3 Principles of Safety Change - A Laing O'Rourke Case Study

1: People are the solution, not the problem

The people responsible for putting processes into practice must not only have the competence, but the confidence to make the right decisions. To support this, the company has developed a tool called ‘collective insight’, which is used to guide group discussions between management and the workforce on high-risk activities. The aim of these sessions is to review the hazards involved and the associated control measures – and to invite feedback on the planned approach. Where viable improvements are proposed, they are incorporated into the methodology.

One idea initiated by the workforce, which has since been adopted, is ‘pit crews’ – committees of employee representatives, voted in by their peers, who meet regularly with management to discuss opportunities for improvement. The initial target is for there to be at least 20 per cent dialogue (as opposed to monologue) in all workforce encounters, but in time this should reach 100 per cent.

2: Safety is the presence of positives, not the absence of negatives

There is now a strong focus on capturing examples of excellence so that these can be replicated across the organisation. To support this, the concept of a ‘positive investigation’ has been developed. The process applies standard causal analysis (used in the event of an incident) to activities that have been delivered safely.

The aim is to identify the primary factors that contributed to its success, while isolating any redundant activities. For example, following the success of a major concrete pour on the Wheatstone LNG project in Western Australia, a positive investigation was conducted and a report produced. This was shared with the client, Chevron, who subsequently circulated it across its global operations.

Similarly, individuals can report positive observations through a ‘Good on Ya’ card. This initiative, which was instigated by the workforce, ensures those who go beyond expectations are recognised for their efforts. Other safety measures include traditional hard data, such as accident free hours and system health (evaluated in terms of overall performance and responsiveness to change) cultural data, such as frequency of feedback as well as from the workforce and degree of contribution in safety briefings.

3: Safety is an ethical responsibility, not a bureaucratic activity

Safety management should be about protecting people from harm, not protecting companies from litigation. Paperwork and systems are enablers – helping us learn and share lessons. The gap between written guidance and actual work needs to be acknowledged – and workarounds and innovations explored.

More than six months into the new strategy, the DFIR in Australia is down to just 0.17, some 35 per cent better than the UK. On sites across the hub, one can see teams routinely coming together before and after the day’s work, planning their approach and (on successful completion) investigating the outcomes.

Commenting on its success, Dekker says: ‘It’s apparent that one of the few organisations that have effectively formed a practical view of the new safety paradigm is Laing O’Rourke. They have, in the words of John Green, ‘weaponised’ the theory and developed innovative and exciting tools to move forward’.