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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

The innovator

PETER BATEMAN talks to Daniel Hummerdal, recently appointed to WorkSafe NZ in a newly created role focused on health & safety innovation.

Q: Let’s hear a bit about your background?

I was born and mostly raised in Sweden. I had a couple of years in central Africa, and I’ve lived in the United States and France. More recently I’ve lived in Australia. I don’t think I’m very Swedish any more!

Q: What about your early career?

At 13 or 14 I decided to become a pilot. By 19 I had my commercial pilot’s licence, instrument rating and multi-engine rating. I worked at flying schools in Sweden and the USA. Eventually that took me to work as an accident investigator with the Swedish Civil Aviation Administration. That’s when I became interested in how safety is created and sometimes falls apart.

I became interested in human factors, so I ended my aviation career and studied to become a psychologist. It was a five-year programme in Sweden which finished in 2008. I moved to France and did various human factors and industrial consultancy research jobs.

Then I had the opportunity to go to Australia and work with engineering design firm Sinclair Knight Merz. Later I moved to Thiess, the role being safety innovation leader. The brief was under-specified, as these roles tend to be: do whatever you want, so long as it is something we haven’t done before!

It was a great opportunity to take ideas from psychology and safety and try them. You have licence to fail: OK, we tried that, it didn’t work, what are we going to try next?

After a few years I started a consultancy with a few other people. We worked with all kinds of organisations on how to move away from the control/ compliance paradigm, and to start thinking about how to set people up for success, to engage people in a more collaborative process.

Q: What is the expectation around this new innovation role with WorkSafe?

It is a recognition that if we just keep trying the same old methods we can’t expect a different result. My brief is to start trialling and sampling and working out new ways forward – creating new methods for the regulator, but also to help industry and showcase what happens if you do things differently, to get good H&S outcomes by approaching traditional performance challenges in a new way.

It’s a great chance to explore what can be done with a regulator, rather than being a consultant selling my services. I haven’t anything to sell, I can just showcase what can be done differently.

Q: What scope is there for innovation in how the regulator operates?

There’s always room for innovation! There are a number of existing methods that I can engage with and view with a different lens – how we inspect, how we engage with people, what type of questions we ask, what kind of evidence we look for when we do assessments.

There’s also the question of what happens after we leave a work site – how we can contribute to and drive systemic change, rather than just giving someone a list of things to fix. Because they fix those things and then the driver for change goes away.

So – how can we systematically create more generative conversations about what could happen in a workplace? I don’t know yet but it’s an interesting space to look at.

Q: Your brief also encompasses engaging directly with industry?

Yes, it’ll go beyond talk or consultation. Part of this role is to contribute to the national conversation about safety practices, but I also see scope to help in a hands-on way to run things in new ways – to work with local practitioners, to help with design of experiments, with before-and-after measurement, to showcase how effective (or ineffective) an idea is.

It’s not about saying this is how you do it. It’s saying you don’t have to do it in a mainstream way. I can help open up that conversation so people have a richer menu of possibilities to choose from. So we can keep adding more tested ways to do things, without constraining it to a one-best-way scenario.

Q: You are closely associated with the Safety Differently or Safety II approach. How will that inform the direction you take?

I have been working in that field for a long time so a lot of the practices I am keen to try will be founded on those ideas, but I’m not limited to them. Why would I limit myself to just those perspectives? I will use whatever perspective can inspire new ideas, designs, interventions, people engagement practices. I feel quite agnostic.

I have no interest in turning WorkSafe into some kind of Safety II regulator, but if Safety II can help the regulator do more interesting or effective work than I will harness that.

Q: You are a human factors practitioner by training and practice. How does that fit into the work you’ll be doing?

Human factors is about understanding human performance from the interactions and relations that happen in the workplace. I think anyone working in health & safety needs to take a human factors approach because you need to have a user-centred focus. If it doesn’t work for the end user, there’s a low chance it will work at all.

Q: Innovation these days is often associated with disruption. Will you be looking at emerging technologies, such as AI or Big Data?

We will primarily focus on where we want to produce more value, rather than innovating for the sake of it. In other words, we will start with the problem rather than the solution. We will use whatever tool is available to help us with the problem. If that is a VR-type solution, or a big data analysis, so be it.

Q: What would you wish to have achieved after a couple of years?

In two years I want to have run a series of trials and experiments of new ways of doing traditional safety management practices. Innovating around what we are already doing – inductions, audits, investigations, risk assessments. To see what happens if we engage in a novel way.

I predict some of them will not produce interesting results – which might be interesting in itself – but that others will show promise, so let’s scale it up, do a controlled experiment, understand why it is working, so we are not selling snake oil, but we take a more systematic approach to it.

Then we can start spreading support material to anyone interested. Two years from now we could have explored 10 or 20 new ways of doing these activities. How many of them will work I have no idea at this stage.

Q: What about spreading the idea of innovation more widely?

I will be touring around New Zealand engaging with H&S practitioners and with chief executives and others in what I’d call safety innovation workshops to help remove obstacles to innovation and help people begin innovating themselves.

We will also look to identify and support individuals who we feel are highly innovative but who might be struggling to spread the culture of innovation because they are just one person in the organisation.

Hopefully we will have a few more people who have been set on fire for health and safety innovation in New Zealand!


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