Beyond compliance: getting home safe and well

Posted by on 19 April 2017

An interview with Michael Roberts from IPM Consulting. Michael explains how his company looks past the compliance model of learning to engage people and achieve results.

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Robin:
Welcome to the Learning While Working podcast. It's Robin here, the host of the Learning While Working podcast and the founder and director of Sprout Labs. 

Today in this podcast I'm talking with Michael Roberts from IPM Consulting. Michael talks more about what IPM Consulting does at the start of the podcast. IPM Consulting's approach to safety training is a refreshing approach. It's really a good example of working beyond training and really working at capability development, working in a holistic way with organisations. While Michael's is talking about safety training, many of the ideas, principles and approaches that he's talking about can be applied to other types of compliance training as well.

Michael, welcome to The Learning While Working podcast today.

Michael:
Thanks Robin.

Robin:
To get started, can you do just a quick intro to what IPM Consulting does.

Michael:
Thanks Robin . We provide consulting services in Tasmania, mainly in Australia and beyond, in Risk, People, Culture, Leadership, Work Health and Safety, and Occupational Hygiene—which is asbestos and hazardous substances.

Robin:
Not sure if you remember back to our first conversation but there was a really interesting moment where I turned around and said to you, "look we don't really do compliance training." And your response was, "Well we don't do compliance training and we don't come from a compliance model around managing risk and safety." And at that moment I went, "Ooh, this is actually going to be really interesting."

You have a really different approach to managing risk and safety in organisations. What's your key thing that you think is really different?

Michael:
Yes, we find that most organisations and most managers in businesses first of all think of—especially work health and safety, and occupational health and safety in general, in a legal framework. Which then brings them to a have to, I have to do it sort of context. And I have to say my workers comp budget. I have to make sure I don't lose time and productivity and it becomes a real chore. And we found that the organisations that actually succeed in really excellent outcomes as far as health and safety goes—as far as keeping people safe and well, as far as ensuring that they get back to work early, if they do get injured and they respond quickly—they're organisations that are managing risks well.

They're probably being compliant at the same time and they most likely are, many of them are. But they've actually made the switch. And this is what we help our clients do, is to make the switch to a risk management focus with a compliance underpinning, rather than a compliance focus with risk management when you can get to it. And because fundamentally the laws themselves, the focus of them in health and safety especially is, don't hurt people. Don't harm them and here's the legislative underpinning for that.

Unfortunately in society we've then gone, "Oh well, the lawyers will get us if we get it wrong and we'll get taken to the cleaners." Which happens, realistically probably 0.1 percent of the actual time. But actually the risks are always out there and being either managed or not managed well. So we focus on the people side of health and safety rather than the paperwork side. And this then brings a level of engagement such that our organisations that we work with aren't sitting in—and the managers and senior managers—are not looking at health safety from a 'have to' compliance perspective. They're looking at it from a 'want to' manage risks well; 'want to' get people home safe and well; 'want to' take care and respect for my people. Therefore it works better as a whole organisation and whole team.

Often what happens in the compliance model is that it's the safety team or the HR team versus the rest of the organisation. One is trying to push the other and the other one is trying to push back, or do as minimum as possible. So what we found—we've been doing this for 19 years as our own company, let alone years before that—is that it just helps people to get to the bottom of it. What's really important here? What's important is getting people home safe and well, so they can get on with their lives, come back to work the next day and do a great job and enjoy the company they're working for.

Robin:
Yes. There's a really different sentiment to that sentiment of, you have to do this because of legislation. We have to put this online and make the training as cheap as possible because everyone has to do it. And it's just a really different way of putting it in terms of care. Almost, when you talk about it, it's almost like a personal leadership thing that then filters right through the organisational culture as well.

Michael:
You're very correct there Robin. We call it top down, bottom up. It's both directions and if we don't engage everyone—because who has the risks and who could be hurt in a workplace or harmed, re typically not the managers. They're typically all of the people who are doing the work. Who are out on the roads or who are out driving or who are in the office behind the desk. Or whatever work they're doing and risks they're taking, they're the ones who actually need to be switched on to their own risks and what they could lose.

I think you and I have discussed in the past that in training and in health and safety compliance and health and safety approaches there's a tick box approach. Which is, "I'll just get them done, I'll just get them through that course, I'll just get them through that and then we're all sorted." That's a sort of a tick and switch off kind of approach. And our approach demands a lot more engagement because you're going to get a lot better results. So if you actually want to go to sleep about health and safety, we're not the people to work with. If you want to be enlivened and have it integrated into how you actually do your business, do your organisation—then that's how we can support organisations to really get to grips with: okay what are the real risks, what are the real challenges? How is it culturally, right now? Where do you want to go?

Robin:
It sounds to me, also through that process of managing risks in a really different way, you increase productivity. Which leads to increased profitability as well.

Michael:
Yes, that's exactly right. When the 'want to' falls in, when people come from "I want to go home safe and well, so therefore I want to manage my risks well," then you're not losing productivity because they're resisting your systems. They're actually positively engaged in improving your systems and looking after your equipment and getting on with each other. Rather than it's not my job, it's not my responsibility, I didn't do that. In some of our training and consulting we draw a line and put 'responsible' above the line and 'blame', 'justify' and 'deny' and 'excuses' below the line. And really identify: Where's your team? What are your team typically doing when you ask them to follow a procedure or to use a certain bit of equipment in the right way? Will they justify why they can't or they haven't got time or they haven't been trained, they haven't been shown?

Which has happened in a lot of workplaces we go to. You might have all the paperwork there and we might be ticking the compliance boxes but actually, they're not just being responsible and saying well, yes I'll follow it and if it takes, if it seems to take three times longer, then actually that's what my boss is telling me to do, is follow the paperwork. Once the boss sees it's taking three times longer, the boss has got a real incentive to improve that paperwork.

We find workplaces are so lost in this compliance vortex that a safe work method statement, which is required by law for any high risk work, high risk construction work—it ought to be something in the order of, somewhere between perhaps minimum two or three pages. Probably maximum ten, fifteen. Fifteen's a big one. We're finding work places—our current record is 185 pages for one safe work method statement. This is supposed to be, this is a council in Queensland but we've got organisations here in Tasmania that have 72 page safe work method statements. Tell me an employee that's going bother to read it, let alone understand all the words. Let alone how much time it took to put that darn thing together. And seriously, we expect people to follow that? You've got to be kidding.

Robin:
Actually makes the work more complicated rather than making it more elegant and sensible in some way.

Michael:
Yes and it just switches them off entirely. It's just makes people go, well that's in the truck. Well great. You know, you need a truck to cart something that big around. So it's not active, it's not live, it's not really managing the risks. They're not going to stand there, they're not going to talk it through at the start of the day. The other organisations that we worked with are things like, are some power transmission companies in Victoria and because of some of the compliance ridiculousness of: principal contractor, subcontractor and the subcontractor, the poor old subby who is third tier down has got his own compliance paperwork, safe work statement. He's got to follow that. Then he's got to follow the subcontractor's safe work method statement. Then he's got to follow the principal contractor's one. They don't merge them, they all have their own and they have to tick off and sign off all three. Now that's just gonna kill your productivity. It's gonna kill your risk management as well, and everyone's just rolling their eyes and going, this health and safety stuff's a load of baloney.

Robin:
Yes and especially something like the electrical industry is really interesting because everyone's really conscious of the level of risks that are involved. And people who are sensible by their nature or the fact that they're managing something that could kill them at any moment, in terms of electricity.

Michael:
Yes, they're highly trained.

Robin:
They're highly trained, they're know how behaviour safety. 

Michael:
And then we offend them. We offend them by writing it all down, you know. And trying to codify every single little behaviour they're gonna have. And then they miss it in the detail.

Robin:
Yes. So this is also interesting because I'm seeing, there's a real move in L&D to start talking about capability development and people are saying to try and figure out what does that really mean. My working definition is it's beyond skills, knowledge and mindset. But it's also about processes, infrastructure and measurement as well. A more holistic way of working and it's interesting. It sounds like you started that sort of infrastructure and processes first and then work with people afterwards.

Michael:
Yes. As you said earlier, making it more simple and more elegant is part of what we seek to do and make this monster of words and things into something easier for people to understand and do. So we breakdown health and safety understanding into three parts. Equipment, which is your facilities and your hardware and your tools and everything that's hard. So what's your hardware. Is it for the purpose, is it the right stuff. Is it in good condition, are people looking after it and all those sort of—what is the type and condition of your hardware, your equipment. So that's your E.

Your S is systems. That might all your procedures and policies and processes. Or all your IT systems or all of those sort of things. What are the management systems that are running, that you're supposed to be using and running. That are supposed to keep this thing under control.

And then your P. So that's E, S and P. So what are your people aspects. How well trained are they. How well supported and resourced are you. What's the culture of these people. How they do communicate and respect each other. What do we do between teams. Have the teams actually got a positive culture or have they got a backbiting and corrosive culture.

Robin:
Yes, that's a nice sort of framework actually. Having those three aspects as well. I'm sure that sort of hardware thing would translate quite often, quite nicely into lots of different things around processes and resources as well.

Michael:
It does. Just yesterday I was—we've got a very interesting contract with Zoos Victoria. And the hazards that they have that affect their equipment systems and people, are dangerous animals. So we're currently risk-assessing 22 enclosures for: what are the risks of getting into that enclosure. And they're pretty obvious when there's a dangerous animal who could kill you. So I was yesterday with keepers and work staff and horticulture and vets.

Just looking at, okay what are the equipment systems and people aspects that could bring you unstuck. What is the process that you follow to go in and out. And where are the issues and potential failures in that system from a E, S and P point of view.

Robin:
Yes. So it becomes a collaborative process improvement process.

Michael:
Very much but it's all about risk. They comply, they have plenty of paperwork there but they are concerned that they aren't managing the risk as well as they really need to. And so, they've actually gone for: we need to manage this risk better. There have issues around the world in our industry. This is common for any industry, whether you're in call centres or electricity or councils or wherever you are. What's happening in our industry. And then let's take a look at, okay how are we going with managing those risks. And then a subset of that is, and is this compliant. How do we make that compliant.

Robin:
Yes, putting the compliance as a secondary thing.

Michael:
Yes. Not dropping it out but having the compliance be subservient to the risk management. Because the flip side is, compliance jumps all over risk management and we lose sight of the actual things that are gonna hurt us. Yes we might be defensible in a court of law or in a Coroner's court but so what? What's that really when you've actually killed somebody. Or multiple people have died or been seriously injured, in wheelchairs and so on? There's more to life to whether we got prosecuted or not. And so we bring the reality back, the personal back to health and safety.

Robin:
That's a nice way of thinking about the personal. And it's also that sort of mantra about—I'll probably get it wrong, Michael, about getting home safely.

Michael:
Yes, home safe and well. Today and every day. And we bring back to this: the today part of our risk management approach, rather than the compliance approach is—we need people to be thinking about the risks that are going to harm them today. Whether it be while you are driving or while you're even walking across the road. Or as you're listening to this podcast, you know, what are you doing that's risky. You know, that the podcast is distracting you from, or the music that you're listening to is distracting you from. Are you managing those risks.

So are you going to get home safe and well today. The 'today' brings the nowness to it. Because yesterday's done, tomorrow's not here yet. The risks have got to be managed today whereas compliance has got this never-endingness to it. That's why people put it off, and why people's systems are out of date and always needing updating and all those sorts of things. We drag our sorry heels to the table to review that policy and you put the policy out for review. And it's classic that all HR and the health and safety people say, "And I got no response." Because everybody's disengaged. Well if you bring it back to today, what's going to hurt you today, then people can then get involved and speak to that and actually address that.

Robin:
Okay. This is an interesting question I've started to ask sometimes in podcasts towards the end and I think you might have just even nailed it with that last statement. If someone was trying to move to the spot where they wanted to work beyond compliance and working in a sort of risk management way, what would be their first step to do?

Michael:
Yes, well their first step would be to look at the range of risks that they have and prioritise them in terms of a risk level. So where are my high risks. Where are the things that are going to hurt me severely and have a high likelihood of that. Then step down in some sort of risk matrix, and people can Google risk matrices easily and there's loads of them. But where are my highest risks and what have I got in place currently, and is it adequate.

This then enables you to build what we call a health and safety risk register, which can fit inside an overall organisational risk register. But it looks across the range of whatever the operations are of the organisation. What are the risks that could really put us out of action. As individuals or as teams. And then address them. That then actually fulfils a fundamental compliance approach anyway, which most organisations aren't doing well enough.

Which is knowledge of hazards and risks, which is a requirement for an officer's due diligence—the officer being the owner of the business or the board member or the director or somebody who participates in decisions that affect the whole organisation part of it. So an officer needs that. That's the link between good risk management and effective compliance.

Robin:
And doing that sort of activity as a group, you touch on giving people training and process improvement. It just really goes beyond that sense of a tick and flick approach to compliance.

Michael:
Correct, correct. You really look at, okay how does my equipment, systems and people look after my people. Where do I have gaps. Is it a gap of a system needs updating and we need training to fulfil that. Can we fulfil it with an online process or an online induction or some sort of training package. Can we do that or do we actually need to redesign and put in some new gear and then train people how to use the new gear.

Robin:
Time's gone really quickly today Michael. Thank you so much for joining me. If anyone's listening and they want to find out more about IPM Consulting, where should they go?

Michael:
The website is www.ipmconsult.com.au or they can phone our office, which is 03 6244 2199.

Robin:
Great. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Michael:
You're welcome. Thank you Robin. Really appreciate it.


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