Improving safety culture

Will Russell

Health Safety and Environmental Manager

The BGC Way is at the heart of everything we do at Affinity Windows, it is our purpose, our strategy and our values. In terms of safety, this means creating a safe and high-performing organization. Employees have a responsibility to ensure their actions do not adversely affect the health, safety, environment and wellbeing of colleagues, contractors or members of the public.

The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) WA Lunch and Learn on 20th May, brought together prominent Health, Safety, Environment and Quality (HSEQ) leaders who shared their thoughts on how safety culture can be improved, one conversation at a time.

Here’s a summary of presenter Jim Stevenson, BGC Australia General Manager of HSEQ’s speech, covering where safety culture has come from, where it’s at today and where it’s heading in the future.

1933 – 1938

In order to know where you are going, you need to know where you have been.

Back when the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco was built in the 1930s, it was acceptable to expect that on a construction of this magnitude, one person would lose their life for every one million dollars. Think of the famous black and white image of construction workers having lunch on a girder in the sky taken during construction of the Rockefeller Centre.

As a thirty million dollar project, it was expected that 37 people would die just doing their job.

It was Joseph B. Strauss, Chief Engineer on the project at the time that said, “Not on my watch”. He provided a new point of view and care for his workers.

Two safety changes he implemented was the wearing of hard hats to protect workers from falling objects and the installation of safety nets to catch falling workers.

The positive impact of these safety initiatives was clear to see, with a greatly reduced fatality rate of 11. 10 fatalities occurred in the one incident when they fell in a safety net together with scaffolding but were too heavy for the safety net

19 workers were saved, thanks to being caught in the safety nets and becoming a member of the “halfway to hell” club.

The beginning of the Australian evolution

The start of the safety evolution in Australia began with the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act 1984, which brought in rules and standards, fines, hazard management, training, responsibility and consultation, plus Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) systems.

During this time, we were encouraged to “Report all hazards” and were introduced to the phrase “Safety first”.

But people were still dying just doing their jobs…

1995: The rise and fall of the safety officer

In the mid 90s, safety was a compliance driven approach.

Conversations with safety officers were one way, they were perceived as interfering with production and had no credibility.

Arguments and conflicts were seen as “business as usual” and being able to win a verbal argument was even in the position description!

Safety had not yet become a habit.


What can we do today as leaders to change our tomorrow? If you get these fundamentals right, you have a chance at making a real difference in improving the safety culture in your organization.

1.  Safe production is possible

Once you believe, safety values are infectious.

2.  Make it personal

It’s not right that people are risking their lives to earn a living. See people working for you as ‘people’ not workers. They have a story, they have kids, they have a family.

3.  Be seen – Have those conversations

This is the part where improving safety culture has to come one conversation at a time.

Make the time, despite the pressing things on your desk, to go out on site. Book a meeting to do it.

4.  Empower your team

Ask your workers what’s important to them. I bet it’s not work. Get them on board to care about their safety by asking them if they want to continue to enjoy life outside of work.

5.  Recognise the wins

Shout it out from the rooftops when your workers call out unsafe work practices and look after their workmates.

6.  Lighten up

Enjoy your work and interacting with your workers. Teammates look after teammates.

The future

The next phase in the evolution of safety in the workplace at BGC will include assisting workers recognize what state of mind they are in and offering the tools to bring them into the present and assisting them to have a safe state of mind.

Left to Right: Jim Stevenson, Carmen Tasker-Watson, Micaela Taljaard, Celia Antonovsky, Danielle Buckland, Anna Htun, Rachel Hartwig.

Well done NAWIC WA on hosting such a great event, Jim Stevenson and panelists for your valuable insights. I look forward to attending the next NAWIC WA event and having the opportunity to learn and connect with leaders in the construction industry.

Affinity Windows (backed by the stability of BGC) is one of Western Australia’s largest manufacturers and suppliers of aluminium doors, windows, shower screens, sliding wardrobes and security screens for both residential and commercial applications.

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