Leadership & Communication | Occupational Health & Safety

Looking into the future of Safety Leadership and Culture

29 May 2017, by Informa Insights

“Health & Safety shouldn’t be seen as an overhead for the business”

Wayne RichardsAt the upcoming Safety In Action Conference in Melbourne, Wayne Richards, General Manager Group HSEQ at Transdev will present a case study on how Transdev has reassessed their safety structure and will outline the steps that they plan to take to improve their safety culture going into the future, within their new safety program: Safe@Transdev – Everyone, Always. We spoke with Wayne Richards to gain some insight to the program and his thoughts on Safety Leadership and Culture.

Transdev is the region’s leading multi-modal passenger transport provider. More than 145 million customer journeys a year are made in Australia and New Zealand on its train, bus, coach, ferry, and light rail operations. 


Why do you think it is so important for organisations to keep improving their safety strategy?
The world doesn’t stand still. For a strategy to remain relevant, it needs to be able to adapt to the needs of the organisation, which are influenced by changes in the external environment. If a strategy doesn’t adapt, it becomes irrelevant to the business – and in many cases that has obvious impacts. It takes everybody in an organisation to move in a similar direction to get positive Health & Safety outcomes. The strategy needs to be able to adapt, both to the internal and external challenges that exist.

What do you think is most concerning about cultural change within businesses, looking into the future?
If I had to name one concern about it, it’s that organisations might not recognise the need for a consistent focus on developing the culture of their businesses over time – it requires sustained leadership commitment indefinitely. In many ways, this can be seen as an opportunity, but organisations need to be incredibly careful – especially if you have an immature safety culture and you want to transition to a very generative or pro-active safety culture straight away. It’s not just about the safety program, but it’s actually about the organisational program, driving an organisational culture. Organisations need to be clear on what an appropriate culture is for themselves as well as the market in which they operate. Last but not least, it’s important that their clients and customers can relate to their organisational culture.

Why do you think these organisations don’t recognise the need for a good safety culture?
When leaders from the executive or frontline managers stop and think, I’m sure that every one of them recognise the need for a good culture. I think the danger is complacency, particularly when things are going well – when you have a stable client base, no perceived tension from regulators or other external parties, and you haven’t had any serious incidents financial, safety or otherwise, in a little while. In these circumstances, there is a risk a company takes their eye off safety culture.

What do you think is most important in reassessing your organisations’ safety structure?
Healthy tension. Culture in organisations is really about the leaders of the organisation. As we move, we take leaders on a cultural journey. The systems and support structures need to be placed, so that they support the desired behaviour, rather than re-affirming the previous behaviour or non-desired behaviour. When assessing the safety structure in itself, it’s really important to know, where the organisation is at on its cultural journey, how the capability of the safety professional is matched to that journey and where it wants to go. And then, it really depends on the roles they take up within the organisation. If you think about a really immature safety culture, it’s largely done by the health & safety department. If you think about the really progressive organisations, with really healthy safety cultures, health & safety is owned by line managers and supported by health & Safety managers. They’re quite different models and you need to take that in account when assessing your organisations’ safety structure.

How easily can cultural change within a business occur?
It’s very easy to go backwards, it’s very difficult to go forwards. When you think about what it takes to move an organisation from point A to B, it takes commitment of the executives and the leadership team; the right leadership behaviours to be demonstrated throughout the organisation as well as leaders having the right capability to do what they need to do. I always think about taking a people-centred approach. By looking at an individual, wherever they are in the organisation, what are the things that impact them on a day-to-day basis? What shapes their behaviour? You need to know all of this before you understand how to drive them to the right behaviour. One mistake can drive the culture backwards very quickly, and those negative symbols can have much more impact on driving the culture backwards than the positive symbols can drive the culture forward.

Could you explain us a little bit more about your new safety program; Safe@Transdev? What are the key highlights of this program?
We recognised that our safety performance was reasonably healthy, but we’ve been putting more and more energy into the program that we’ve used in the past, without necessarily seeing return on it. Our performance had essentially plateaued. So the question was asked: what’s next for us?  Like many organisations, we’ve focused heavily on the development of systems, processes and training programs and that delivered some really good results. We wanted to change the perception of Health & Safety, seen by some as an overhead to a practice recognised as a value adding and driving a competitive advantage. We recognised trying to better understand our cultural maturity and starting to come up with programs around that were the critical next step.

The idea of the Safe@Transdev program is to position and enhance the safety culture, and by doing so developing our leadership skills. We look into capability structures and the systems around that reinforce positive behaviours. It’s an ongoing process, and you’re never really done in this space. There’s an ongoing review cycle, and we test ourselves on a number of principles and self-evaluate what we need to do differently.

What would you like to highlight at the upcoming Safety  In Action Conference in Melbourne this September?
When Health & Safety is done well, it’s no longer an overhead to the business. It’s something that really becomes continuous improvement practices and adds value to the business. I’m really keen to share some of the experiences I’ve had over my career working towards changing that perception. Health and Safety done well increases employee engagement, helps attract and retain good people, and builds brand awareness– and of course facilitates great safety outcomes which means people are staying safe.

As the premier conference of the year, the Safety In Action Conference brings together Safety leaders in the health and safety profession, to encourage global involvement and networking across the two days. Over 700 delegates have attended the conference in the last two years to hear from regulators, thought-leaders and International keynotes who are making a difference in safety culture. This year’s program will explore key Health & Safety topics, by linking Safety Strategy, Leadership and Culture – Find out more about the Safety In Action Conference >>

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