About Woollam Constructions
The evolution of Woollam has paralleled the changing face of Australia. From a small family construction business started by an optimistic migrant in the late 1800s, the company continues to create buildings for the times. Today, Woollam Constructions is a leader in commercial design and construction, creating award winning multimillion-dollar facilities throughout Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia.
Woollam’s vision is to “keep their workplaces safe and happy places to be” and they aim to keep faith in their tradespeople and suppliers, investing time and energy in relationships that support their mission.
The Safety Challenge
As Woollam grew, maintaining high standards of safety across approximately 30 sites located between Townsville and Newcastle became more challenging. By necessity, those long term relationships with contractors had to be supplemented with newer firms, with quite disparate safety cultures. Injury rates increased and a number of serious injuries occurred.
Woollam’s General Manager of Safety, Geoff Idzikowski, had previously worked with Bernie Walker of BWC Safety on a large multi-year safety transformation and together they met with Woollam Managing Director, Craig Percival to develop a tailored solution which was aimed at reducing injury rates and improving the safety culture.
The main components of the tailored approach were:
1. WHS culture review – this was done through a combination of 1:1 interviews with key staff, assessment of the safety performance documentation and safety management system and a series of site safety ‘walk-throughs’. Woollam’s safety culture was benchmarked against peer organisations and key issues were presented to the top 70 leaders of the organisation as part of their strategic review. A high level improvement plan was discussed and developed with strong support of the executive.
2. Mentoring of the executive – This was done during the HSE leadership group meetings and during planned safety tours of Woollam projects. The approach taken was to guide leaders to demonstrate their personal commitment to safety during the many real-life situations that occurred, and occasionally to diplomatically challenge a proposed course of action where safety may not have been balanced against other business parameters.
3. Training of project teams – conducted in project regions, it was necessary to hold training sessions for site supervisors, site managers and project managers so all key staff could align on the standards and the culture that is required of Woollam leaders. Feedback from these operational teams was sought and considered, leading to process improvements and in-turn, greater uptake in use of key improvement tools such as safety interactions.
4. Embedding skills with field coaching – site leadership teams continued to develop their safety competencies across a range of topics including safety observations, incident investigation, effective communication, and control of high risk tasks.
5. Tracking progress – Managers’ progress on the range of safety competencies was tracked with a scorecard enabling the executive to maintain oversight on this leading indicator of safety culture. Additionally, a safety league table showing the safety performance of each project was developed and has become part of the management review process.
in the first year of the program, Woollam Constructions achieved a 40% reduction in their Total Recordable Injury Frequency Rate. A further 19.8% reduction in TRIFR was achieved in the following 5 months, confirming a sustained continual improvement.
Senior managers and project-based leadership now conduct regular safety observations across the project sites.
Most importantly, Woollam’s Contractor ‘partners’ – the owners and managers of the contracting organisations working on Woollam projects – are now taking part in regular site safety ‘walk-throughs’ and many have learned the importance of visibly demonstrating leadership commitment to safety. Further, the Contractors who account for ~90% of the workforce are more regularly consulted around changes to the company’s safety rules, providing greater buy-in to new rules and requirements across sites.
Good progress on safety culture continues, now led by the executive. Relationships between site management and contractors has improved markedly.