID-19 still requires a risk based approach. What are the hazards?

Where can you find reliable information about those hazards? How do you communicate the risks? How do to develop controls in accordance with the hierarchy of controls? How do you ensure that the agreed controls are in place are effective? What are the unintended hazards created from the change in what practices, such as psychosocial or ergonomics when working in the home environment?

Comcare's inspectors have identified witnesses in the management of shared duty holders. Any COVID response will involve shared duty holders, such as landlords, co-tenants, cleaners or security staff, and PCBU use need to identify all shared duty holders and undertake effective communication, consultation, and coordination with them. They must identify and manage the risks that other PCBU use may introduce them to the workplace. Identify and manage workplace access and egress, such as the elevators and rented buildings and the number of people permitted to use them.

Identify and assure that contracted services are provided to the necessary standard, such as a cleaning process meeting specified guidelines. Tell me address consultation and communication. With regard to consultation, when developing policy and procedures for the management of COVID-19, it is important that all stakeholders are consulted. Consultation with health and safety reps and other workplace representatives must be undertaken, and communicating to workers on how the PCBU is protecting their health, and the health of the community should also be undertaken.

Along with social distancing and good hygiene, personal protective equipment plays an important part of protecting workers and the community. But to be effective, the PPE must be fit for purpose. In this example SafeWork New South Wales issued a safety alert on the 5th of May, 2020, on the subject of fake face masks. In Australia, disposable respirators and filters are classified and mapped as P1, P2 or P3 in accordance with Australian standards. Does your PPE meet the standards?

What is your purchasing policy or procedure? When purchasing, always source PPE from reputable suppliers. The CSIRO has developed a mask testing lab and manufacturers that pass the test, will meet both Australian and international standards and can be placed on the Australian register for therapeutic goods. By way of example, this photograph was taken at the chemist in Central Canberra. The green banner reads, 'Masks Australian tested and TGA registered.'

When purchasing PPE, when considering PPE, you must know what the legal responsibilities are. When purchasing PPE, you must specify exactly what you require, and when it's delivered the PCBU must verify that what was received meets the PCBU requirements. Don't fall into the trap of issuing inferior personal protective equipment. When issuing PPE, you have to take into consideration that this applies more to just face masks and COVID. This applies to other PPE that has been identified through your risk management processes.

By supplying PPE, the workers must know why they have to wear it, when to use it and how to correctly use, store and maintain and dispose of it. Records must be kept of all training instructions given to workers on the above, and adequate supervision must be applied to ensure that policy is adhered to. Comcare has developed some materials through the system that helps workers and learners with the use of face masks. We have developed an online tutorial known as a micro-learn, which takes you through the WHS obligations relating to the rating of masks and guidance on how to use them, and also principal posters are also available on how to safely wear a face covering.

Learnings from the bushfires. While significant, COVID-19 is just one hazard. Many organisations experienced the devastating bushfires earlier this year. From the bushfires, there was an opportunity to learn and plan. Organisations who learnt from the experience, were more prepared to handle the COVID challenges through practice emergency procedures, covering large-scale deployments of emergency medical and military services, the extensive use of PPE, travel restrictions and the management of vulnerable workers amongst other things.

If your organisation is considering the development of the safety management system, there are a number of tools available. There is a link in the QA bar, which takes you to the Comcare website. Links will also be available under the recording of the session. Be prepared for the next hazard, through the implementation of systems approach. Your workers rely on you making the right decisions in a timely manner. Don't go around in circles and don't let things slip through the cracks. Thank you.

Master of Ceremonies (MC):
Thanks Bev. Thanks Colin for such interesting and informative presentations. Bev, it seems at one level culture is quite simple, particularly when described as just the way we do things around here. A bit like air or water, it permeates everything and we can see the effects of it pretty easily. But when you really try to grasp the whole of exactly what it is, it becomes a bit more complicated and it's not quite so easy to grab a hold off directly. But as you mentioned that, it's leadership messaging, leadership behaviours, organisational structures, and systems that help direct the flow of like water or air, the culture to encourage the development of a desired culture that emphasises health and safety.

Colin, you discussed safety systems, which are more tangible, and they can be assessed against validated tools or standards. However, there's no one size fits all, with each system needing to be shaped or fit into the particular organisation. I really liked the music metaphor that you used Colin with the elements of the system, like the individual notes that might be played together to make a harmonious chord. Now, we've got some time to have a bit of discussion, and answer some of the questions that our audiences submitted today and through the registration process.

The first one I'll throw to you, Colin which is, people often are asking why can't Comcare tell me exactly what I need to do for my system.

Colin McNab:
Yes. We hear that question quite often during audits. The answer is that, you know your business better than we do. We can certainly provide frameworks to allow you to build a system based on standards. But you know your organisation, you know what the risks are, you know the culture within your organisation. It's really up to you to build the system from the ground up.

Master of Ceremonies (MC):
That makes sense. That does make sense. I'll give one to you Bev, which is somebody asked about influencing safety culture, where they don't have managerial powers. How can somebody without managerial powers influence the safety culture of a workplace?

Bev Smith:
Well, I suppose in my presentation, what I was trying to get across is that, safety leadership is fundamental to building a culture, and safety leadership is at all levels of the organisation. Everybody has an opportunity to influence safety culture and safety behaviour in their local work group. I think for an effective safety culture, it is the importance of all to do that. If it's not being driven from above, that's obviously very problematic in building and sustaining a safety culture. That's why the work health and safety act has due diligence obligations in it, because it recognises the importance of senior leadership in driving safety systems and safety cultures.

But the safety, the work health and safety legislation also has worker duties. Those worker duties also envisage the importance and responsibility of workers driving safety systems and safety cultures. It's not an excuse and you can influence it at your local level. In fact, the issues that we saw in COVID were actually at that local site level. Workers should be expecting their leaders at the local level to be accountable for leading good safety practices.

Master of Ceremonies (MC):
Great. Thanks Bev. I guess, you have your formal leaders, but also informal leaders and safety champions there as well, that can really make a difference. Another one for you Colin, we've got a question around, are we compelled to implement a system, and are we required to do audits, ran due diligence, consultation, managing risks, legislative underpinning for work health safety management systems?

Colin McNab:
I suppose the basic answer for that one is that, there is no legislative requirement to implement a system. But as I mentioned at the beginning of the presentation, the due diligence requirement for offices under Section 27 of the act, the system will allow you to demonstrate that you're actually meeting those processes. That's the main underpinning of that. With regards to the audits, again, there is no requirement to actually go out and do audits, but you really need to know what's actually happening in your workplace.

The audits are the really only, unless it's legislative required, audits are the only way that you're going to get a true understanding of how your systems actually operate, in all the way you manage safety is operating. Again, audits will be a due diligence outcome as part of that process.

Master of Ceremonies (MC):
Great. Thanks Colin. I guess you could use any of those validated tools and either do it as an internal audit, or an external audit with a consultant or with your regulator?

Colin McNab:
That's correct.

Master of Ceremonies (MC):
Bev, look I know it's a really positive comment in there, many thanks Bev. Even with a good organisational safety culture, how do you deal with safety fatigue as COVID, safety systems can feel repetitive and mute in environments where there are no current active cases? How do you keep that mindfulness around health and safety?

Bev Smith:
That's where you safety leadership is critical. Also you need to make sure that you've got that shared section of risk. In a good safety culture, remember we discussed that everybody has the same shared perception of risk. You need to keep that risk... Particularly with invisible risks, you need to keep that risk perception alive. I can't emphasise the importance of your leaders, so your supervisors, your managers, your senior leaders actually continuing to drive the importance of the controls that are in place, reinforcing those, pulling people up when they're not doing them, rewarding those behaviours that are complying with those controls and showing that commitment, that's probably going to be pivotal in dealing with any safety fatigue. That really gets down to leadership at all of the organisation.

Master of Ceremonies (MC):
Great. Another really positive one here. Thanks for the presentation and asking, interesting to consider the effectiveness of safety management system consultation, where there's a low maturity safety culture. The question is around, would creating a positive safety culture first improve the safety management system development do you think? Maybe I'll throw that to both of you, but start with Colin since you've just been on the hot seat, Bev.

Colin McNab:
Okay, so safety, yes. I think part of the education of a good safety culture when we do the audits of federal employers, as you can tell due to the senior management commitment, senior officers are actually at the opening meetings of audits, and take a keen interest throughout the whole process. I think there's three factors that build a good safety system and a good safety culture, is the senior management commitment, a direction to tick a path of a system so everybody knows where they're going and when they're going to get there.

Also professional WHS managers or practitioners on the ground, those are the three things that we've identified that are success factors in a good safety culture in good system organisations.

Master of Ceremonies (MC):
Bev, did you have any thoughts?

Bev Smith:
Look, I would agree with Colin. I know from my own experience in terms of work health and safety, where I've had to implement a work health and safety management system from scratch in a large organisation, that having the support of the key leadership was absolutely critical because right from the outset, you need to have resources to do it too. You can't pull these things out of thin air. You need to have that commitment there to provide that resourcing and to drive the messaging about how important this is, because when you're building a safety system, it has to be done in consultation with the business, because ultimately a mature system needs to integrate into the business and be seamless.

To get that engagement in the building of the safety system really requires your key senior leadership. But then what happens is that as you build that strong safety culture, your system gets, it will be used more effectively, just at the basic level in terms of incident reporting. You can have the best incident reporting system, but unless people have the confidence and the trust in the organisation to report those incidents, particularly dangerous incidents where there hasn't been any injury, which are really good early indicators of where you've got problems there, then they're not going to use your system.

I think Colin's findings, I would agree with, from my own experiences of implementing safety system. It's really your key leadership support right at the outset is absolutely critical.

Master of Ceremonies (MC):
Yes, thanks. I'm sure I've heard possibly yourself and others talk about many examples, where organisations can have great systems that have been developed by a really good work health, safety practitioner. But if there isn't the safety culture and the leadership drive to support it, it just sits on the shelf, and basically it does nothing because people don't get in and start using it. I think, is it Kotter's model of change that they need to have that real guiding vision that's being driven through the organisation that says, 'This is important, and we're going to make a change, beta safety system already other organisational change.'

I got a question here around, is it possible to measure the hidden layers, safety, climate, values and beliefs? What are some of the ways that workplaces can consult and communicate with workers at a time ... I'm sorry there's questions, I'm asking two at once. The first question was for Bev around, can you measure some of those hidden layers, safety, climate, values and beliefs? Is there a tool or something that you could use?

Bev Smith:
There's many tools out there. What you need to do is work through what would suit your organisation, and where your culture is at the moment. There's tools out there, so the psychosocial climate tools, surveys, there's early indicators, there's tools to help you with early indicators of what culture you're developing and what the impact would be. There are many tools out there. I can't prescribe which ones are best for your organisation, but if you pop on to say Comcare's website we've been supporting some research into two particular tools that would assist you measure your psychosocial climate.

There are other tools out there that have been researched and validated that you could use.

Master of Ceremonies (MC): Great. Thanks Bev. Yes, that's Comcare has been involved in a lead indicators project, which is involving that people at work, psychosocial climate tool. Now Colin, we've had a few questions come in around the standards around 45001, and one question is around what's Comcare's position? Another question was around, do we have to change our system from one standard to another? Does Comcare have a position on this?

Colin McNab:
In essence organisations, the introduction of systems maybe driven by departmental policy or organisational policy, based on requirements to have a set defined system. If you have a certified system that's certified to 4801, there may be a requirement for you to then transfer across to 45001 at some stage to meet those requirements. But from the federal employers point of view, you are basically free to use whatever system meets your organisation's requirements. We at Comcare use the national audit tool to test the systems, which is based on 4801, the five elements that I talked about with the 21 sub-elements.

There is talk about looking at the national audit tool through the heads of workers' compensation authorities, to bring it up to the 45001 requirements. There is a working group that has been developed by HWCA, to look at the existing national audit tool and align it with 45001. I suppose the short answer is, federal employers can use whichever standard will meet their requirements, and also the business requirements as well. If you need it to get contracts or whatever, then that's city would be driven to use probably 45001.

Master of Ceremonies (MC):
Great. Thanks, Colin. I had another question come in around, what's the impact on safety culture of the unwritten ground rules that exist in organisations? Can you comment on the relationship between culture and the unwritten ground rules? Are these maybe the same thing, Bev?

Bev Smith:
Yes. I think from what I can see from the question, I think they are the same thing. Because when we talk about that's, when you talking about values and beliefs, so that's a very ingrained part in terms of what people really believe, what they really believe about safety and what they believe the organisation thinks, say how they should behave around safety and they're not written, and they're not obvious. They're at the deepest level of that iceberg and that is the hardest thing to change. That's why you find that at the safety practices, and why you look at your safety climate, because that's how ultimately over time you can influence those behaviours.

There is research with humans that says, 'If your values are out of alignment with the way that you're forced to behave, you'll actually bring them into alignment,' because humans don't like to have their values out of alignment, dissonance with how they're forced to behave. Ultimately you will change those values, but they are unwritten, you can't see them.

Master of Ceremonies (MC):
Great. Cognitive dissonance, I think is the term they use, isn't it?

Bev Smith:
It is.

Master of Ceremonies (MC):
People want to reconcile that cognitive dissonance within themselves. Maybe just one more question, which was around safety in the performance appraisals for employees as a policy or whatever. Is it possible to do that? Is that something that's an acceptable thing to do? Do you have any thoughts? Is it possible to include safety criteria, health and safety metrics in somebody's employment performance appraisals?

Bev Smith:
Well, yes, I think that's quite common particularly in high risk industry that it is included. Ultimately because their safety performance will impact on whether they win business or not, it's not a new concept. It is something that a lot of organisations do, and they have key metrics that they particularly hold their managers and leaders accountable to. I don't see any reason why while you couldn't bring that down, if you wanted to drive a safety culture, while you couldn't bring that down to your workers level and include ...

We include other types of behaviours in our code of conduct, why you can't have conduct of all your expected behaviours about safety being included in those behaviours, that we hold people accountable to through a performance management process.

Master of Ceremonies (MC):
Yep. Great. There is certainly that famous quote about what gets measured gets managed.

Bev Smith:
Yes.

Master of Ceremonies (MC):
You're accountable for it, you tend to put a lot of focus on it. That's all of our time for questions today, and I'm not sure if we ended up answering the question about the chicken or the egg, what's more important safety systems or safety culture? As Bev said, systems and culture they're inter-independent elements. I've heard it described with a baking analogy that the safety system is like, getting all the ingredients to bake a loaf of bread together. But it's the safety culture like the sourdough starter or the yeast that brings it all together into something that works really well. What do you think?

Let us know what your thoughts are in the Q&A. On behalf of Comcare and the audience watching, I'd really like to thank Bev and Colin for your presentations. But also for taking a ride and the hot seats today, answering some of our audience's questions, as well as our production team that's behind the scenes today. We also want to say a big thank you to all of you, our audience for taking the time to be part of this webinar, to keep the conversation alive about work, health and safety, this work, health, safety month and beyond. This is the last of our safe work month webinar series.

If you missed out on the other webinars earlier in the month, please check out our website and the link is going to be in the chat right now. Finally, we'll be sending out a super quick survey to everyone who's registered, and we'd really love to hear your feedback. That's all we've got time for today. Thank you. Stay safe, stay well and see you soon.

Page last reviewed: 04 November 2020
Get updates from us
Subscribe
Subscribe to Comcare eNews to receive information from the national work health and safety authority.

Comcare
GPO Box 9905, Canberra, ACT 2601
1300 366 979 | www.comcare.gov.au

Date printed 18 Oct 2021

https://www.comcare.gov.au/about/forms-publications/transcriptions/covid-19-safety-systems-and-safety-culture-video-transcript