Creating a culture of safety

Recognising that safety is more than ticking boxes or checking things off a list, this year’s Safety Advocacy Award went to an individual who is shifting sector-wide approaches to safety.

Growing up, Kristen Sandford was inculcated with an understanding of safety.

Observing her father, who worked in safety management, a lifelong passion for safety began to form.

“Seeing the way that he loved what he did – dealing with people, ensuring the safety of people – really got me wanting to be involved in that industry,” said Sandford.

Recently winning the Safety Advocacy Award, sponsored by BOC, at the Women in Industry Awards 2019, Sandford has emerged from this foundation to make her own mark on safety.

After finishing high school, Sandford knew that safety was a career that she wanted to pursue. Moving from Queensland, Sandford began her studies in Western Australia. While completing an advanced diploma in occupational health and safety training and assessment, Sandford was focussed on applying what she learnt in the workplace.

“Where safety can go and how it actually works in the industry was for me the most exciting part of the diploma, and it kept me thinking, ‘I’m going to study this and I’m going to go and put this all together in a workplace somewhere,’” recalled Sandford.

Immediately after completing her studies, Sandford began to work on a project in the mining industry in WA. Here, Sandford found what she had been preparing for.

“I was able to work alongside the site safety person that was there and get my hands into the safety side of things in the mining industry,” said Sandford.

After completing that 18-month project, Sandford shifted to working for a building materials supplier before moving back to Queensland and into her current position as safety manager at CSR. In this role, Sandford has been able to implement her approach to safety.

Sandford starts from the point that safety is about “ensuring that our people come to work in a safe state and that they leave it in exactly that same state as well”.

Implementing this philosophy means that staff at CSR want to be at work, and want to be safe at work. This positive approach to safety is a shift from traditional safety practices which either focus on rules or set up exclusions. Instead, Sandford plays a slightly different role to the stereotypical safety officer.

“I’m not coming in to be a police officer, I’m trying to get them onside. I’m not here to tell them what to do or how to do their job, I’m here to help them and work with them all to ensure that they all are being safe,” said Sandford.

Working with the staff at CSR, where Sandford works out of the company’s Coopers Plains site, south of Brisbane, Sandford is empowering employees across the business to take responsibility for their own safety, particularly in the area of hazard identification.

“I train them to ask, ‘How do I identify hazards? What hazards are there?’ and get them to be able to put their hand up and report those hazards through to us. Then, instead of just saying ‘That’s great, now we’re going to fix it,’ we throw it back at them and say, ‘Well how do you think we can fix this?’”

This approach to safety not only ensures that employees are safe at work, but that they bring a safe attitude with them when they show up to work. This, in turn, contributes to a culture of safety across the workforce.

“Even getting people to say to us, ‘I had an injury,’ whether it’s work related or non-work related, is important. We tie together work and non-work relationships as well by saying, ‘If you hurt yourself at work we’re going to fix you, and if you hurt yourself at home we’re going to help you,’” said Sandford. “There’s no difference for us here – we’re happy to put you on restricted duties to help you out because you’ve had an accident at home.”

When Sandford is dealing with day to day issues of safety, such as forklift and pedestrian interactions and manual handling, she is looking towards the application of new technologies such as automated forklifts so that the chance of a traffic management incident or manual handling injury is averted. In addition, applying safety to a person’s whole body, including their psychological safety, leads Sandford to take on a HR role locally, as HR operations are managed interstate at CSR’s head office.

“I’m happy to put my hand up when there is a personnel issue between people or when someone is going through some mental health issues. I utilise the experience I have to support them and help them through that.”

Receiving the Safety Advocacy Award at the Women in Industry Awards confirmed the value of this approach to Sandford, and showed that her efforts were being recognised.

“People tell you you’re doing a good job, but to actually, firstly, be nominated, secondly, to become a finalist and then to win the award was such an achievement. I was so proud of myself and very thankful of CSR for even nominating me in the first place,” said Sandford. “It made me realise that I am definitely doing a good job and that I’ve got the support of everyone around me in safety.”

Outside of work hours, Sandford has donated her time for the past nine years to volunteer for St John Ambulance Australia, which gives her a further insight into how safety can be implemented, as well as the needs of emergency service workers when an incident does occur.

“I work alongside a paid paramedic, so that’s built me as well to be a different safety person in itself. You get in the ambulance, you get called to a serious car accident, and you have to switch on and use those incident investigation skills to deal with what comes to hand. It’s the same with safety at work – it’s not the same job every day,” said Sandford.

Ultimately, the way in which Sandford approaches safety is that it’s not just a job, it’s a vocation.

“It’s part of life and what I love.”

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