When it comes to conversations about rail safety, topics like predictive maintenance, cybersecurity, and software standardisation are rarely short of air time. But according to Mark Green, Managing Director of Speno Rail Maintenance Australia, factors like people engagement, team building, and supportive leadership should carry equal weight in the safety discussion.
“It’s all about having a positive operating environment,” said Mark ahead of the ARA Heavy Haul Conference. “Physical and digital safety controls are important – but they are only effective insofar as people are engaged with them.
“Be interested and invested in your team. If your employees feel positive in their environment, they are more likely to undertake safety protocol thoroughly, absorb themselves in their work and perform their duties according to best practice,” he added.
Additionally, safety in the workplace is about cultivating trust, Mark said.
“If people have good relationships with management and know they’ll be supported for raising a safety concern, they won’t be afraid to do so. Even if flagging a safety concern causes a disruption to the business, or turns out to be a non-issue, they should be assured that they will get understanding and validation from our management team, every single time,” he said.
Mark is not alone in his thinking. In Australia, worker engagement is increasingly being recognised as a critical safety pillar and a focus area for heavy industry leaders, amid lagging engagement rates, nationwide.
According to Gallup, just 38 percent of employees are highly enthusiastic about, involved in, and committed to their work duties; whilst 14 percent are miserable in their roles. Moreover, employees who are not engaged are more likely to make mistakes, due to a lack of absorption in their duties.
In rail, this is no small matter with accidents caused by human error accounting for 37 percent of all train accidents, over the past five years.
Increase the quality and regulatory of engagement
To encourage workplace engagement, Mark says a strong focus on supportive leadership is essential – something he promotes through regular and meaningful contact with staff.
“If you roll out a procedure and just expect people to follow it, you will likely fail. If you take the time to engage with employees, ask them what their concerns are, and what you can do to make them feel safe, you will get a much better response. People who don’t feel valued are less likely to engage heavily in the quality of their work,” he said.
With employees working remotely, engagement efforts should be amplified, Mark added.
“When the majority of the business is FIFO or interstate and you are managing all controls remotely, having a strong team culture is paramount to working safety.
“In the early stages of COVID-19, where our office-based employees and senior leadership were working from home as much as possible, our priority around communication intensified. Leadership met several times daily via video call, with a strong strategy to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our employees.
“Everyone was on the same page working as one team, they were informed, engaged and proactive, and the response from everyone was brilliant. You need to take everyone on the journey together with a shared vision and outcome. It’s imperative in cultivating a strong and adhesive safety focused team,” Mark said.
Additionally, the focus of safety meetings should shift from how to achieve compliance, to building teamwork and safety culture.
“With a compliance mindset you will only reach the bare minimum of safety code. With a team mindset, you will go well beyond that,” Mark added.
Field time is a privilege not a chore
In a similar vein, Mark makes space for field time, and strongly encourages it throughout his leadership team.
“For me, making time to get out in the field and touch base with our teams is a real privilege. Our people are our strength, and we have some of the best in the business – not just by way of skillset and experience, but by their values, character, drive and their mateship,” he said.
“I like to know firsthand what issues our people are facing, if they are well, and what has been happening in their lives. I want them to know that I value their opinions, observations, and input,” he added.
Be the change you want to see
Supporting employees through challenging personal circumstances, is not just an ethical responsibility, but a great way to build a positive team culture in the workplace and, in turn, a more proactive safety ethos, Mark said.
“We attempt, where possible, to assist our employees during difficult times of illness or injury […]. Our priority is to attempt to alleviate financial impact and the additional stress this has on an individual.
“Reciprocity is never our main motivation, but it’s an inevitable outcome when you build a culture where people will feel happy and supported at work,” he concluded.
Speno Rail Maintenance Australia is a proud sponsor of this year’s ARA Heavy Haul Conference, due to take place 14-15 April at the Ritz Carlton Perth. Managing Director Mark Green will chair the event, hosting international speakers from the International Heavy Haul Association (USA), Transnet Freight Rail (South Africa) and MRS Logistica SA (Brazil). Domestic insights will be heard from Downer, Monash Institute of Railway Technology and BHP Iron Ore.
Learn more and register.