Creating a progressive workforce

Mitchell Services general manager – people and risk Josh Bryant and Sick managing director David Crossley. Photo by: Photographic Memory

Australian Mining speaks to Josh Bryant about the changes he has made at Mitchell Services that led to him winning the 2018 Sick Safety Advocacy Award.

Making safety a priority – successfully ­­­– is no easy task. When Mitchell Services general manager – people and risk Josh Bryant arrived at the contractor from BHP’s Olympic Dam mine in 2016, he was tasked with changing the safety culture of a 120-strong workforce.

A fleeting two-and-a-half years later, this number grew by 180 per cent to 400 people. And what Bryant is proudest of is that “We’re growing so fast, but we kept a really strong line of communication and trust throughout the workforce.

“Everyone knows the chief executive by name, everyone knows the operation managers by name. It’s a big company, but it’s run small.”

Bryant and the team at Mitchell Services do safety differently. Instead of viewing people as a problem to control, they regard them as a solution to harness.

His safety culture is driven by engagement and collaboration, earning him the Sick Safety Advocacy Award at the 2018 Prospect Awards.

Bryant and his team’s initiative, operation homestretch (also crowned a finalist in Flexco Excellence in Mine Safety, OH&S), has kept workers safe during what is traditionally a high-risk time at year’s end.

“Everyone thinks about Christmas. Everyone’s missing their family. There’s end-of-school holidays. Their minds are not on the job for various reasons,” he says.

“But what operation homestretch was about is, instead of putting up posters and PowerPoint presentations saying ‘Don’t hurt yourself,’ or ‘This guy got injured. Don’t be like him,’ we went around getting a number of people’s ideas and said, ‘Talk to us about your workplaces,’ ‘How can we make it better,’ ‘Give us your ideas.’”

Employees’ suggestions were taken in addition to holding field activities that were focused on work conditions, not workforce behaviours; as well as a series of videos starring the workforce – of which Bryant spent over 80 hours of his personal time composing to create – to instil a sense of community across Australian sites.

This initiative has brought a decrease in recordable injuries and severity, and a shift in employees’ mindset and safety culture.

Bryant says, “Many get really frustrated when minor things go wrong, and then it just becomes a really controlling environment.

“Whereas if you make your workplace quite progressive, you’re listening to the people and you treat them as individuals and humans – recognise that they’ve all got different needs, they’ve all got different learning capabilities, they all come from different backgrounds – and respect that, it’s almost like trying to make the world a better place.

Bryant tells Australian Mining that too many times in the mining industry, the culture has to reflect that it’s “rough, tough and manly.” But he invites the industry to approach its attitude toward the sector differently.

“Why can’t it be about looking after each other, being a bit more progressive and understand that a new generation is joining the industry?” he asks.

“Too many times in the mining industry, it’s always got to be rough, tough and manly. We need to change the way that we approach working in mining, so it’s not just that rough, tough environment, but one with a culture of care, learning and listening.”

Since Bryant’s time at Mitchell Services, he has instigated mental wellness programs; supervisor coaching; tailored injury management and return-to-work programs; and the embedment of Mitchell Services ‘fatal eight’ to monitor risks specific to drill rigs.

In less than 12 months of Bryant joining the business, the company reduced its overall injury severity by 60 per cent. Its total recordable injury frequency rate has also decreased, the number of lost-time injury cases has halved, and the manager’s initiatives have created a more connected workforce.

“I think safety advocacy isn’t purely about you knowing technical details and you knowing legislation. It isn’t necessarily someone who’s top of the food chain,” says Bryant.

“Safety advocacy is about changes you’ve been able to make in your workplace that can be transferred to any industry. It’s about making the workplace better for the people who work for us.

“And to be individually recognised at that is really a reward that represents the team that has put together the program and recognition of a business that looks after its people.”