Exclusive Interview with Bruce Latham Corporate OHS Governance Manager - BlueScope Steel 

Bruce Latham, Corporate OHS Governance Manager of BlueScope Steel will be focusing on a power packed presentation about the Practical Approaches to Process Safety – Perspectives from a Non-MHF. Additionally, he joins our panel for an interactive discussion on Human Factors: Minimising Human Error by Reinforcing Awareness and Instilling Advanced Safety Programme.

In this interview, Bruce expands on his thoughts about current practices as well as how managers can go back to the drawing board to improve on action plans. He compares the current safety landscape in Australia to that of a Ninja Warrior Semi Final course, clarifying “ there seems to be a daunting array of obstacles and challenges placed by regulators, managers, legal, budgets, and personnel to overcome, some are steep, some are slippery and others just hard to grasp. The physical and mental resources to plan and execute a successful course of action is significant. While information/guidance is not short, Bruce admits that the right course of action is not a one-size fits all solution pack as it’s not obvious who (if anyone) knows what is right for your business. You listen to a lot and then plot your own course doing the best you can with the information you’ve gathered. From experience, he goes on to add that after each obstacle or milestone there is some sense of relief and accomplishment and it’s an exciting place to be, he adds, “who doesn’t want to work on the prevention of blowing stuff up!”

Focusing next on the role of management in fostering positive employee involvement in safety management processes, Bruce describes the error in isolating issues: people tend to split safety into “behavioural” (the glam celebrity) and “systems” (the nerdy sibling in glasses) but in reality, to be effective, the two are inextricably linked. The best systems are developed in consultation with the people who actually have to use them. People are more likely to follow a system that they helped to build and believe will add value to them. Systems should be designed to be practical and efficient for the end-user with the “what’s in it for them” clearly communicated. Personally, one indication of a good system or process is when people “accidentally” comply. When someone asks me for an example of a “simple” system I say, “Simple for who?” then point to (and talk about) a watch to tell the time!

Where emergency response plans are concerned, Bruce’s top 5 tips:

  1. Know your risks! This is so that you can predict the reasonably foreseeable emergency scenarios that they might escalate into.
  2. If we’re talking process safety facilities - use the consequence analyses / calculations in the emergency planning…you didn’t do all that work for fun! E.g. don’t put an emergency assembly area in the middle of the area your plume dispersion modelling predicts the toxic gas could land.
  3. Flexible structure – not many (any) emergencies are fully predictable, leave wriggle room in response plans to adapt and roll with the surprises. However, not too rigid - don’t be victims of process. E.g. by the 10th minute the emergency team will be assembled, undertake a role call and clearly outline each individuals roles and responsibilities….yeah right!...all while Rome burns.
  4. Practice – and be critical! Think about your neighbours (not only what you can do to them but what they can do to you) and external emergency services and the roles they will play.
  5. Most leaders (who end up in charge during crises) didn’t get there by following 50 point checklists and 37 page procedures, so don’t expect them to do that well under stress. In fact just don’t expect them to do that at all. Let leaders do what they’re good at - taking charge and making fast and good decisions with minimal information but support them with advisors who are across and into the detail.

As for career development and the future generation of safety professionals in the industry, Bruce shares "your career will likely be less frustrating and more fulfillingif you can contribute to a culture where senior management fundamentally believes that good safety is good business. In order for this to actualize it is essential for all conversations about safety to start at the top and accountability is key - line management owns safety not the safety department or the safety professional.Ultimately, it is necessary for the concept of culture to be fueled by action, Bruce affirms, "it’s not what you SAY that matters, it’s what you DO and the standard you walk past is the standard you set. These (and more) are all oldies, but goodies that are as relevant now as they ever were. Skills in listening, influencing, coaching, communication and managing-up will probably stand you in better stead than development focused purely on expanding technical knowledge."

Catch Bruce at the 9th Annual ProSafe 2017 conference at The Langham Melbourne on 21 & 22 August 2017. For more information contact Serena Pereira at [email protected]


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