June 2019

Professional perspectives: health and safety

  • By AusIMM

We asked four professionals: How do you embed health and safety practices into your everyday work life?

Trish Kerin 

Director, Institution of Chemical Engineers Safety Centre

Trish Kerin.

For me, health and safety starts with values and attitudes. When you have safety as a core value, your attitude and therefore actions you take will be governed by this. Your attitude to safety will reflect what you do at 2 am when no one is watching. So it all starts with simple acts, performed deliberately.

Leading a safety centre means I don’t often face the safety hazards that exist in operating facilities anymore, so while my work is all about advancing process safety knowledge and practice, my everyday health and safety practices are more related to other areas. I travel a lot for work, so I have certain routines which I follow every time, no matter how tired I am. 

It starts with maintaining hydration on long flights and wearing pressure stockings to manage deep vein thrombosis risk. I also strictly manage sleep times to ensure that I adapt to the new time zone as soon as possible – always easier said than done. This is important to not to manage fatigue, but also ensures I am alert to possible dangerous situations if they arise. I also never go to sleep in a hotel room without first walking my emergency escape route. Having been in hotels where fire alarms have gone off in the past, it makes it easier if you have at least walked the path once. These are simple acts performed deliberately to stay safe. 

Rex Berthelsen HonFAusIMM(CP)

Group Manager Resource Geology, MMG Limited

Rex Berthelsen.

Most, if not all, companies have well-established safety management systems. These systems are used by both management and employees alike to ensure planned work is carried out and in a way that reduces risks to people, equipment and financial loss to a level that is acceptable. The systems have many names and take different forms. Some are task oriented while others are process driven. In my career I have seen and used a few different systems that approach the objective from different angles.

From my perspective, the type of approaches that have the greatest benefit and longest lasting impact on workforce culture are the ones that focus on people. By that I mean people seeing and hearing from others on a daily basis about doing work safely. This process must be led from the top of an organisation and must be part of all employees’ workdays. 

In my organisation we start every meeting with a ‘safety share’. These can be simple personal stories, recent incidents or even thoughts of a safety or values nature. Everybody contributes and when they do, those stories and the discussions that follow stay in people’s minds. And when that happens people think about what they are doing at work and at home.

Steve Durkin FAusIMM

Founder, Safescape and winner of AusIMM’s 2017 Jim Torlach Health and Safety Award

Steve Durkin.

The risk assessment process is burnt into the mind of anyone who’s spent decades in mining. This process can range from be a five second step back to the full on ‘sit down and analyse the situation from a risk point of view’.  

The trick to this approach is being practical; you can’t eliminate completely the risk of a road accident for example because not everything is in your control. For sure, if every vehicle on the road was automated and working as some sort of hive mind with ‘fail to safe’ mechanisms in place, it would go most of the way to achieving this, but this is the stuff of the very distant future.  

The concern I have for a lot of proposed safety controls is where they remove the human element of responsibility. My safety should always be my responsibility. If I assume someone else is looking after my safety entirely, I might forget to consider what decisions only I can make to ensure my own health and safety. In a dynamic world and even with the best intentions sooner or later I’ll come unstuck.

It is with this in mind that I always try to question second and third order consequences of proposed controls, and where they unnecessarily limit an individual’s responsibility I will resist that control.

Elyse Bosch SAusIMM

Studying B. Laws and B. Science, University of Adelaide; and AusIMM EEF Scholarship winner 2019

Appropriate health and safety measures should be accounted for in every aspect of life. As a student member of AusIMM, I haven’t had a lot of experience within the minerals industry yet, however the small exposure I’ve had has helped me to appreciate the need for appropriate health and safety practices. 

Within an industry that strives for the optimal health and safety practices for its workers, a continued approach to improving these practices is essential. During my small exposure to the minerals industry, the need for safe working conditions is something that resonates with me. I believe that when working in a higher risk industry, the need for situational awareness is paramount. Being aware of your surroundings is important as it helps to identify potential hazards and risks; whether it be within an office setting, a lecture theatre, out on field or a mine site.

An effort to continually shine a spotlight on areas that need improvement is imperative. A large issue is changing the attitude and behaviours surrounding health and safety practices. This attitude shift needs to be addressed and implemented beyond the mining sites and entrenched as common practice throughout the whole industry. My exposure to the minerals industry has drilled in to me the importance of health and safety and the need for a positive attitude towards change surrounding better practices.

Do you want to help shape this conversation? AusIMM’s Health and Safety Society supports all health and safety professionals and serves to lift the profile of this critical topic in the resources sector. Find out more and join today at ausimm.com/health-safety-society.


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