Case study: SafePlus lifts worker participation

See how a SafePlus Onsite Assessment helped Central Districts Pest Control improve their health and safety risk management, with workers taking the lead.

With 20 years’ experience under their belts, Central Districts Pest Control (CDPC) thought their health and safety practices were in good shape. Still, Health and Safety Co-ordinator Mike Guerin suspected they could be doing more to engage their workers.

For Mike, the key to achieve that and drive greater ownership of health and safety across CDPCs widespread field team is through the SafePlus onsite assessment process.

CDPC is a Napier-based pest control business that works across the country. They employ 30 staff and 20 contractors, who often work alone, in isolated, potentially dangerous terrain.

“The guys need to know how to be safe,” Mike says. “But we didn’t want a system that simply ticked boxes and told them what to do. We wanted them more engaged, to identify and manage risk themselves.”

Having spent 17 years working for a large Australian corporation, Mike knew a lot about commonly used health and safety systems. “But they’re very paper-based, and I’ve seen that a lot of frontline people find that off-putting. Our guys were no different.” 

“We wanted the guys to be more engaged, to identify and manage risk themselves.”

He started looking into alternatives and decided to go with SafePlus, WorkSafe’s voluntary health and safety improvement toolkit.

SafePlus assessments look at how well a business is performing in health and safety leadership, worker engagement and risk management. The assessor talks to people at all levels of the business to understand how things are actually done, not just what the documented processes or procedures are. Businesses receive a performance snapshot – developing, performing or leading – and tailored advice and guidance on how to improve.

One of the things Mike liked about SafePlus was its Safety II approach(external link) – looking at how people do their work and what helps or hinders that.1 “SafePlus was the only option that was going to give our people the chance to have their say about our system, rather than just making sure we had one.”

Mike requested quotes from WorkSafe’s list of approved SafePlus assessors and settled on a company CDPC had previously worked with. Onsite assessments involve an in-depth look at how three key risks for the business are managed: in CDPC’s case, driving on/off road using motorbikes and light utility vehicles, remote work and carcasses/farm animal diseases.

“To keep the price realistic, we opted to do the risk assessment with two of our staff crews and a contractor crew,” says Mike. “We were confident that would give a good insight into our work.”

“SafePlus was the only option that was going to give our people the chance to have their say.”

Their assessor spent time out in the field alongside workers, including Tony Le Bas, CDPC’s Field Manager and health and safety representative. He admits the process was an eye-opening experience.

“I thought we were already pretty well engaged with health and safety. But the assessor came and interviewed us and joined me and one of the other guys on the team for the day, and I have to say it wasn’t what I’d expected.

“She asked how we were able to do a dangerous job safely. That gets you thinking much more than the usual ‘why aren’t we doing this or that’. Getting to have your say in the process definitely makes you feel more involved – and more receptive to change.”

General Manager Rob Brenstrum said one of the changes that came out of the SafePlus assessment was a different approach to carrying out health and safety audits.

“We realised that people saw it as a ‘test’ when I went out into the field with a clipboard.”

“I used to go out into the field with a clipboard. Through the assessment, we realised people saw that more as a ‘test’,” he says.

“Now, instead of that, I spend a day working alongside the guys. I get a better idea of their health and safety behaviours, and we’ve incorporated discussions into that. It’s much more useful for putting people at ease and getting under the surface of what’s happening.”

Rob says more of CDPC’s health and safety improvements are now coming directly from suggestions from field workers. For example, the company has invested in a new, lower model of trail bike that’s easier for people to get on and off. Its lower centre of gravity makes it easier to ride over rough terrain without falling off. CDPC has also bought better safety glasses, ones that don’t fog up and distort workers’ fields of vision.

“The guys love them,” says Rob. “They’d get through a pair of glasses every few weeks before, but these are lasting much longer.”

The SafePlus assessment also encouraged CDPC to expand their focus beyond the field.

“The assessment showed us a few areas where management’s health and safety activity needed attention too,” Mike says. “Our SafePlus assessor pointed out the benefits of performance agreements covering health and safety responsibilities. We hadn’t thought of that for a company of 30 people, but it let each of us see where we needed to improve at management level, and it got everyone involved in the improvement process.”

And while CDPC had completed a job safety and environmental analysis before their assessment, not everyone knew about it, and contractors hadn’t been involved. Since the assessment, Mike has rung around all the contractors to discuss health and safety objectives, and he’s been met with a very positive response.

“Most didn’t have their own objectives, but they agreed to develop them and saw value in improving health and safety.”

“When we came to health and safety, the guys used to shuffle their feet. Now, they’re participating much more.”

The initial assessment, in April 2018, saw CDPC assessed as ‘developing’ in their health and safety practices. A follow-up assessment, in September, confirmed they’d made enough progress to earn a ‘performing’ result. Their assessor talked them through ways they could raise that to ‘leading’, and the business is now working towards that goal together. 

“Our SafePlus assessment came up with good ideas we hadn’t thought of. It’s pushing you to do better each time – and there’s a complete report to use for planning,” says Mike.

“And SafePlus helped show our crews that we’re serious about health and safety in a way that’s real for them. We’ve seen a change in mind-set of our people on the ground – there’s a greater understanding of risk management – and it’ll be those guys that help drive us to be a leading business.” 

Rob is also delighted by the improvements he’s seen.

“At meetings, when we came to health and safety, the guys used to shuffle their feet. Now, they’re participating much more. I love that we are getting feedback we can work on, and our guys are engaged with making their work safer.”

Footnote

1 - The author of the Safety II booklet ‘Learning from success’, Daniel Hummerdal, is currently the Chief Advisor, Health & Safety Innovation at WorkSafe. Daniel is no longer Director of Safety Innovation at Art of Work.