HELPING AFTER A WORKPLACE FATALITY…
Our new CEO at Safety Wise (Luke Dam) had a chat to me recently while he was finalising our new Business Plan. The discussion revolved around three questions:
What we do? Easy - we deliver Incident Cause Analysis Method (ICAM) related products and services,
How we do it? By delivering world class investigation products and services using the best facilitators, products and tools;
Then the next question was why we do it, why do we actually exist? What do we offer to our clients? What do they receive when engaging Safety Wise?
I sat in my little hotel room in Blackwater, QLD thinking about the third question and trying to put my-self in our client’s shoes. I recalled comments from various clients during investigations, feedback given after we’d left sites and the image and analogy that kept coming to me was that we’re like a compass or navigation system - we work with and guide our clients following an incident to help them return to normal operations in a controlled and safe manner.
When we arrive on-site in response to a significant incident such as a fatality, we usually find in the midst of the chaos our clients are shocked, overwhelmed and lost. For some organisations, this is their first occasion in trying to deal with a tragic event. For others, unfortunately, they’ve been through it before, but experience in dealing with a fatality certainly doesn’t make coping any easier.
Following the event, emergency management plans are enacted. Silo investigations are commenced. The Police need to ascertain it was indeed a workplace incident and start collecting information for a possible coronial. The Regulators turn up and their investigation may well result in prosecution, litigation, fines or sanctions on operating licences etc. Yet, for the organisation involved, they too are required to conduct an internal investigation for the purpose of learning from the incident and ensuring any system deficiencies are identified and addressed.
While the logic behind emergency management plans and major incident plans can be comprehensive and effective, what can’t be captured in a tangible way is the emotion that people feel following a significant incident and how this can impact on the entire workforce and effectiveness of plans. I’ve had CEO’s, who despite putting on a brave face in front of the workforce, have literally crumbled when they start talking to me at investigation entry meetings. I’ve had many a big, burly grown man breakdown in tears during investigation interviews and found myself acting as a counsellor while trying to soothe them with kind words and the occasional hug. Conversely, I’ve sat through interviews where the grief has manifested itself in anger and I’ve listened to rants, been yelled at and on one occasion, even had a chair thrown that put a hole in the fibro wall right near my head.
I’ve taken the lead on behalf of the organisation when next-of-kin have unexpectedly turned up wanting to look at the place where their loved one died and the site personnel just don’t know how to manage this. I’ve knelt down in the dirt and looked into the eyes of a little child when they’ve visited the worksite with their Mum and come out with the question “Why did my Daddy die?”. You wouldn’t be human if these experiences didn’t touch you, but as far as possible, our Safety Wise Investigators have to maintain an emotional brick-wall and be able to focus on their fundamental role of facilitating the investigation to identify what happened, why it happened and most importantly - how can we stop it from happening again?
We turn up as strangers on most occasions when we’re called in to help following a significant event, however, by the time we’ve completed the incident investigation report and leave site the tragic nature of the event seems to create a bond that we’ve not just been there to do some work - we’ve also helped people in times of crisis when they need help the most.
So back to the question of why we do what we do, what we offer to our clients? In my mind, following a significant incident we offer guidance, comfort, stability and calm. In the face of an overwhelming, emotional tragic event we offer advice about different steps. We help them cope both from a professional and personal stance and from a business perspective we lead them to a position where they can resume normal operations in a controlled and safe manner.
I know that I undoubtedly speak for all our Investigators here at Safety Wise that it’s more than just a job. You couldn’t do some of what we do, see some of what we see and go through some of the experiences we’ve had if it was just a job. Each of us has a passion for safety and is an advocate to ensure that lessons are learnt from all incidents with the hope that we can prevent losses. The words on the Business Plan in relation to ‘Why do we Exist”? now read “To work with and guide our clients following an incident and to assist them to return to normal operations”. While that describes something we do, what can’t be captured in a tangible way is how we make our clients feel. I hope they all know and take some comfort from the fact that we’re there for them, at a time when they need help the most and all of our Investigators can appreciate the impact of significant losses and have a genuine desire to help.
Interested in Knowing More?
Further information on Safety Wise’s Incident Cause Analysis (ICAM) Training is available from our website: http://www.safetywise.com/
Additional ICAM Related Services
Safety Wise also offers the following additional services for sites that adopt the ICAM investigation analysis method:
Quality review of incident investigations using ICAM
Trend analysis of organisational factors contributing to serious incidents
Participation in investigations as an external / independent party
ABOUT THE AUTHOR- Jo De Landre (Chief Operations Officer)
After 15 years with the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation (BASI),which became part of the multi-modal Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), Jo started co-facilitating ICAM training with Safety Wise in 2001 as the Principal Human Factors Consultant.
In 2005, Jo was promoted to the position of Executive General Manager of Safety Wise and beyond providing human factors specialist services and ICAM training and Investigations, she is now involved in strategic activities such as project management and developing safety management programs.
Jo has been the Safety Wise Lead Investigator for many high profile accidents, including multiple fatality investigations. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Psychology and a Graduate Diploma of Psychology, and has published papers in aviation, mining and police journals and publications.
Joanne has also been Secretary of the Australian Aviation Psychology Association (AAvPA) for close to a decade.