Worksafe – Homesafe: Interview with City of Gold Coast’s Joe McCabe

City of Gold Coast  is the second largest local government in Australia (based on estimated resident population) known for its beaches, hinterland ranges, forests, waterways and vibrant communities, tourism and as the host location for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games™.  The City of Gold Coast council employs more than 3,200 staff.

Safety Dimensions is working with the council’s WHS team to help strengthen the understanding of safety culture for their key leaders to not only demonstrate effective senior safety leadership, but to be able to guide the roles and responsibilities of other staff to ensure all people are safe in the workplace. The council’s vision is that this mindset also extends with people into their home lives.

To do this, Safety Dimensions conducted over 30 Masterclass sessions where executives from the CEO down to middle management leaders reviewed and discussed the roles and responsibilities associated with working to achieve a Zero Harm work environment. The program also focused on enhancing individual skills in consultation and communication that lead to engagement and empowerment to improving WHS performance in the workplace.

Safety Dimensions also created a package based on the council’s Environmental Responsibilities Framework, created internally, targeting it to different levels and responsibilities in the business.

In this interview with Chief Operating Officer Joe McCabe, we dive into the challenges of managing the safety of Australia’s second largest council and explore the outcomes of their safety programs.

What types of challenges are unique to councils in relation to WHS? Are there some that are more unique to the City of Gold Coast?

Local Government has a very large and diverse range of services from water and sewerage, waste collection and disposal, lifeguards, enforcement of local laws (e.g. car parking) and animal management, maintenance of parks and roads, construction of various assets such as roads and storm water drainage, approval of development applications, management of major events, just to name a few, and also a wide variety of office based work.

The big difference with City of Gold Coast is that we get 12 million visitors per year and everything we do needs to be on the basis that the city needs to continue to operate effectively. This creates greater pressure for staff to complete projects in a timely manner and also effectively manage public interfaces, but without compromising safety.

What specific WHS risks are you working on to mitigate in the Council?

The key objective in our new WHS policy is œEveryone Worksafe So They Get Homesafe which not only communicates that we want everyone to go home in the same condition that they came to work in, but also that they need to have the same safety mindset at home as well as at work. Our key target is Zero Harm.

Safety is everyone’s responsibility so the communication of roles and responsibilities is critical. We are moving away from a compliance mindset where some people think they are doing things just to tick a box. We have put in place a strong risk assessment process to prevent incidents. Where incidents happen we conduct comprehensive investigations and share learnings so they don’t happen again.

Our strong committee structure now in place is an excellent vehicle for reviewing why incidents have occurred and to share learnings. It’s all about building a strong and shared safety culture where safety is just part of the œway we do things around here, rather than something separate.

It’s work in progress but it’s about completing the move from a compliance mindset to a situation where safety is truly integrated into the way we do business and enjoying the improved safety performance as a result.

Why did you engage Safety Dimensions to assist you on your journey?

External providers provide a reality check on how we are going on the safety culture journey but also provides some essential tools and techniques on how the communication between leaders and staff can be dramatically improved. Communication is the key to building this strong culture and preventing workplace injuries.

What outcomes are you seeing that support your WHS goals and vision as a direct relationship to the education and skills development masterclasses?

We are seeing a substantial increase in commitment from our leaders to have open and honest safety discussions with staff about both safe and unsafe work practices – and not avoid those potentially difficult discussions. They are also having conversations with supervisors to ensure that they do the same. Staff are also being encouraged to have the same safety mindset at home as well as work.

What specific examples of positive change can you give us – that relate to the way safety performance is improving?

Whilst it is still early days, it is already evident that the executive leadership and senior management is focused on reviewing and implementing their personal safety commitments that were identified during and post the safety leadership training program. Senior leaders have begun the process of discussing these commitments with our leaders across the business so that we can share and learn from our experiences in order to build on our successes.

What has the feedback been from your staff, clients and suppliers on the new way the council works in relation to the increased focus and education/ expectations regarding WHS performance?

Feedback from the leaders who participated in the safety leadership program has been very positive, however we are currently rolling out the full implementation of the safety observation and engagement process. This will help us build the strong safety culture that meets our Worksafe-Homesafe aspirations. The expectation of all parties is that our safety performance will improve substantially in a relatively short period of time.

What’s next on your safety journey?

It’s continuing to build a strong safety culture through leadership and communication, and also providing the training required to ensure that all staff (regardless of seniority) are adequately equipped to play their part in creating and maintaining a safe workplace. It is about getting a œZero Harm Strategy in place.

What advice would you offer to other councils on the improving safety journey – what guidance would you give them about working with external consultants?

The health and safety of staff must be owned by all staff not just leaders, and building a strong safety culture through leadership and communication is absolutely not negotiable. External providers have provided excellent tools and techniques which will prove to be very important in assisting us in getting to where we need to go.

Visit the City of Gold Coast website: