Rethinking safety and wellbeing

Logistics & Materials Handling recently spoke with Paul Graham, Chief Supply Chain Officer at Woolworths Group and others about the initiatives that are changing the way the industry approaches the safety and well-being challenge. 

A recent Monash University study has revealed that transport workers are up to five times more likely to be injured at work than any other Australian worker.

According to the National Transport and Logistics Industry Health and Wellbeing Study, the transport and logistics industry is one of the highest risk industries for work-related injury and disease in Australia.

This is a concern that is echoed among many employees working in the logistics industry, with a recent Westfield Health study revealing that 52 per cent of working adults in the travel, transport and logistics industry believe that businesses are not doing enough to support the physical and mental wellbeing of their employees.

The Australian transport and logistics industry is a diverse one, encompassing drivers, logistics, storage and warehousing workers, managers and executives. These workers are subject to a unique set of risks in their working environment, including long working hours and shift work, isolation, fatigue and sleep deprivation, among others.

While there are many reports that highlight the issues in the industry, there are also many great initiatives and businesses looking at new and innovative ways to improve the working environment for employees and to improve the perception of the industry at large.

Communication

Melissa Strong, Safety, People and Culture Manager at Lindsay Australia, believes that communication is king when it comes to improving attitudes to safety. “Never underestimate the impact of a face-to-face conversation,” she says.

For Melissa, by talking to drivers and workers individuals can show that they are passionate about safety. “When looking for a change in the business, it’s important to communicate how passionate you are and that it’s not just lip service.”

Melissa was the first-ever HR manager at Lindsay Australia. In recent years the HR department has merged with the safety department, to ensure that it’s not just about physical safety but overall wellbeing.

At Lindsay Australia communications about safety are sent to the family home. “We want children to understand what their mother or father does every day. We involve the family so that support is also there at home,” Melissa says.

According to Ed Napiorkowsli, Head of Workplace Health and Safety at Metcash, any safety campaign must be simple.

“People take the shortest path to get the job done. So if a safety management system says to fill out this paperwork, talk to this person and then send an email – it won’t happen. For that reason we are all about simplifying safety. If part of the process doesn’t have a purpose and isn’t a regulation, then cut it out,” Ed says.

At QHDC, an industry supplier of wheels, trolleys and mobility equipment, the safety department is now linked together with the HR department. “Our HR and safety policies and procedures are linked together, so we decided to integrate the two departments,” Andrew Middleton, National HR and WHS Manager, says.

Andrew’s background is in architecture, specifically ergonomic architecture. “Ergonomics is a huge part of safety at QHDC. We make sure that work design areas are ergonomically designed and that the design of the working environment means that employees aren’t sitting down all day,” Andrew says. In addition, when any aspect of manual handling can be done by a machine or a tool this is encouraged at QHDC.

For Andrew, a significant aspect of safety is change management. “People ordinarily don’t like change. We ensure that we consult everyone, so that they feel comfortable that they can talk to me and give feedback or request change. We want to know what people are doing, why they are doing it and understand why they work in certain ways.”

Additionally, when it comes to mental health QHDC make sure that all employees feel valued and able to speak up when things are not 100 per cent. “You don’t want to delve into people’s lives but if you need to know something about it so that you can provide the right support. We want people to know they are looked after and ensure that they feel cared for,” Andrew says.

Healthy Heads in Trucks and Sheds

Many organisations promote a value of zero harm, and have safety at the core of the organisations values and identity. However, while there are many processes and initiatives already in place to protect workers physical wellbeing, according to Paul Graham, Chief Supply Chain Officer at Woolworths Group, the mental health of team members has in the past been overlooked.

The National Health Commission believes that there is a link between the mental wellbeing of Australians and the economic growth of the nation. The Commission released data that revealed the cost of mental ill-health in Australia is around four per cent of GDP and costs the nation more than $60 billion.

In addition, a Davidson Trahaire Corpsych research report found that investing in employee wellbeing provides a direct cost benefit to transport and logistics employers of more than $13,000 annually per employee. While looking after employees’ mental health is the right thing to do, it is also makes financial sense.

Keeping workers minds healthy and safe as well as their bodies is an initiative that Paul is passionate about.

“Seventy per cent of a truck drivers’ role is in a truck all day. Our transport providers and drivers spend more time in our working environment than they do in their own business,” Paul says.

With so many different deliveries to a Woolworths store or warehouse a day, a driver will often have not seen another person for hours until they arrive at a Woolworths facility. “Being on the road is often an isolated existence, and we want to improve that environment. In the logistics and transport industry we have a disproportionate amount of mental health problems,” Paul says.

And it’s not just the environment inside the truck it’s also the dietary habits. “A diet of high-caffeine and high-sugar will not help stress levels and anxiety.”

“What we want to do is to get people together to agree that it is an issue and to acknowledge that many of the environments that we work in are not creating the right atmosphere for someone who may be suffering from anxiety or mental health issues.”

If people come off the road, and they are not feeling 100 per cent, there should be trained personnel onsite to help and support each other, Paul says.

“One of the biggest issues in safety is distraction. That could be a mobile phone, or people’s minds being distracted because there is something going on at home, it could be short-term anxiety, financial issues, or deeper seated mental health illness but if this is left uncovered then there are serious safety issues.”

For Paul, talking about mental health is still taboo in many areas. “We don’t talk enough about wellbeing. It shouldn’t be about processes and paper work. It should be people asking: Are you here? Are you 100 per cent? If not, there is a risk and it’s okay to say you are not feeling 100 per cent.”

When this is the case, he believes that there should be options in place to consider other alternatives. “If driving isn’t the right one for the day, then there should be support for that person to look at what else could be done.”

In order to tackle the negative perception that logistics often has as unhealthy and unattractive, the industry needs to focus more on standardisation.

“We need to deal with this collectively as an industry, we can do good word in our individual companies but there is so much inconsistency and protocol that it can sometimes do more to hinder than help. We believe that we should focus on standardisation around paperwork, process and regulation, and that we all need to adopt or commit to a structured process.”

According to Paul it’s not about ticking boxes and paper work, it’s about working together to do good in the industry. Paul wants to see an industry that is based around trust and enables people to speak up if they are not feeling 100 per cent and consequently improve the perception of the industry as healthier, supportive and more attractive. However, he acknowledges it will be a long journey but having a collective industry approach will certainly go a long way in helping those in need feel supported.