February 2016

Safe and certain

  • By Sacha Montgomery, Health and Safety Manager, Solid Energy New Zealand

A safety improvement project, but also, more importantly, a common understanding to drive for certainty in our safety performance

in our general business activity we routinely pull together work programs to manage costs and achieve production requirements. We schedule output, monitor daily and weekly performance against forecasted activity, identify issues and develop actions to correct underperformance. We are conditioned to set and achieve targets.

At Solid Energy we have applied the same short interval controls to our safety performance. ‘Certainty’ absolutely represents the difference between a life or death outcome.

2015 has challenged me and everyone within our organisation beyond all expectation. The volatility of the resources market and the financial challenges faced by the Solid Energy business have tested our resolve.

As our organisation navigated some treacherous and uncertain economic times, we found solace in our safety program. We were united by a common goal, and in the knowledge that at least in one element of our business activity we had to have absolute control.

Our commitment was to each other, maintaining our work environment in a state that would assure our employees (and their families) of their physical safety, as well as support healthy minds through open and transparent communication. We channelled our energy and our ‘Safe and Certain’ project evolved.

In safety we all have a common goal

Dan Clifford, our CEO, presented ‘Safe and Certain’ to the AusIMM New Zealand Branch conference in August 2015. In November, I shared the project implementation at the Workplace Injury Prevention and Management Summit in Wellington.

In our messaging, we highlighted two core drivers:

  1. New legislation implementation – where we aligned our safety management system and risk assessments with the refreshed New Zealand model, a key objective of the project; however, we centred our efforts on the overall intent of regulation. We sought to get ‘cut through’ with compliance and look at how to implement safety on the ground in an engaging and meaningful format.
  2. Positive distraction – while noting the very real, negative and distracting external factors at play in our industry at present, we sought to reinforce that safe working is simply doing things right and well, and therefore entirely within our personal control. If we were to be distracted, let it be by taking extra notice of hazards in our workplace or the needs of our workmates.

Dan and I have not invented anything new, but we did follow some key steps as we plotted our course. Through research, planning and testing the market, we have maintained focus and implemented change.

  • Research – the refreshed New Zealand legislation is a relative of international mining ‘best practice’. We considered
    how others have applied similar requirements and made a point of looking outside of our own backyard (within New Zealand, internationally and at other high-hazard industries).
  • Planning – setting objectives, floating ideas, introducing language and developing understanding. We initially proposed objectives and the work scope; then used the site’s feedback to settle
    on a preferred set of project activities and deliverables.
  • Implementation – our action plan has a theme: fatal potential. Awareness, education and a series of mandatory and life-saving controls were introduced through a cascading roll-out of communications and workshops, designed to challenge and expand safety values and beliefs.

What could kill you at work?

During the research phase, we identified a level of comfort around potentially fatal hazards.

The more I considered why teams felt ‘relaxed’ and believed that things were ‘… pretty good around here’, I found evidence to support this. The mining industry until recently had recorded 30 years of significantly decreasing fatality rates, especially in New Zealand and Australia. Corporate memory has been lost through retirement or the closure of older mines, so some of the less obvious and infrequent hazards had been committed to history or simply forgotten.

In developing our safety program we targeted personal ownership and responsibility, values that our team members will retain beyond their employment with Solid Energy.

Safe and Certain – objectives and framework

Dan uses ‘certainty’ to describe his personal commitment to us; acknowledging that safety remains of paramount importance, even as we work through these unpredictable times. In stating our project vision, ‘Safe and Certain’ stuck.

Safe and Certain is underpinned by five objectives that define our two-year project focus:

  • give certainty to the elimination of fatal risk in our workplaces
  • develop an in-depth knowledge of the fatal risks in our workplaces and the required controls to eliminate them
  • develop our leadership capability to underpin sustainable performance into the future
  • continue the reduction in injuries to achieve a Total Recordable Incident Frequency Rate (TRIFR) of 3.5 over two years
  • align and rationalise systems and tools to facilitate and support improvement.

The framework has been modelled as three pillars of performance – people, engineered environment and equipment. The foundation is the alignment of our operating systems and beliefs.


Our work has centred on developing personal value and accountability for day-to-day decision-making and actions.

Individual key performance indicators were established, linked to site and company safety performance outcomes but highlighting the contribution we all make to the overall result.

Beyond achieving the targets set, equal attention has been placed on the frequency and quality of communication, sharing of learning and challenging ingrained practices.

Senior leadership is driving the change. Engagement, like trust, is earned. Visible leadership for us means management in the field; monitoring, questioning and inspiring improvement; and reinforcing benefits of disciplined safety behaviour.

Engineered environment (and equipment) – process safety

Providing assurance that our workplaces and practices (infrastructure) are designed and set up to deliver certainty to the person operating within them. The people brought together to plan, design and undertake tasks are adequately trained and prepared with the necessary skills to execute their work correctly.

  • An increased emphasis on risk management tools being used by our teams not directly at the face (for example, geotechnical engineers and surveyors). Operators must be confident that tasks and environments have been planned, designed and modelled with their safety at the forefront.
  • Once the construction of a designed area progresses, surveyors and geotechnical engineers monitor the physical reality of their design assumptions, adjusting where necessary if the environment is not responding as expected.
  • A person must develop a value to work in a certain way, and the organisation must influence that ‘want’. Through legislation, compliance with rules and consequences for breaches are established; through education, there is communication and consistency in approach. We develop knowledge and understanding (and personally desire to do the right thing).
  • To gain ‘cut through’ with legislative compliance, we themed Safe and Certain around principal hazard awareness and critical controls. We isolated our set of workplace principal hazards through increased intensity around our incident investigation processes and from research into wider industry events after reviewing those prescribed in regulation.

Light bulb moment – critical control verification

In developing our principal hazards we highlighted mandatory controls. These evolved into a simple check tool. Our management teams quickly connected with this tool as it gave them the confidence to approach high-risk tasks, knowing they were asking the right questions to satisfy themselves that critical controls were understood and being applied.

Life-saving rules bridging the gap between personal and process safety

In raising awareness of both personal accountability and principal hazard mandatory controls, we identified a need to bridge the gap between personal and process safety measures. Life-saving rules fulfilled this need. We positioned these as mandatory rules that sit within any individual’s own sphere of control.

Life-saving rules connect personal safety expectations, risk management tools, workplace principal hazards, mandatory critical controls and assurance activities.

Safe and Certain action plan – year 1

A separate body of work is occurring simultaneously in the plant and equipment, asset management and fit-for-purpose arena.

My work stream has focused on two elements of the framework model (engineered environment and people) and the underpinning systems.

Year 1 focused on strategy, performance monitoring and accountability:

  • establishing safety goals (cold eyes review/gap analysis)
  • strategy on a page and initial action plan (what and how)
  • performance indicators (to drive
    safety behaviours)
  • roles and responsibilities (accountability)
  • principal hazard and fatal potential awareness (incident investigation).


  • Collaboratively working across all sites and establishing common values and ‘Safe and Certain’ as our commitment statement.
  • The strategy captured ideas from all sites. We researched then field-tested some suggested activities and finally landed on the most value-adding. Criteria for an activity to be selected was:
    • the physical activity involving interaction and/or teamwork to produce a data point
    • its relevance to all sites (office-based personnel, opencast mines, underground mines and processing plants)
    • the data captured could measure both safety performance and workforce participation.

Key performance indicators (KPIs)

Daily data is captured by sites in a central database. All entries translate into Excel spreadsheets, validated centrally through the creation of comparable reports for trend analysis.

Reports generated are shared across the business weekly and monthly, and capture:

  • employee and contractor hours
  • injuries (including length of time off work or restrictions from full duties)
  • management site inspections
  • hazard reporting
  • safety interactions
  • task observations (checking work processes against documented
    operating practice)
  • critical control verifications (check of high-risk tasks and processes against mandatory controls)
  • near-hit and incident reporting (separation of nearly and actual loss events for ‘free’ learning)
  • incident investigations (including the escalation of high-potential events to a level of scrutiny – as if a serious outcome had occurred)
  • corrective actions management
  • drug and alcohol screening
  • workforce engagement (monthly performance update presentation/discussion, led by mine management).
  • We injected competition into the process by presenting monthly data as a score card, a one-page snapshot of a site’s performance against its targets (scaled to reflect the size of teams and production).

Validation of action plan

We undertook a review at the end of year 1 to test workforce engagement and understanding of ‘Safe and Certain’.

The review involved spending time in the field talking to employees. Results were mixed, with the behaviours that our KPIs had been selected to help grow not being fully realised. Activities were being recorded but much attention was on achieving targeted numbers; we risked losing focus on our people and their safety.

Safe and Certain action plan – year 2

Year 2 commenced in July 2015. We had embedded the terms ‘principal hazard’, ‘fatal potential’ and ‘life-saving rules’ within our corporate vocabulary. Implementation of the activities that underpinned these were our priority:

  • life-saving rules
  • certainty – principal hazard controls
  • system alignment
  • cascading leadership training/roll-out
  • site ‘stop for safety’ days.

Focus areas

Principal hazard awareness – define and strengthen our employees’ ability to identify potentially fatal situations
within their workplace and apply the appropriate response.

  • Life-saving rules process of selection, consultation and roll-out were aligned to good-practice guidance – as few as possible; relevance to our industry; consult, communicate and educate; define what as well as how to comply; represent fatal risk; and penalty to fit the crime.
  • Life-saving rules breaches are to be escalated to high-potential incidents, with enhanced investigation applied and reports circulated for shared learning and to prevent recurrences.
  • Principal hazards were identified using our site’s broad-brush risk assessments (legislative compliance requirement).
    We analysed our list against data from fatal incidents elsewhere in mining and civil construction and established a final set of tasks requiring increased levels of attention.
  • Principal hazard mandatory controls were created, with short papers highlighting the most dangerous work activities and specifying expectations to be applied by anyone undertaking the tasks. In addition, site-specific controls are to be developed.
  • Roll-out commenced late 2015 and involves formal training, informal review and validation through a set of corresponding critical-control verification tools.


Applying formal processes to life-saving rule breaches, non-loss events and high-potential incidents is often associated with failure. Transitioning to a culture of increased reporting has met with some suspicion and taken encouragement to gain trust.


It’s now been 18 months post introduction, and with a little hand holding, coaching and the occasional uncomfortable conversation, the processes are in place and being embraced by our sites.

Statistically, injury numbers are trending down. We have achieved a lost-time injury frequency rate of less than one per million hours worked, and an overall recordable injury frequency rate of less than seven per million hours worked (from 23 in the financial year ending 2014).

We have investigated 24 near-hit/high-potential events and shared the learning from these across the organisation. Toolbox sessions are occurring, with management encouraging open discussion about site-specific issues that lead to the sharing of ideas and collaboration.

Monitoring and embedding any new activity or instruction is absolutely essential. We have integrated knowledge reinforcement and how-to-apply messages into daily operational communications such as pre-shift discussions, in-field supervision and the management of in-field interactions.

Tips for successful management engagement

  • Research – look outside what you know (your site, your business, your industry). Review your monthly activities report or a recent incident investigation and get a feel for what has been happening. Identify developing trends or possible issues.
  • Planning – prepare a few questions based on the data you have reviewed in your research. Arrange to speak to a crew before or after a shift, or visit an area where an incident has occurred.
  • Implementation – relax into discussions; start with general business, then share a personal experience and
    ease into the safety topic you want to explore. Reinforce principal hazard messages and your general commitment to safe working practice.

The success of ‘Safe and Certain’ has come from leadership activity. ‘Walk the talk’ is an often-used phrase, and whilst finding the time to get out and interact is challenging, this has undeniably underpinned our project.

Our directors, senior leadership team members and site management have demonstrated a relentless personal commitment to safety, setting a standard that everyone has come to expect.

‘Safe and Certain’ represents our team members working with a safe mindset, knowing they are tooled up and prepared to execute their role with certainty, and that any hazards outside their personal control have been managed with the same level of personal commitment by the team members working around them.

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