Focus On Water: Seqwater Interview Joseph Meissner
Creating a safe work environment for employees is a priority for Seqwater, aiming for a safety culture where all employees are responsible for safety and are empowered to make safer decisions.
Safety Dimensions were engaged to run a one day masterclass for all leaders, and then rolled out accredited Safety Leadership Foundation Programs.
In this interview with Joseph Meissner from Seqwater, we dive into the challenges of managing the safety of their staff and explore the outcomes of their safety programs.
With workers deployed over such a large area of Queensland, what challenges do Seqwater encounter and what are the specific WHS challenges you are working to mitigate?
Seqwater is the Queensland Government statutory authority responsible for ensuring a safe, secure and reliable bulk drinking water supply for more than three million people across south-east Queensland. We also provide essential flood mitigation and irrigation services to around 1,200 rural customers in seven water supply schemes, and manage recreational areas visited by more than two million people a year and have a $10.8 billion dollar asset portfolio.
Our areas of responsibility range from north to Gympie, as far south as the tweed and to the base of the Toowoomba ranges and we have a staff base of approximately 700. With all of these diverse assets and regionally located infrastructure, ‘reaching our people’ has always been a great challenge; to do this effectively we have had to take on a multi-faceted media approach. Some of our sites don’t even have computer access so we needed to ensure that when we got the attention of our workers, that we were able to get our key messages across in short sharp and consistent way.
We developed a new look safety brand and styling, so now anything WHS related is instantly recognisable, and we have found that workers were far more likely to read it if it stood out as a safety message, we invested in an integrated messaging board system (plasma screens) through our key hub sites (larger sites) and we ensured that our WHS notice boards were kept ‘fresh and alive’ without the years of cluttered posters that you can sometimes see in workplaces. We developed a new look intranet site, with a one-stop-shop of support and we timed key messaging in emails when we knew that employees that only frequent a computer to do their timesheets, would be able to read it as soon as they logged on. Importantly we ensured that our senior management and CEO ‘talked the talk’ and spoke the consistent WHS language and current messaging at regional roadshows and meetings etc. Our cut-through to frontline staff has improved, but this will always be an area of continuous improvement for a regionally diverse business such as Seqwater, however in an age of increasing mobile technology, we are hoping to be able to get more real-time information to and from our staff.
Why did you engage Safety Dimensions to assist you on your journey?
We were looking for a company with a mix of the right behavioural science background with a demonstrated real-world workplace cultural change management experience. From our initial engagement of Safety Dimensions, through to our most recent project (Safety Leadership development with the inclusion of neuroscience brain mapping), we have been more than pleased with the support, guidance, adaptability and innovation that Safety Dimensions has brought to the table.
How would you describe the WHS culture changes you have begun to see since you started your improvement journey?
Seqwater has realised quantum shifts in its safety culture and behaviour, not only that, we have seen a remarkable decrease in injuries to our staff, but the overall ‘speak up’ and reporting culture is probably one of our strongest traits. It is from our commitment to mentor staff as opposed to policing them that has brought all workers along on the safety journey with us. Safety has seemed to defy the ‘tips and troughs’ in overall cultural trends from our various staff surveys and remain one of our strongest indicators that our staff actively see, feel and believe in.
What specific examples of positive change can you share that relate to the way safety performance has improved – at a senior (exec level), at a middle management/coordinator level, and at a frontline level?
Apart from achieving and exceeding all expectations on our WHS KPI’s, we are seeing a real difference in our return to work and rehabilitation of staff, our frontline leaders now know what are the right questions to ask to support staff and to check in on them and we have provided them with the right tools to do this. Our Safety Walks program has also enabled our senior leaders (GMs have to do a Safety Walk once per month, and all other senior managers one per quarter) to be able to get out and talk to our workers about the challenges they face and importantly the successes that they have achieved in their work environment. This program, that has occurred off of the back of the recent Safety Leadership program from Safety Dimensions, has been a real turning point for staff to see that the senior management team are interested in their safety and are open and available to feedback.
What has the feedback been from your staff, clients and contractors on the new way Seqwater works as a result of the increased focus on education/expectations around WHS performance?
As stated previously our safety performance is the highest scoring element of our annual all staff survey (which also has pulse surveys through the year), staff can now see that when we discuss safety or are performing a task, that safety is a core element of our business, I specifically wanted a ‘that’s just how we do it here’ mantra, where doing things safely or considering safety at all times is just ‘the norm’. It has also been refreshing to hear feedback from new-joiners, and words to the effect of “wow, Seqwater are really serious about safety hey” and “it’s wonderful to see a business take safety so seriously and who supports the health and wellbeing of staff so well”.
What’s next on your safety journey?
Where to from here, well we now need to move into a stage of continuous improvement of our WHS Management System, continuously ensuring that it meets the needs of our workers and never becomes disconnected or impractical to use. We are looking to embed our new Safety Leadership program into our Training Needs Analysis to make it an ongoing part of our leader development program. We are always searching to find new ways to get that contact time with our frontline workers to ensure that they know about our initiatives and understand what’s happening in safety at Seqwater. And to continue to support our Speak Up culture and never forget that it’s our leading indicators that will ultimately lead to real workplace changes. We have introduced a new mental health program into our overall health and wellbeing program to take on the stigma that is often attached to mental health issues and support our staff through any challenges that they may face.
What advice would you offer to other water companies on the improving safety journey and what guidance would you give them about working with external consultants such as Safety Dimensions?
Advice about how to best work with Safety Dimensions, would be to be brutally honest about your situation, give a ‘warts and all’ view of where you are and where you want to go and to have a very open mind to the opportunities, suggestions that Safety Dimensions may present. Do not be afraid to bring a challenging proposal to [SD]: that is what we did with our safety leadership program, we proposed that [SD] co-present our program with PRISM Brain Mapping Australia (PBMA), as Seqwater has already used the PRISM brain mapping program for other recruitment initiatives and leader development programs previously. Safety Dimensions were more than happy to collaborate with PBMA and together delivered a highly successful and progressive safety leadership program.
Safety Dimensions has worked extensively with clients with similar needs to Seqwater. For more information, please contact us on 1300 453 555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org