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Malcolm Deery is the Group General Manager of Health, Safety and Environment at Programmed, which provides a range of services including recruitment, facility management, maintenance services management as well as marine operations to the offshore oil and gas industry.

Malcolm, a highly experienced safety professional, has been at the safety helm of Programmed since 2010 and is responsible for the organisation implementing its Zero Harm target. We met with Malcolm to find out more about Programmed's Zero Harm target and general approach to safety.

We hear a lot from organisations on safety culture and statements such as Zero Harm, but Programmed has continually achieved steady declines in lost time injury to a figure below 1.5.

The starting point was at the most senior level of the organisation, holding the belief that all injuries are preventable. Once this belief is internalised, a raft of actions necessarily follow. Work is planned and undertaken knowing it can be done free of injury. When an injury does occur it is investigated and reviewed. We know it didn't have to happen and look to understand what has to be done to prevent a recurrence. And, most importantly, people are engaged in a conversation that asks, "What work are you doing here today? What could go wrong and how could you or anyone else be injured as this work is done? What needs to be done to make sure this doesn't happen?". These three questions are asked formally and informally across Programmed today.

We also redesigned our culture—inclusive of language, tools and processes—to support Zero Harm. We did this because at the core of our culture we positioned the "all injuries are preventable" belief. Everything is now aligned so that we plan to make each day injury free. Two examples of how we redesigned our culture are:

  1. Our definition of an incident/injury being—once we have managed the human side of the event—an unplanned event. Of course, who wants unplanned events when you are looking to run an efficient business? If we ask our people about where they can be injured and to take steps to remove these possibilities, we have enhanced the efficiency of the work being done.
  2. Our definition of behaviour being "What we do or what we don't do". We explain that it is always easy to see what the individual has done when an injury occurs but if Zero Harm is to be achieved, we have to first ask "Has the organisation behaved safely?" before we look at what people might have done unsafely. The outcome of this is that, organisationally, we are forced to ensure we have provided the correct tools, equipment, processes, leadership and supervision.

As a result of designing a Zero Harm culture, we have many examples where improved safety performance has increased staff engagement as well as significantly increased revenue and profitability. This is the benefit of removing unplanned events. A key point is that it is the "looking after people" that has delivered our injury reduction.  

What are the challenges of operating and implementing safety across the five Programmed divisions?

Our facility management, property services, workforce, marine and technical divisions face different safety issues. Both in the nature of the work they do and also in the fact that all of our people are on a customer's site somewhere across Australia and New Zealand. However, each of these divisions have systems and processes in place that assume the work can be done free of injury.  At a group level, we have a set of critical risk standards or risk protocols, which ensure there is a Programmed way of managing known high-risk exposures across all business units. For instance, we have a universal approach to managing work at heights, asbestos and contractors. So, although there are five divisions with 14 different business streams, there is still a commonality in the way we think about workplace injury behaviourally and how we manage high-risk work, which has its roots in our Zero Harm objective. I think a good way of describing our integrated systems approach is to say we don't do safety, rather, we deliver our services safely. This might appear to be a subtle play on words but it is a very significant description of how we see ourselves.

How important is it to have leadership from the top on safety?

Safety is our Managing Director Chris Sutherland's first business imperative. This is essential to developing a Zero Harm safety culture. Chris understands that looking after people, eliminating unplanned events that will require operational discipline and in turn affect operational excellence, is a point of difference for our customers and a smart way to run a business.

We have more than 25,000 employees working at more than 10,000 customer sites. While our Zero Harm standards don't waiver, sometimes we do find ourselves at odds with the culture of some of our customers. Walking away from a contract of $20 million because of a conflict around the value of people demonstrates the exceptional leadership and personal value Chris has for people.

How did Programmed manage the challenges of adapting to the harmonised WHS legislation, particularly given you operate in WA and Victoria, which are yet to harmonise?

We have always endeavoured to operate to the highest compliance expectation, which allows for standardisation of practices. Without diminishing compliance to any degree at all, we believe the constant focus on Zero Harm keeps our vision considerably above the detail of compliance on a day-to-day basis.

Harmonisation has been a useful tool in achieving buy-in on our safety approach from the business. We used due diligence officer obligations as an opportunity to rewrite position descriptions (with guidance from Sparke Helmore) and produced a series of actions our officers were required to undertake regarding safety. This includes going out into the field and having safety conversations, chairing safety review meetings, leading incident investigations (to ensure our officers understand our hazards) and implementing quarterly Board safety review meetings. These measures were all implemented before the legislation commenced in January 2012.

Programmed bought Skilled Group Limited in October 2015, which is an exciting move for you. What challenges and opportunities do you see from a safety perspective with this acquisition?

The merging of the two businesses allows for the best practices to be adopted, which has provided for a richness of tools and practices to be worked with. There is an expectation that Programmed's safety conversation process is used broadly across the extended business. Safety conversations are where every manager and board member asks employees, "What work are you doing?", "What could go wrong?", "How could you or anyone else be injured doing this work?" and "What needs to be done to avoid that?". These open questions engage those doing the work and address unplanned events. One of the challenges we have in the merged business is ensuring new hazards are understood and the controls around these hazards are robust. The one thing that won't change is our organisational culture designed to deliver Zero Harm.

In what direction do you see the business growing in the coming years?

We are seeing a huge growth in the area of public private partnerships. Just as an example, we are part of the consortium rebuilding the Federal Courts in Canberra, which will involve us maintaining the facilities for 25 years. We're part of a consortium that's building a 1,000 bed accommodation at the University of Wollongong, which we'll maintain for 35 years, and building Government schools in New Zealand under the same arrangements. Our Grounds team continues to maintain more and more public spaces and retirement villages and the like, and our Painting group is called on for its expertise and skills around large complex and abseiling jobs. We're also setting up a safety consulting business that is being born out of the approach we've taken, in response to so many people asking us about our safety improvement journey and what we have done to capture the resulting improvements.

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