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Queensland Urban Utilities showcase and senior leaders' panel

Video transcript of the WHS Inspector Forum presentation – Queensland Urban Utilities showcase and senior leaders' panel. Presented on 4 December 2020.

Chair: Dr Tristan Casey. Panellists: Kym Bancroft, Lachlan Green, Simon Johnson, Joe Taylor, Amanda Murchison, Jason Lee and Stephen Harvey.


Andrew:

Now it’s time for the first of our two panel sessions. These sessions offer you, as the audience, the opportunity to put some of your questions to Urban Utilities and the operational leaders around how they’ve operationalised Safety Differently. What’s worked for them and what hasn’t and some of the lessons they’ve learnt along the way. And we’ve got Dr Tristan Casey who will be facilitating the questions. We’ve got again, Kym Bancroft. I think we’ve got a few others in the background. We’ve got Lachlan Green, Simon Johnson, Joe Taylor, Amanda Murchison, Stephen Harvey, Jason Lee from Queensland Urban Utilities. So welcome. Thank you so much for being a part of it. Tristan, please take it away.

Tristan:

Thanks so much Andrew. Yes, so a bit of a hard slot, isn’t it? This sort of Friday afternoon session. So hopefully we’ll make it a little bit engaging, interesting, dynamic, try and get you to sort of really learn from Urban Utilities here today and appreciate some of the, I guess, interesting things they’ve been doing. How they’ve taken these sort of theoretical abstract concepts around Safety Differently and Safety-II and really made an amazing impact on their business. And we’ll hear directly from some of the leaders, the operational leaders, not just the safety team, they’ve put together quite a diverse group of folk today to talk to us about what they’ve learned, what they’ve found useful and even some of the challenges and difficulties that they might have experienced implementing Safety Differently. So really looking forward to facilitating the session.

What I might do, though, before we kick off formally is just to issue a little bit of a 20 second challenge to my colleagues here and just get them to whip round and say who they are, their role and sort of their, I guess, involvement in Safety Differently in a nutshell. So, in 20 seconds I’ll try and get them to keep to that time. Kym, can we start with you just so people are aware of who we've got?

Kym:

Sure. Thanks, Tristan, and thanks again for having us back. So, Kym Bancroft, Health and Safety Manager at Urban Utilities. And what was the question, Tristan? Our role in the Safety Differently transformation, is that correct?

Tristan:

Yeah, that’s right, so sort of what you – so you’re obviously the strategic person, the brains behind the operation, I guess.

Kym:

Sure. So, yeah, so obviously I instigated Urban Utilities, but obviously it couldn't be anywhere near the success it's been without all the brilliant leaders and health and safety team operationalising it and backing it. So that was my role initially to kick start it, if you like. Thanks Trist.

Tristan:

Thanks Kym. Lachlan, we might pass over to you, mate, could you just give a little intro to yourself?

Lachlan:

Yeah, hi, my name's Lachlan, I'm the manager for Program Assurance and Commissioning, so I work in the delivery part of - the capital delivery part of Urban Utilities. We've got about $250 million worth of capital projects get delivered each year. They get delivered by delivery partners. And we're sort of seeing how Safety Differently is being influenced there.

Tristan:

Nice one, Lachlan. One of the questions did come up today earlier about subcontractors and how they were involved in the Safety Differently story, so I’ll be really keen to hear from you a little bit later about that. Simon, we might pass to you next.

Simon:

Thanks Tristan. Afternoon all. My name’s Simon Johns and I’m a Health Services Manager that’s responsible for our civil maintenance and delivery teams. And I guess, look, in terms of the Safety Differently, Safe Simple, the only comment from me would be around the actual information that we provide our team and the support that we give them around empowering our team as the solution. It’s a wonderful principle and it’s been a concept that's been really endorsed and appreciated from the frontline [couriers].

Tristan:

Yeah, I guess we could say it's really humanising safety again and getting it back to where it needs to be. Joe, would you mind a little intro to yourself there?

Joe:

Yeah, thanks. Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Joe Taylor. I'm the Area Manager for the Brisbane sewage treatment plants here for Urban Utilities. Our role, I guess, beyond that operational management function was to really kind of take the strategy that Kym and her team had formed up, obviously contribute to that, but equally to translate that into, I guess, how we're going to deliver that on the ground whilst at the same time, I guess, negotiating the day-to-day safety responsibilities. So, it's been a real kind of balancing act, but it's been a great journey.

Tristan:

Wonderful. Thanks, Joe. We'll hear a little bit more about that journey. Amanda, we might hear from you next. And I understand that you really like learning teams. Tell us a bit more. [Pause] Might be on mute, Amanda.

Amanda:

Sorry, I’m muted. Amanda Murchison, Plant Manager for treatment plants in our Ipswich and Somerset regions, and yeah, when I first heard Kym talk about Safety-II, it resonated with me. It was something that I found could be very much implemented and taken on by our operators, in particular, operationally. So, yep, brilliant idea.

Tristan:

Great, so it’s all about hearing some practical examples today, so hopefully we can hear from you as well. My friend, Stephen, how are you?

Stephen:

Hey, Tristan, I’m really good. Thank you for my great grades in my studies as well, I have to say thanks for that. My name’s Steve everybody. I’ve been at Urban Utilities for about two- and a-bit years now. I came on board to sort of help Kym realise the vision of what we were trying to do at Urban Utilities. It’s been pretty cool. I have dabbled in this space since 2014 after reading the The Field Guide to Human Error by Professor Dekker. That sort of book changed my career. So, I’ve been really fortunate that for the past few years, I’ve been sort of living and breathing this sort of philosophy.

Tristan:

Great, thanks mate. And lucky last, Jason, let’s hear a little bit about yourself please.

Jason:

Yeah, I’m Jason. I’m the other Area Manager for the other treatment plants. Joe looks after the other side. Yeah, I think for me, so when Kym came along with the Safety Differently, psychological safety is really important. I’ve had a career, pretty varied career coming through a very field-based sort of crew, and especially some of those areas where they’ve had really, we’ll call it heavy-handed safety sort of practices where – yeah, so there's a bit to explore with Safety Differently and how I think it's improved our safety.

Tristan:

No, that’s wonderful. Good to hear that there’s been some augmentation and some improvement and hopefully some results you can share with us today. So before we get stuck into the questions and I'll just outline in a moment our structure and format for the session today, I understand that Kym, you have a little video, you’d like to share which showcases some of Urban Utilities work and might set the scene a little bit for us.

Kym:

Okay.

[Video playing]

Tristan:

Thanks, Kym. Always good to see a little bit about the work that the organisations do, so you can put it in context. I guess what I might do now is just invite Jason, would you like to just give a little bit of an insight about what we just saw and maybe talk a little bit about your role in the treatment plants and how that kind of plays out? Just give us some more context there.

Jason:

Yeah, no worries. So Urban Utilities, we’re a water utility in South East Queensland. We service a few councils, so we’ve got Brisbane, Ipswich, Scenic Rim, Lockyer and Somerset Shire, small regional councils. We’re a water distributor and supplier. And we take that water from a bulk source supplier, and we distribute that out. Then we take the wastewater away and treat that. So, it’s suitable for reuse or safe for the environment. But 1.5 million customers in total. We’ve got 27 treatment plants, sewage treatment plants that we operate, and the fun facts are we treat about, in sewerage, 350 megalitres a day. So that’s 350 million litres a day. Yeah, and the area I’m in is largely a field-based – we’ve got some process engineers and quite a few operators, they operate those sites. They’re a good bunch of guys and girls and yeah, I think that Safety-II part for them, was largely about the psychological safety where they could really feel free to, you know, approach safety in a very open and transparent way with their leaders, which has been great.

Tristan:

Thank you. It’s good to hear about the treatment side of things, and I know that QUU obviously has a whole host of treatment plants, but also some field operations, too. So how about we pass over to Simon, who can give us a little bit more info about that side of the business and what sort of operations he deals with?

Simon:

Thanks, Tristan. So, as Jason pointed out, we have a very extensive network incorporating five metro and regional based local government areas. What one of the key, I guess differentiating factors with the Urban Utilities business is the split from an urban to a regional service territory. And we've got a very different age and materials in our water and sewerage reticulation network. So, going from aged infrastructure that was laid in Brisbane in the early 1890s, right through to a lot of development and urban sprawl starting in some of our regional local government areas.

So, the team that that I work with, we manage all of the maintenance. So that's across both civil, mechanical, electrical and control systems maintenance in both a reactive fault in emergency and also in a planned and scheduled manner. So, it incorporates over 9,000 kilometres of underground reticulated water mains. Around ,7000 of wastewater sewage mains. All of our water treatment plants, sewage treatment plants, that Jason and Joe and Mandy have been talking about. And I guess from my perspective, we've got a balance of internal insourced field crews and also delivery partner third parties. So Safety-II and doing Safety Differently has been a great equaliser in that space, actually working with our delivery partners and getting input from not just our internal workforce, but also different mindsets and innovative practises. And working with some of our key partners has meant that I think we're having a positive impact on, not only Urban Utilities, but some of our other major delivery partners in the South East Queensland area.

Tristan:

That’s great and you mentioned the phrase delivery partners there. So that’s probably a good cue for Lachlan to sort of give a little overview of his take on his role and how he helps implement Safety Differently with some of the subcontractors that you have obviously helping you in your operations. So Lachlan, would you just maybe tell us a little bit about, you know, what is this sort of concept of delivery partner actually mean and sort of how does that play out when it comes to implementing Safety-II or Safety Differently?

Lachlan:

I mean, our delivery partners, are what we refer to as tier one. So generally, like John Holland is one of our delivery partners, Fulton Hogan, Downer and Diona. So look, these are large organisations with well entrenched safety management systems and philosophies. Well, to be honest, while they’re talking the Safety Differently talk, there's a bit of a mixed response and uptake. I think when people do hear it, everybody nods their head and says, “that makes sense, we've got to do it”. But these are large organisations, which takes a little bit of influence. We've got mixed response. We've had a worker that received a broken leg from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That company used that person in their working sites to develop a better way of doing the work, a safer way and redesigning of the equipment. We've had other examples where there's been a working at height breach and that individual is no longer on the site. So there is a bit of a mixed take up there, but it is happening and it's, I guess, it's like the shampoo. It's not going to happen overnight, but it's not like we're getting resistance. It's just taking time to get through those large organisations and get on board completely.

Tristan:

That's great. Thanks for the overview, Lachlan. And I just wanted to pick up on something that that you mentioned there and sort of reading between the lines, maybe some of the myths about Safety Differently is that, well, we have to move away from sort of discipline and that type of thing, sort of traditional ways of doing things. I don't think that's necessarily what we say when we talk about Safety Differently. It's just more the world view or the philosophy that we use and how that plays out in our practices. So, when I kind of got together with the team here at Urban Utilities and thought about what we could talk about for this session, I sort of grouped it into three different topics. And one of the first topics that I wanted to cover was really dispelling and understanding some of the myths of Safety Differently. And that's probably a good cue to our audience, that if you had any questions about things you weren't sure of, you know myths that you’ve heard out there in industry or little things that you might have come across in terms of, you know, beliefs about what Safety Differently is or isn’t, we will happily answer those. But to kick off the conversation, I guess I wanted to sort of put Steve on the spot a little bit, given his journey over the past few years and jumping into Safely Differently whole heartedly, I’m sure, Steve, that you might have heard of some myths about Safety Differently, what it is, what it isn't, and whether you could comment on some of those myths that you might have dispelled yourself. Maybe you had a certain view of it before you started on your journey. Anything you could add to help us understand some of the myths of Safety-II?

Stephen:

Yeah, I suppose the biggest myth of Safety-II, Tristan, is around, we just take the rules and we throw everything away and we just let the guys do whatever they like. That’s probably the most common myth that I see now. Kym, It’s probably the same for you as well. And obviously we can’t just do that. We call it like a freedom within a framework. So, we removed our golden rules in the business, but we’ve replaced them with like high-risk activities and that’s where we sort of took that. So, we took away the rules, but we put in some controls around our high-risk activities.

Some of the other myths really, are some like – I probably, I even heard it – I’ve heard it today as well, is people saying, “Oh we’ve been doing this for years. That’s just something we’ve done”, and then obviously once you start to hear the conversations, people start being judgemental and they start using [blamey] language. It’s almost like a defensive shield that they’ve got. That’s probably a myth – I’ve certainly heard that at Urban Utilities in the beginning, where people had been saying, “Oh no, we’ve been doing this stuff for years. We don’t need to worry about this new strategy that we’ve implemented”.

Tristan:

So I guess Steve, was that a bit of a learning opportunity, that maybe there were some practices you've rediscovered or discovered for the first time in the business that people hadn't shared previously or good stuff they were already doing that you could kind of formalise and make part of the way Urban Utilities did work moving forward?

Stephen:

Like particularly around some of the committee meetings. There was a lot of uptake from our employees in those meetings. But a lot of the time though, it was just reshaping the language and just changing the conversations in there. Like people were – you know, challenging people’s core assumptions of what Safety-II and even what Safety-I is, that was some of the things that we had to do, particularly when I first started there.

Tristan:

That’s great. So, I’ve just been scanning the comments, as you’ve been talking Steve, and I might actually invite Kym, if you’re around, available, to just expand a little bit on your comment there about staying away from lagging indicators. And I guess when it comes to this blend of Safety-I and Safety-II, it doesn't mean necessarily that the lag indicators disappear or go away completely. It could just mean that we revisit or revise how we're measuring things and moving towards a severity measure rather than a lost time measure. Anything you wanted to add about this sort of idea of how we measure safety in this new paradigm.

Kym:

Sure. So, I would encourage, as I commented there, just to be indicators, as indicators as opposed to lag or lead. So, I think we can sort of vilify lag indicators. We still report on our raw data for LTIs, MTIs, first aid injuries, suitable duty injuries and so on and so forth. So, we haven't completely removed them. I think that would be to aur detriment. We have removed LTI (18.43) tripper though, and the big focus on that. That’s hard for delivery partners because they often have to report that, as someone commented before, earlier on in the day, they're required to report that for tendering and what not. So, they're sort of socialised in that one.

In terms of lead data, we have our critical control workings, that’s a process which we’re advancing and maturing each month as more of a leading set. And then the goal is for us and we're very close to it, just to move to all our indicators mapping upwards to a due diligence index, which is a one set number. At the moment they’re mapped against all of the due diligence elements for the board. But eventually they'll all aggregate upwards to this one particular number. So that's taking all our indicators, like learning teams, raw data, working sites and what not and aggregating that. So, my encouragement would be, though, is not to copy what other organisations are doing in terms of indicators. It really is a conversation with the board to see what are the decisions the board needs to be making under their due diligence obligations and how do all the indicators – sorry, what are the indicators, because there's so many to pick from? What are all the indicators that would serve them and help them make the best decisions for the organisation? So, I would go through a process of discovery with the board to co-design those indicators with them. Thanks Trist.

Tristan:

No, that’s a great answer. Very comprehensive, and I really like the theme there about involving the stakeholders in the measurement development. I think that's a really kind of human-centred way to go about it. And by getting that involvement, not only do you measure things that are important, but you also get the buy-in around the metrics that it's not something being imposed by someone else, that we don't understand why we're even measuring these things. But you get that engagement and sort of buy-in to that process.

So, one of the questions that has come up is, you know, one of the myths of Safety Differently might be, well throw away all your procedures and this sort of chaotic anarchy that might ensue. And I really want to just to invite perhaps Jason to make a little comment about what you've seen in terms of on the ground, have the procedures disappeared or have they gotten better or are they that different? Any thoughts you could add there, mate, that would be helpful?

Jason:

Yeah, I don’t know about anarchy ensuring. It hasn’t appeared that way to me. Probably a bit of heresy at the beginning, but, yeah, look all the procedures and this is an interesting piece, we had procedures on top of procedures, essentially. Now, we’ve done an exercise, we’ve called locally as decluttering and it gives us freedom to go through, actually look through, is this procedure useful? Is it work as done? And that's actually using the people doing the work and looking at the actual, how do we do the work and then having a conversation about how do we structure out the work and then how do we capture it. So as an operations manager, I'm quite satisfied we’re capturing all the, I'll call it the due diligence pieces. It assures me that the work is being recorded as it would be done. And yeah, it's not just a throw out of procedures, but we also eliminate, and I've noticed this more in the behaviours, we've eliminated a lot of those double up procedures where historically people would likely be a bit more nervous in removing those, because that could be a no no. That's the best way of putting it. But you know.

Tristan:

Yes, again, that theme of involving the workforce in actually crafting and improving the procedures, which is not necessarily, I think, like a Safety-II kind of concept, it's very, very much what we should be doing for effective safety, regardless of the philosophy or the background perspective that we take. But really just enabling that kind of Safety Differently philosophy that rather than putting bucket loads of procedures in place, knee jerk reactions to incidents, let's try and constrain variability and make it as orderly as possible. Rather, we're saying, well, let's embrace some of the flexibility that workers can engineer into those procedures and help improve the way we manage things. So yeah, I guess that's - we haven't had any other sort of myths come through. I think people have been answering those - thanks to the team for replying in text to some of those questions that have come about.

So, we might jump into the next discussion topic, just mindful that we probably have about sort of eight minutes per topic to talk about. It's really about implementing Safety Differently. So I guess a couple of little points that I put down here is that safety, it often struggles to get buy-in from management and it's seen as like a negative or a cost or some sort of, you know, it's not really adding value to the business. But now that we've shifted away from that with some of these newer ideas and sort of, you know, safety being more about the success of work, more linkages perhaps to efficiency and productivity and quality, safety could be sort of reframed to be part of a function that really helps the business to be successful and effective in what it does. So this is probably a first question that probably goes to Kym, given that she really introduced Urban Utilities to this concept. And I was wondering, what's been your experience with gaining that senior management support? And do you think that the safety conversation’s more productive perhaps than it might have been in the past when dealing with those leaders?

Kym:

To answer the second part of that question there, Tristan, I would say the safety conversation has improved and elevated and is possibly more strategic and it's definitely moved away from the person being the problem or at least having that underlying assumption, how we speak about people all the tone that comes through our policies and procedures. So, I would say, it’s definitely elevated there. In terms of how, was the first part, Tristan, how we got senior leadership buy-in, was that the first part?

Tristan:

Yeah, that’s right. How did you kind of start the conversation and get them interested in this new idea?

Kym:

So, it really was to take all the data through our discovery and create what we would call that compelling case for change. So, there was a certain amount of frustration there, whilst certainly looking for something to help shift that plateau, as many organisations would say. And then I went through a process with the board of really helping them uncover their assumptions around safety, that they wouldn't really consciously be aware of. So, assumptions around whether zero harm is more of a statistical commitment or an ethical commitment. What are the assumptions that we - and what are the beliefs that we have, the people who come to do work at Urban Utilities, you know, problem solution. And then going through that process of uncovering those assumptions, then introducing the ideas of Safety Differently, which were really well received by the board, the CEO and definitely the executive and all the leaders from there on in. Certainly, I wouldn’t say it was a walk in the park. There was some pushback, and that’s good. It's good to have good debate and diversity in thinking, but we were certainly able to work through a lot of those assumptions and any sort of barriers to that thinking.

Tristan:

Yeah, it runs pretty deep, doesn't it? When you're trying to create an organisational change, as we know, but for safety, it might require you to actually be very self-critical in your own beliefs about what safety is, how accidents are caused, getting to the heart of the culture of the organisation, the core assumptions that people hold. So, it's really an educational process, as you've described, and really trying to understand and unpack, what do people think about safety? How do they make sense of it and how does that guide their leadership practice es as well?

So, the next little question I had in this section was, I'll probably start with you, Steve, if that's all right. And really just trying to get your views on how has the workforce responded to this new way of thinking about safety? Has there been a similarly diverse kind of response or reaction? And what have you noticed change, you know, what have you seen that's different, perhaps.

Stephen:

Tristan, for me, really the guys will talk to me and tell – not just me, everyone really now, that we’re doing this new way of working. I think for me, the big is, I think people like having me around. Like I think they like having me in their [toolbox sort of], I think they like having me there talking to them about learning and improving and I don’t tell them how to do work. I’m super curious and I like to understand how they do the work. And I sort of focus on safety performance. How can I help you get better? How can we make your work safer? Tell me the story of your jobs? You know, tell me a bit about bad things that have happened? Tell me when work hasn’t gone quite well. And I think because I’m not getting in there with a big stick, sort of trying to tell them what to do, I think that’s been a big improvement, and probably the guys could back me up on that one. I think that’s – everyone’s quite happy to share stories and they’re quite comfortable to do that.

Tristan:

So that importance of the relationship, the trust.

Stephen:

Yeah.

Tristan:

Sort of like being part of the team and even being humble as a practitioner and professional, that you're not there to have all the answers, but really to learn from the work force. So, it’s just an approach really, and changing that approach to how you interact. That's what I'm getting there. Okay, well, what we might then go to is, is Jason just to give that sort of operational slant to things, because we've heard from Steve, who's obviously in the health and safety area and might have his own experiences, but what have you noticed that's maybe different or how has the workforce reacted from your perspective?

Jason:

Yeah, I think – actually I’ll just take off where Steve left off there, the conversation with - it's with each other, managers and our safety professionals like safety officers, it's much more open. So Stephen was right, I’ve spent a career working in places where, and I'll go back here, I'll go back many years before other employers, where the safety guy would rock up to site and everyone would like disappear or avoid, you know, sort of avoid those conversations. Unless they had all the right paperwork and everything ready to go, kind of thing, and, you know, like and they knew 100 per cent they had it all right. Now it's more of a - it's a much more open conversation. And I think, there's also a bit, as an operations manager getting used to that, because when you're a manager, you really feel, you know, should we be doing that activity like that? Like, you know, what the old rules were. But when you really sit down and work through the work and have that more consultative process, I think you always land on better ways of working. Yeah, look, as far as rolling out the Safety Differently, like it – I’d almost say there was a big push at the start with Kym’s work she’d done in, we'll call it psychological safety. We had some courses delivered out to leaders and then further out into the field workers. Those good, open conversations, sort of how does the brain tick? How do we feel safe? How do we act? How do we act safe? How do we talk about things like safety? So there was a bit there to get it sort of moving. But then once it got accepted and, let's be honest, it actually takes the first few things that might go wrong to really all managers not kind of, pull out the big stick. Once the workers started to see that, I think people get more comfortable, then organically from there, we’ve really seen a much stronger uptake.

Tristan:

That’s a great answer. Just scanning the comments again to see where we’re up to. Just wanted to address one, so “how do you get to the point where the procedure and the way work is done is different?” We could probably do a whole session just on that idea of work as imagined, work as done. And if you are interested in learning a little bit more about that kind of idea of drifting away from what's prescribed, I’d encourage you to look at authors like Rasmussen, Snook, Vaughan. There are a couple of authors that all have similar sorts of concepts, Sidney Dekker’s another one that talks about drifting into failure. And this idea that people going about everyday normal work, the procedures can't possibly cover every single situation or event that happens. And so, what can happen is that they invent little improvisations, little adaptations, little workarounds that allow them to get the job done successfully. And of course, combined with pressures like economic pressures, workload pressures, people in those frontline roles find themselves often drifting towards that unsafe zone by nature of the work that they do.

So, there'll always be a gap between how we think the work is done and how things are actually happening. So, there's a bit of an extended bit of research that we could do in that area to learn more about it.

So, the next little bit here, I wanted to talk about before we move to the next topic is, do you think there's any risks with Safety Differently? So, I’ll just let that kind of ponder, percolate there across the group. What should organisations be aware or cautious about when they start to innovate safety? And I might just throw this out to Simon. Do you have any response or reactions to that? Any risks or concerns that organisations might need to navigate when they're doing this?

Simon:

Yeah, absolutely, look I'd say not so much risks or concerns, but I think a great strategy is being very conscious about your timelines and making sure that you've done all the homework and got all the endorsements prior to embarking on implementation of the strategy. I think what's really key is that once you start communicating it and training with your frontline personnel, you really want to continue with the journey as soon as you possibly can. I think we did a good job in terms of there was regular forums. There was constant communication around our Safety Differently journey. And we actually had a whole range of tactical level milestones that we continued to meet and communicate so the team could see constant progress. They started feeling a change in their work environments. There were a number of different tools that were introduced to them and they received coaching and development on the use of the new tools, like critical control work insights, learning teams and more than anything, we really saw a cultural and behavioural shift and change. So I think it's really one of those things that organisationally, if you make the decision, you get the endorsement through your executive level and board, then march on and set yourself fairly realistic, but aggressive timelines to implement and roll out your suite of tools so that the team can actually see the change and feel the change and be part of the change.

Tristan:

Thanks, Simon. Joe, I’d like you to be part of the fun this afternoon. Anything you'd add to what Simon just mentioned about risks or difficulties, challenges with implementing Safety Differently that you've come across?

Joe:

Yeah, to me, it's a real cultural piece. So, I guess two elements around the culture, it's got to be, I guess, led top to bottom within the organisation. It doesn't make any sense for middle management to kind of be championing stuff at the frontline and not having Senior, I guess management support. Nothing is more powerful than seeing very senior people in the business and even board members, and the like, out there walking the talk. So that's a real - a real kind of thing to consider.

The second piece around culture is, I found that safety operate in a vacuum. It's part of what we do. And most organisations are considerate of finances and people engagement and the like. Understand what your opportunities are in terms of your cultural and I guess improvement areas. I guess when we are looking at how safety can - Safety Differently can improve in our business or how we can roll it out, we also looked at sort of what we're getting by way of feedback through our engagement surveys and things like tools and systems and resources and other things that aren’t necessarily safety related were kind of real key themes there. Communication, effective communication was one of them, so it’s a real chance to understand what are some of the blockers, but equally, what are some of the enablers to roll it out and have it stick? And I think ultimately, if the team see it as a - as it's not just a safety improvement, but it's, I guess, it becomes an overall business improvement because it should complement everything else you're doing within your organisation and become part of doing business and not just having it as a plug on to what we do.

Stephen:

Tristan?

Tristan:

Sorry, yeah, go.

Stephen:

I was just going to – I will just add to that point as well. I think one of the biggest risks is you’ll discover a lot. Like you really do discover a lot more that’s happened in the business. The guys are open to telling you what’s going on. So, if you’re not mature enough to handle some bad news, then it’s probably not a great strategy for you to take on. But what you will discover is you’ll develop a brilliant learning culture and that’s probably the biggest risk for me, that you’ll discover a lot of bad news.

Joe:

That’s a great point, Steve. I think one of the things we talked about as a leadership group, as we were rolling this out was what happens the first time, we have a major incident. That will be the litmus test for whether the culture change has happened and whether the Safety Differently is happening. We have had incidences and I guess people have behaved in the way which we had hoped, which was I guess that was as pleasing as seeing what's happening on the ground.

Tristan:

Thanks, guys, for the stimulating discussion there and bouncing off each other. So, I guess, I think Simon there mentioned a couple of practices that you've been doing, the work insights, the learning teams and what not. So it might be a nice segue into our third topic, which is really about the practical stuff that you've been doing, you know, to really make this real, because one of the criticisms of some of the different ways of thinking about safety is “Oh it’s too abstract, it’s too theoretical. How do we make this real for people on the ground and actually connect to improve the safety of the work itself?” So, Amanda, I think we would really love to hear your experiences there about learning teams, because that's one of the most popular and prevalent sorts of Safety Differently or Safety-II practices that we see out there. They're not easy to do, I imagine, and they are pretty tricky to establish and to get going. So, tell us a bit more about how you've done that.

Amanda:

One of my first learning teams I actually did was regarding an SOP, we actually sent an SOP, all our SOPs were generated inside an office by one person and were meant to fit for 27 different plants. We sent it out to a group of operators and asked them to read the SOP, run through the procedure and the actual work and see whether or not it fitted. We then actually brought them all into the office and we ran our learning team and what we found, was that it did not fit for one of our plants at all. And the operator started then proceeding to write their own procedures because they realised it was then they could tell us what needed to be done. And we were actually holding a higher risk by thinking we knew what they were doing when we really had no idea.

Tristan:

So, you really learned a lot about what was actually happening and some blind spots, I guess, that became illuminated to you so you can really get to the core issues and address them. I'm wondering just for your opinion before I let you go, Amanda is around how the learning team concept might work at a bigger level if we do that across industry perhaps. If a regulator facilitated some sort of learning team. Do you see any benefit in doing something like that where it's more of a higher-level learning process to inform legislation or various regulatory activities? What do you think about that?

Amanda:

Yeah, absolutely. I've actually taken learning teams and it's not just about personal safety. We deal obviously with environmental safety as well. So when something isn't quite operating properly or we're seeing something not aligning with our process on any of our treatment plants, we'll actually take the learning team, implement that into a way of looking at what was working previously, what's happening now. So what's changed and what can we do to get it back to the process actually running right? So, for sure, this can be implemented in so many different ways. And yeah, we've actually nutted out a lot of process problems and operating problems by using the learning teams.

Tristan:

So it's not just about focusing on the positive, fluffy, happy stuff, but also some critical conversations about, well, what were our plans and why didn't we meet them or how did we, you know, maybe fall short of our expectations on the job of that particular task. So I think when you're talking about learning teams, Amanda, it really seems like it's a balance for you. It's not just, you know, what worked well and what's successful, but also how can we learn and improve from things that have gone wrong? Do you find that difficult as a facilitator to kind of balance that? And are there any kind of tensions or issues that you have with managing that dynamic in the group?

Amanda:

No, if anything, I have to pull the guys back quite early on from finding a solution straight away, and it's always a reminder at the start of a learning team, you know, we're not going straight into the solution right now. We need to look at everything that's going on. At the beginning with the learning teams, yeah, the guys were a little bit apprehensive. What's all this about? Why do you want our input? You just tell us what to do? Now, it’s the exact opposite. If we have some slight changes in our processes, the guys will come to us and say, “hey, I think we need to have a learning team”.

Tristan:

No, that’s great. So while we're on the topic of learning, I notice a question did come through about it, someone was just curious, “what do we mean by this idea of a learning culture and how does it go beyond safety to other domains of the organisation?” You know, there are some sort of seminal authors in this area, Peter Senge being one of them. They talk about – and Chris Argyris and a couple of others, and they talk about this notion of single loop or double loop learning. We can either just change the superficial stuff and learn and say, “oh, well, we'll put a new procedure in” or “we'll just change this little process” or we can go deeper and do what we call double loop learning, which is revisiting our beliefs, our assumptions, you know, how we view the world and really making some wholesale changes about the way that we sort of conduct ourselves in our organisations.

Steve, I just wanted to invite you to maybe expand a little bit on what you meant by learning culture and what that what that looks like at Urban Utilities.

Stephen:

Yeah, we don't have that many. But like, again, Urban Utilities are massive, obviously, but our guys obviously use a lot of tools and working in dynamic risk. So, they do get injuries, little events every now and again. So, what I try and encourage from them is just to talk about these things. So, we learn vicariously from each other’s events. You know, we try and talk about what our delivery partners, any events that those guys have or any sort of incidents that are happening around the place just to sort of talk about, hey, can you talk a bit about that stuff, how can we learn from it? So that's one of the - that's a big driver that I push, for sure, just this vicarious learning. Yeah, that's really what I mean when I talk about learning improvement work.

Tristan:

Yeah, the learning just becomes part of the job, and it's not really a special, unique thing, but just the conversations that evolve and happen every day.

Stephen:

Yeah, totally Tristan.

Tristan:

That's great. Joe, anything you'd add about the learning culture? I know that was something you mentioned before as well. What's your take on it?

Joe:

Yeah, look, I think it's become embedded. We had some other concurrent kind of capability uplift activities happening at the same time. We were focusing much more on a production focused business. We were standing up, I guess, teams that were looking at performance on a regular basis. And so, there was a real kind of narrative around how we were operating, what's working, what's not working. So I think when you're talking about insights and opportunities to learn from each other and it's not just about safety, you can accelerate that kind of culture of learning because people are learning about a process improvement or an efficiency that's driving financial improvement or just a better way of working that probably will have a safety outcome as well. But I think that kind of concurrent capability uplift did help us and so quite often, particularly around safety now or even improvement, the language is going, I haven't heard anyone talk about – there’s a conversation around the what happened, but there’s 10 times more conversations happening around, what can we do to improve? Where might this translate elsewhere in the business? It's fantastic how operators think – talking about, “well, maybe we should ring up the guy in networks because whilst he works in a different part of the organisation there's a chance that they might have the same problem or have dealt with something in the past as well”. So, I think that kind of learning kind of culture is starting to permeate more and more through the business. So that’s my take on it.

Tristan:

Excellent. And while you were talking, Joe, one of the – something has come through and I might sort of pass this over to Kym to get her comments, is really this idea of psychological safety. And it does – it is a confusing term because you can think about it as, oh, is it about well-being or is it about that speaking up environment? And we're talking about the willingness to be vulnerable interpersonally, to say something controversial, to disagree with the group majority, to really highlight a concern or even an idea or an innovation. And if you ask me, you know, what would be the core of a safety culture if that was something that existed out there, was psychological safety has got to be part of the core of that culture. This sort of willingness to speak up and be part of the conversation, to not feel like you’ll be undermined or persecuted. So Kym, I guess my question for you is, you know, was psychological safety one of the theories or concepts that you purposely established in QUU and sort of just your comments on how important psychological safety is for this to work.

Kym:

Sure, thanks Trist. Yeah, 100 per cent psychological safety was something we didn't like really overtly flag, but it definitely was something that we were trying to target that culture of trust, learning and accountability. But really that culture that anyone can speak up and talk about any concern that they have without fear of retribution. And so, I think, you know, I really would have to attribute that increase in psychological safety to all the leaders, because they're the ones having the day-to-day interactions with field staff. And it takes a long time to build up trust. And it can disappear very, very quickly. But I think it’s been, the psychological safety, the increasing in it has been evidenced by the stories that we hear coming through. So, it might be worth passing that one over, Trist, to one of the ops leaders to get their thoughts. Either Simon or Mandy or Jason or Joe on that one, to hear how that's transpired in the field, but also maybe even from that delivery partner perspective as well, because we have certainly seen a lot more - like an increase in reporting and a lot more trust being established at a delivery partner level as well.

Tristan:

Yeah, that's a great idea, Kym. I'd really love to hear from Lachlan about that delivery partner process, because that could be one of the environments where it is really tough to build trust and also to create psychological safety, because you've got the hierarchical relationships, you know, there’s a lot of barriers there to creating that environment of openness. So, Lachlan, if you wouldn't mind just maybe giving us a little overview of maybe how you've tackled that challenge of building this free-flowing information environment, you know, where delivery partners, subcontractors feel like they can have a say and really influence the way that Urban Utilities are doing things potentially?

Lachlan:

I think it's really on the KPIs that we put on our contracts with them. The one that comes to mind is leader led critical control insights. So, we actually – we’re not wanting to know their LTIs or MTIs, trippers, et cetera, then they’re gone. We’re very interested in how many hazards that have and incidents, not because of anything other than the more often we know about them, the more learnings we can do. But we actually have put a KPI that is leader led, as in like executive leaders, general managers from both – from our side and from their side. Are they getting to site? Are they doing insights? You know, are they asking the guys on the ground, why the, you know, why are you working that way? You know, what's stupid about what we've asked you to do and how would you do it better? So that's, I guess, and by asking for those kinds of things to be reported back, it creates that environment of, oh, there's nothing to hide here, it’s about information that's really what it is.

Tristan:

No, that’s good and obviously you’ve probably seen some benefits from that approach. You know, more reporting, more information to actually improve the way you manage safety. There's a lot of – a whole host, you know, increase relationships, you know, more engagement from your contractors, more involvement in what you want to do in your initiatives. So, I think that's obviously seen some benefits there.

Lachlan:

Yeah, I’ll just add – recently we've had two workshops – we are still having incidents and we've had some high potential incidents recently. So, we've brought every – we brought all the delivery partners in, put those incidents up on the board. And we've been having workshops around, you know, what is it that we're doing that's still causing these? And it's just a very open, frank conversation. Nothing to hide there, no competition. It's just focusing on those incidents and what can we do to minimise them?

Tristan: Excellent. That’s okay, and thanks for your contributions there. Well, we’re sort of running close to our time here. I think we've only got a couple of minutes left. So, I just wanted to extend my thanks to the Urban Utilities team. Really, really thankful that you were able to join us this afternoon and really just lay it out there and tell us how things are and really your journey through this sort of Safety Differently, Safety Differently universe. So, thanks so much for your time today and also to our audience for posing such great questions. Hopefully you've either had those answered verbally and it seems like there's been a lot of activity on the Q&A with the UU team getting in there and providing some responses to everyone, that’s really asked a question. There's a couple still outstanding. But I think we've run out of time to talk about those at the moment. But I'm sure if you did reach out to the team, they'd be happy to continue the conversation.

Andrew, I might-----

Kym:

Sorry Tristan.

Tristan:

Oh sorry, Kym.

Kym:

I’ll post the link to our ‘Doing Safety Differently’ documentary in the chat there which further explains some of the impacts that this has had, thanks.

Tristan:

Yeah, nice one. That’ll be a good resource. All right, well Andrew, I might hand back over to you, just to segue into the next session and ensure that we’re all on time for our next event.

Page last reviewed: 16 February 2021
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Date printed 02 Dec 2021

https://www.comcare.gov.au/about/forms-publications/transcriptions/queensland-urban-utilities-showcase-and-senior-leaders-panel