Inquisitive culture in health and safety
“The truly curious will be increasingly in demand. Employers are looking for people who can do more than follow procedures competently or respond to requests; who have a strong intrinsic desire to learn, solve problems and ask penetrating questions.” – Ian Leslie.
For the three months leading up to the end of 2018, my professional life was defined by the execution of a major qualitative research project exploring what non-technical skills health and safety leaders feel professionals in the field need to develop to be effective in their roles.
During my research, the industry leaders who make up the Acre Frameworks Advisory Panel consistently raised the point that curiosity is ever-important in a health and safety role – very much in alignment with Ian Leslie’s commentary above. In a human-oriented profession like health and safety, being curious about how businesses function and how the people within those organisations think, feel and behave enables health and safety professionals to create pragmatic, adaptable solutions, driving sustainable change in business environments that are often made up of diverse people groups.
Whilst exploring this topic of curiosity in his advisory panel interview, Jim Senior, Health and Safety Director at Multiplex, a premier global construction company, shared how Multiplex is encouraging its people to embrace a curiosity mind-set.
In Jim’s words: “We are working on creating an ‘inquisitive culture.’ I wouldn’t say we have fully achieved this yet, but the intention is to encourage people to look for what can go wrong and then re-evaluate risk controls to prevent adverse outcomes. HRO (high reliability organisation) theory relies on a preoccupation with failure or things going wrong. This is not to say that we should be pessimists, but we need to be asking ‘what if?’ A health and safety professional should know as much as possible about the various activities carried out in their workplaces. Be curious and engage with operatives, supervisors and managers to find out more about the technical side of their work. Get informed.”
Make a difference
What Jim enjoys about being a health and safety leader is the opportunity to make a difference.
“Understanding people, and why they behave the way they do, has always fascinated me. Having been involved in sports coaching from a very young age, I quickly learnt that people respond very differently depending on the experiences they are having. Generally, the better the experience, the better the response.”
He is very proud to be part of a significant shift in health and safety performance, and feels it is particularly satisfying to nurture and develop young talent who will take the world of health and safety to a new level. When it comes to nurturing the talent in his team and giving them opportunities to innovate, Jim commented:
“Innovation is encouraged and recognised throughout Multiplex. For example, the Considerate Constructors Scheme and a companywide innovation recognition scheme have resulted in many good ideas being adopted into standard practice. Importantly, innovation needs to be properly managed, so setting out a clear purpose is essential. At Multiplex, we have recently engaged a psychologist who has enabled us to think very differently. This is part of what we see as essential external scrutiny and influence on the way we approach developing our health and safety strategy and associated programmes.”
Ready to get curious and take on new avenues for learning? To conclude, I’d like to offer up some of Jim’s top tips for continuous professional development in health and safety:
“There are many publications that have influenced my thinking. James Reason’s Organisational Accidents is essential reading for any health and safety professional, but also for management. Patrick Hudson’s Safety Culture Ladder is an excellent illustrative representation of how an organisation can evolve towards high performance. Other good reads are James Kerr’s Legacy and Dan Gardner’s Risk. More recently, Sidney Dekker has looked to open up the field of health and safety through his ‘Safety Differently’ approach.”
Jim is a chartered health and safety professional with over 35 years of experience in the construction industry. His career progressed through construction and project management before specialising in health and safety and becoming a key part of our senior team.
As Health and Safety Director, Jim has led the way in developing our health and safety strategy and implementing numerous key initiatives within Multiplex since joining the company in 2003. Also, as an active member of a number of influential health and safety working groups including various Build UK forums and the CPA as well as leading change through engagement with several academic institutions including Greenwich University, Imperial College, University College London, Reading University and Strathclyde University on a variety of research projects to facilitate evidence-based innovations.
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