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This seminar explores the role of the ‘accidental design professional’ in improving work design.

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Many people who don’t typically see themselves as work designers actually have a powerful influence on work safety, from CEOs, to IT professionals to HR executives. Exploring the role of the ‘accidental design professional’ in improving work design, this seminar examines how well-designed, healthy and safe work enables workers to have more productive lives.

President of the Risk Engineering Society Geoff Hurst, Ergonomist Barbara McPhee, and Peter Holmes from National Australia Bank will discuss how to implement the ten principles of good work design in practice.

Our experts will explore how good work design can radically transform the workplace in ways that benefit the business, workers, clients and others in the supply chain, while failure to consider how work is designed is a lost opportunity to innovate and improve the efficiency of work.

Who is this presentation for?

This seminar is particularly relevant to those who design work and work systems, including line managers and supervisors, human resources and work health and safety professionals.

This session in conjunction with the material noted below can be used as a curriculum resource in tertiary studies where good design should be considered.

About the presenter

Geoff Hurst, President of the Risk Engineering Society, is an OHS and risk engineering professional with expertise in developing safety and risk management frameworks, safety management systems, and workplace wellness programs.

Barbara McPhee AM, Ergonomist and Past President, Fellow and Professional Member of the Ergonomics Society of Australia. She has 38 years’ experience in occupational health and safety and has written three books on the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders, vibration measurement and control, and practical ergonomics.

Peter Holmes is Head of Network Design and Planning with National Australia Bank. He has extensive experience leading business transformation and project management.

Useful resources

Driving Good Work

The Role of the Accidental Design Professional


Presented by

 

Dr Peta Miller, Safe Work Australia, Introduction

David Caple, WH&S Consultant, Facilitator

Geoff Hurst, President of the Risk Engineering Society, Panellist

Barbara McPhee AM, Ergonomist, Panellist

Peter Holmes, National Australia Bank, Panellist

 

Dr Peta Miller: 

Good afternoon. I'm Dr Peta Miller from Safe Work Australia. Firstly I'd like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we're meeting today, the Ngunnawal People. I acknowledge and respect their continuing contribution to the life of this city and our region. I'd like to thank our studio audience for joining us today and our online audience who are joining us too for today's exciting discussion on Driving good work – The role of the accidental design professional.

We know that the poor design of buildings, plant and the way we work is behind many of workplace deaths, injuries and illnesses and importantly these are preventable. We know that the most effective and durable means of creating a safe and healthy working environment is to eliminate these hazards before they ever enter the workplace – design them out. In fact, this is a legal obligation across every state, territory and the Commonwealth in Australia, yet it is not common enough.

Recently the Conference Board - a global industry research association - reported that the single greatest reason that US workers had grown unhappy and disengaged in their job was because their organisations designed their work so poorly. I'm sure this is not an uncommon complaint in Australian workplaces. Our Safe Work Australia Members recognise the need to continue to encourage the traditional focus on the better design of buildings and of workplace equipment but also to urge people to eliminate hazards and risks through the better design of work, work processes and work systems. 

Recently, Safe Work Australia Members released a handbook on 10 Principles to achieve good work through a more effective design process. This outlined why good work design is important to people and to businesses, what needs to be considered during that process and how it can most effectively be achieved. Professor Parker's interesting seminar yesterday particularly focused on how good work design can eliminate or minimise psychosocial hazards in the design process. 

But before I go any further I should say a little bit about what we mean when we talk about ‘good work’ and why we're interested in the role of the design professional. Good work is healthy and safe work where the hazards and risks are eliminated or minimised and where the work design optimises human performance, job satisfaction and productivity. In addition to preventing harm good work can improve the health and wellbeing of workers and improve the business's financial performance through example through higher productivity resulting from better worker motivation and engagement. 

A broad range of people actually design work whether they're consciously aware they are or not. The CEO makes decisions about whether to downsize. Strategic management teams design work where they decide the business priorities and allocate companies and organisation's resources to make this happen. Our human resource personnel, the information technology consultant, our financial advisors, even the person designing the office fitout – all their decisions will directly or indirectly change how work is actually done. 

Today we'll hear three quite different perspectives from our work health and safety professionals today and our strategic chain agent, how this can and should influence the design of work, workplaces and systems of work. 

First, our first panellist is Peter Holmes, Head of Network Design Planning at the National Australia Bank. Peter's a thought leader around the design of innovative solutions that transform our digital and physical spaces that are used both by customers and the bankers. Peter has partnered with organisations such as Lend Lease, IBM and Telstra to transform their spaces to improve customer and employee experiences.

Our second panellist, Geoff Hurst. Geoff is the President of the Risk Engineering Society, a Fellow of Engineers Australia, an Associate Lecturer at the Victorian Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and a Member of the Safety Institute of Australia, and a Director and Founder of a consulting company, Engineer OH&S Proprietary Limited. 

I'm also delighted that today we've got an old colleague of mine, Barbara McPhee. Barbara is a professional Ergonomist and a specialist Occupational Health Physiotherapist with over 38 years’ experience in occupational health and safety. She is a past President, Fellow and professional Member of the Ergonomics Society of Australia and a past Board Member of the International Commission on Occupational Health. She was awarded an Order of Australia for Significant Service to Physiotherapy as a Practitioner and an Occupational Health expert and is an author. She was appointed as an Independent Expert Member to the New South Wales Mine Safety Advisory Council in 2006.

And last but not least, let me introduce today's Facilitator, David Caple who has over 30 years' experience as a Work Health and Safety Consultant. David's an Adjunct Professor at the Centre of Ergonomics and Human Factors at La Trobe University in Melbourne, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Federation University Ballarat. He's the past President of the International Ergonomics Association and a Member of the Human Factors Society of the USA. As a Certified Ergonomist in Australia and in the United States, David's a Fellow of the International Ergonomics Society in Australia and also in the UK and Sweden, and David has been a long standing and respected member of the Advisory Board of the – of the Victorian Regulator.

I'll now with great pleasure hand over to David to facilitate what I'm sure is going to be an engaging discussion. Thanks David.

David Caple: 

Thank you Peta and thank you to everybody who's joined us here today and also to the audience that are viewing online. This is an interactive panel with our three presenters and it provides an opportunity for those that are online, to tweet in any comments or questions as we proceed. So just use the live wall or the #virtualWHS and join in our discussions as we explore this topic as introduced by Peta.

This topic is part of the broad action areas in the current Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy which is looking at how do we look at safety in design and today's focus is safety in designing good work but also organisations such as the government and how they embrace good work in designing what it is that our public sector staff do.

So I think it would be interesting to maybe ask Peter as Peta with an "a" explained, Peter has been involved in a major project with the National Australia Bank and looking at the retail experience for both staff and customers. So Peter maybe tell us a little bit about the design impetus for this and just very briefly walk us through the journey and what some of the outcomes were?

Peter Holmes: 

No problems. Thanks David. Look I think the impetus for us is really driven from the customer and I guess what we're seeing is the only real constant now is change and the way that our customers want to interact with us as a bank and with their money is just continually changing. One of the big drivers of that has probably been digital and particularly with internet banking and mobile and online which has really meant the role of the branch has changed quite significantly and quite quickly over the last couple of years. So we're really sort of forced to sit back and listen and go "What do our customers want and how do we respond to that?" and therefore what does that mean in terms of how we design work practices going forward?

So it's a very exciting opportunity to really think about how we transform that experience for customers and when you think about sort of how do you approach that? You know, traditionally we've probably always designed it from the bank's perspective and what we've done is sort of step back and say "Well let's understand first and foremost what our customers want and what's important for them", and then equally make sure that we engage very broadly across the organisation with not only our frontline people who are working in those environments every day but also our specialist areas, say health and safety, security, understanding what's important for brand, marketing, how that links back to the organisational strategy. Really all of those areas are involved then in shaping how we design that space for customers moving forward. So it's been a very exciting journey to be able to approach how we've designed this space quite differently than we probably have for the last 150 years. So I think that's what's been really exciting for us.

That's a very iterative process. So we really approached that from the point of view of understanding "What's happening today?" So really, research and saying "What are customers doing and saying?", "How are they interacting with us?", "What are our people doing?" and that gives us a baseline to sort of understand "What's the current state?" Then as we move into really shaping the design, really making sure that it's quite iterative and everybody's involved in that. 

So we have our customers come in and actually help us design what the space may look like. We have our people come in and do that and then we use really great sort of prototyping approaches to test, learn as we go, evolve that design and then put a solution out to market and understand have we achieved the goals of the organisation but also for our customers and our people as well? So it's been a very interesting sort of journey.

David Caple: 

We might explore some of the details of how that journey unfolded a bit later. But Geoff, I mean you're an Engineer but also a very experienced safety professional which possibly by accident you – tell us a little bit about that. But Peter alluded to a lot of stakeholders involved and I suppose as a safety professional how do you work in that partnership process to achieve a holistic outcome?

Geoff Hurst: 

Yeah well certainly Peter – Peter and David – the challenge is to identify all the stakeholders that you need in the workplace or that are in the workplace or that need to be involved with the project or change that you're talking about and then not only just speaking with them or consulting with them as the terminology is, but actually engaging with them and collaborating with them. Define the problem with them, determine what the problems might be – it might be more than one problem - and then collaborate with them to actually solve that problem together. It's that involvement that they have with you as the professional on the scene that helps them understand what needs to happen and then also contribute to what actually needs to happen as well. It's a real challenge to do that but the way to do it is to make sure that you get down from the high seats in the organisation and actually watch what your people really do. Just like, just as Peter's sort of saying in NAB.

David Caple: 

Okay. So Barbara we seem to be learning that watching what people do and understanding the user experience is fundamental to what a safety professional's role is in good design. So being a certified professional Ergonomist and maybe reflecting on your many years working in the mining industry here in Australia and internationally do you want to comment a little bit about those areas of input that you have in design from an ergonomics perspective?

Barbara McPhee: 

Yes. It's very interesting because as originally, a physiotherapist and then an ergonomist, when I first went into the mining industry, I was terrified because I thought "I'm not a design engineer. I'm not a designer. I'm not an engineer. I am just somebody who's looking after people's health at work." My future boss at that stage said "We've got enough engineers. We want you to identify problems and work with the engineers and work with the workers most particularly, to sort the problems out." 

Now, that then, was actually harder than doing the design job, in many cases, because the design job is actually quite straight forward. You don't have to deal with people. Dealing with people, all the range of people right from your managers, right down to the, in my case face workers, coal face workers, is quite an art and trying to get the two groups together or three groups together because you've often got managers and supervisors in the middle who have an entirely different view. But one of the things that I always do and insist on when I'm scoping a job is to say "Let's sit down and have a chat”, find out exactly what people are asking us to do – really important because they may have one idea, you're going in with a completely different idea and you come out with a third idea which is probably closer to what they want.

So the talking I think is very important and if people are not prepared to spend time talking and exploring a particular line or a particular issue then you may not necessarily succeed. Up front you've got to know that.

David Caple: 

So I suppose in the Good Design Principles we talk about the planning stage and understanding what it is we're actually there to design and what are the assumptions, what are the measures of success that we want this design to have and addressing those health and safety principles as part of that journey.

Barbara McPhee: 

And setting it out up front, quite clearly "These are what we see as our outcomes”, "This is what we want”, "This is what we think is reasonable to achieve." I work with small and medium sized businesses often and I think they're a quite different bunch of people and they're struggling with lots of issues with health and safety, just like the big guys are but they find it more difficult. Just they don't have the human resources and they certainly don't have the financial resources. So they have to actually be quite clever and the greatest joy you can have is when somebody says "Oh”, you know the light bulb goes on and you think "Yes, got you."

David Caple: 

Well done. So Peter, Barbara's talked about the small and medium sized workplaces but you're talking about an international banking company and I suppose the question with design and the vision, do you see it as a top-down driven model or a bottom-up model or somewhere in between? Where does good design outcomes actually get the vision and the drive?

Peter Holmes: 

Absolutely. Look, I think David it's both in that it's important to actually make sure you understand at the coal face you know, how people are working and what they're doing and I think it's very important you start there. But I think equally the role that leaders play and senior leaders in the organisation is equally really important. So it needs to be both and I think it's often this kind of who's in the middle. I think on reflection for myself over the last few years I think increasingly that is the customer and so it's not about middle management or those sort of supervisors. It's actually about how do you put the customer in the middle of that and actually rally people around that to understand what it is the organisation's goals are, what our people want to do, what our customers actually want and how you bring that together.

David Caple: 

Okay.

Peter Holmes: 

So I think it's not an 'either/or'. I think it's an 'and' and you need a sort of catalyst in the middle to bring that together.

David Caple: 

Geoff do you want to comment on that?

Geoff Hurst: 

Yeah. I certainly see that having worked across a number of sectors of industry in my working life I've seen organisations like Peter's talking about where they're ready for that sort of approach with their workers, where I've also seen sort of decades behind where management are still struggling with how they work with their workers. The workers are still out in the grass and the only time they talk is when they're out in the grass. It just doesn't work that way.

So the challenge is for management to actually speak with their workers in a collaborative way and if you're used to fighting with them it's pretty hard to have that conversation. So the supervisors tend to find themselves in the middle. The middle management people are one, working with their workers to try and help them do their jobs better on a daily basis – safer etc, but at the same time they're trying to defend this position that management keep putting to them "We need to change this”, "We need to change this”, "We need to change this”, and they just can't do all that change and still do it safely in the workplace. So the supervisors are trying to be listened – trying to gain the audience of the management above them but at the same time they're trying to also gain the audience of the people below them. The good supervisors will work with their people by listening to them and then they earn the respect of their people so that they can actually expect to be listened to as well.

David Caple: 

So it seems that following the theme of this session about we are all design professionals in our own way but sometimes by accident. We didn't think that we were but we are. Barbara, maybe just explore this a bit more about how you see that top-drown driver for design change or the bottom-up, or the role of the middle manager as Geoff's talking about?

Barbara McPhee: 

Yes. Well I think in heavy industry - and I'll talk about heavy industry rather than just mining because I think this goes across the board – you get - as many of you probably are aware - a very blokey culture and you get very, very good technical people but their people skills are not great. It's how do you work around that? How do you get – well you know, for instance how do I walk in cold to a mine manager's office and say "You need me." "Right. Okay. How? Why do I need you?" and I've got to explain and I've got to suddenly read his mind as to say "Right. What is in his mind? What does he think he needs?" and I sort of give him that. But then sometimes I try to give him just a little bit more which might be, you know, fewer injuries which is the big thing in heavy industry generally, downtime – huge, huge costs with huge machinery and lost time injuries, things that go on forever because the work is so hard that people have to be super fit to come back to do it. That's what something – it is a real problem.

So what we're saying is and I think the thing that we've got now and it's something that I've just suddenly thought of, having older workers is actually quite useful because older workers – you have to design for older workers. You have to think about what they can and can't do, what they're good at which is what an ergonomist does, you know, physically, mentally, organisationally, socially. How do they tick? So as the mining industry has got an increasing age but very, very valuable staff and workers who know a lot about mining, they don't particularly want to lose them. They don't want to lose them. They don't damage them. If they want to keep them they have to design work. 

Now if you're designing work for older people it's probably much less harmful to the younger people who, you know, tend to be a little bit gung-ho anyway and will ruin their careers probably before they're 30 sometimes.

David Caple: 

So I suppose there's a theme there that "Who are we designing for?"

Barbara: 

Yes.

David Caple: 

Both from a physical, a cognitive, an organisational perspective and that's all part of the mix and in a customer focused business like yours Peter you're making assumptions about who is the design there for, both from your staff but also from your customer base.

Peter Holmes: 

Correct. Yep.

David Caple: 

Now we have a question that's come through by the tweet and we'll have a look at this and I just welcome people in the audience here if they would like to ask a question - just indicate as we're going. So this one is from Ronan. "Can the panellists comment on 24/7 industries and first responders: are there specific things we should be considering when we are designing their work?" Maybe Geoff, do you want to make a comment about this emergence in response often in many instances here and their work design from a physical, a cognitive perspective?

Geoff Hurst: 

Yeah thank you David. It's nice to speak on this one first. Having worked in 24/7 industries in the manufacturing sense which are of course putting people under pressure every minute of every day because they're all about trying to keep their production going, if the production line stops then all hell breaks loose in those sorts of industries. Likewise I've also looked after emergency responders, usually volunteer sense in manufacturing where you've got dangerous chemicals etc, so you have to respond to fires and that sort of thing. The challenge is always and it's not unlike aeroplanes or anything else where you're pretty much coasting along and everything's going hunky dory because most of the time things go right, but when things go wrong and then horribly wrong everybody needs to be able to respond in a rational way rather than an impulsive way where they can actually go terribly wrong and end up with a major disaster because then actions are taken that are wrong then again. So how do you design work around that?

Well you need to keep people stimulated while they're sitting their stationary. You need to give them other useful things to do and the way you do that is just like any other design. You involve the people in it, ask them what they do on a daily basis and what they would like to be doing rather than sit around doing nothing, reading magazines or trying to wait for the next alarm to come up.

David Caple: 

So Barbara just in that context of 24/7 which your industry is, what Geoff's saying is that not only do you have to keep them physically alert but cognitively alert. How do you challenge that in designing work which is say 24/7 night shifts, evening shifts, early morning shifts?

Barbara McPhee: 

Well if you think about an open cut mine where they have large trucks sort of rolling round on a production line essentially, those guys and girls have a huge problem. Now as soon as you start extending shifts, and I know this is really a very contentious area, but you start extending shifts to 10 or 12 hours, at that 10th, 11th and 12th hour, I think, you have super-duper problems, particularly on night shift. That is the real killer and virtually anybody who does it will tell you.

Now, you have to make some kind of choices about whether people do that. But one of the things that works well in some firms and some companies is the buddying system. So you might work two hours on a scooper or a, you know, a shovel or excavator, you'd work two hours on a truck, you'd work two hours on a bulldozer and the buddy system is "Look buddy. I'm feeling a bit sleepy here and I'm a bit under excited by this job at the moment. I'd like to change to doing some dozer work”, which is often a lot more stimulating.

David Caple: 

Yep.

Barbara McPhee: 

But that seems harder to do in practice sometimes than we would like.

David Caple: 

So it's a work organisational solution to a physical cognitive challenge…

Barbara McPhee: 

Absolutely, yes.

David Caple: 

…in work design. So I think that's one of the messages out of this that we need to look at work from both a physical, a cognitive, an organisational model and I'll come back to you Peter but we've got one more question that's come through on the tweet from Marilyn. "Please describe some examples of how you have worked with industry associations and work health and safety regulators in good work design?" So I'll just open that to the panel. Have any of you been in that situation?

Geoff Hurst: 

Yeah often it's usually when you get called in to help is when the regulator sticks their nose in and that situation is that something's gone horribly wrong.

David Caple: 

Yes.

Geoff Hurst: 

And then of course everybody's got a solution because it's obvious what's wrong. No it's not, but nevertheless it is obvious to everybody and they've all got a different idea as to what the solution is. Of course the poor old worker is the one that then ends up having to live with that solution in the workplace. So you want to make sure as I often find myself the intermediary between the external bodies and the workplace itself, and then of course management, to try and make sure that the solution that comes up is in fact acceptable to the workers because otherwise it doesn't get used.

David Caple: 

Sure.

Geoff Hurst: 

Or it ends up hurting people in other ways.

David Caple: 

Yes.

Geoff Hurst: 

So the challenge there is to engage the external party with the workers on the front line, get them working together on it so that they actually have the problem of dealing with the workers who have other ideas and then encouraging the external party to take on the ideas of the workers and integrating that into the solution. So it becomes a very innovative role and that's where you become the accidental designer because you've got to be innovative, not only in the solution itself but more in how the two parties work together to come up with that solution in collaboration rather than "This is the solution”, because somebody else has done it.

David Caple: 

So it seems that communication skills of all of your professions is fundamental to be successful in this process. Peter do you want to say something to Marilyn's question about dealing with the regulator or industry associations? I mean you're representing your bank at an international level.

Peter Holmes: 

Yes. I mean I think we probably have less examples of hopefully having to deal directly with the regulators but I think we're a very heavily regulated industry and so I think where we see this playing out in good design is making sure that we bring in our risk partners and our management assurance functions from the start to say "Well actually if we change the way this work is done where will be the implications in terms of industry legislation?" Then we have to make a decision around "Well can we design a workaround that still achieves the legislation or do we need to start to work with those regulators to try and lobby and change the way that things are written?"

So we talk a lot about things like the Cheque Act which was written in 1994 and to how things are done today and how people use cheques is quite different. It was thought about long before mobile and internet banking and so if we want to change the way customers actually deposit cheques and how we process them, we can't just change the work. We have to also work with the regulators to change some of the legislation that sits behind that.

David Caple: 

That raises the question about metrics and how do you measure good design from whatever perspective – the customer, the staff, the regulator? I suppose each has their own interpretation of what success looks like. But just sticking with your industry for the moment what are the sort of measures that you would use to define good design of work?

Peter Holmes: 

Yeah. Thanks David. I mean I think the key thing is probably agreeing the measures up front. So we're very clear before we actually change the design or put it into practice we understand what success looks like and to take a more holistic view of that. I think in the past it's probably always been financial or health and safety sometimes which is important but we're also looking at what's employee engagement, what's employee enablement, how do we drive customer advocacy - so the non-traditional sort of success measures and really having a balanced view of what does success look like across all of those metrics, not just the normal one you expect a bank to see which is probably return on equity or financial. It's much, much more than that.

David Caple: 

Okay.

Peter Holmes: 

So we take a very balanced view of it but I think what's important is agreeing it up front and being able to measure that and understand "Have you achieved success or not?"

David Caple: 

Barbara do you want to comment about metrics that you observe?

Barbara McPhee: 

Yes. Well one of the things that industry and workplaces do not wait for is a research project. So you can forget your valid research findings, but there are many ways I think of actually achieving a modicum of success in measuring success, or not. The problem is that when you're not measuring success, when you're measuring failure, people get a bit unhappy, but you've got to keep them going. But there's before and after photographs. I mean that's an old one. Before and after videos are quite good too. You can go and ask people. It's surprising what they'll you one on one and sometimes you wish you hadn't. But I think one of the things that I have experienced is that no one solution will be the total solution. You'll always have somebody with a gripe at one end. Somebody will say "Oh everything's wrong with it." Somebody else will say "It's fantastic”, probably the person who thought it up in the first place and there'll be a whole lot of people in the middle who will give you constructive criticism about what's wrong with it and what you need to do about it. That's where you can sort of almost let them go as long as you've got the prior approval and everybody's agreed that that's the process that you'll take.

David Caple: 

Okay. So Geoff put your engineering hat on as well as your safety professional. A lot of those impacted by design of work are external to the workplace like contractors or clients that might be there on the work site. Do you want to make a comment about how we embrace them in our holistic concept of good work design?

Geoff Hurst: 

Yeah. It's a difficult space because we've got a long history in our organisations in Australia of when you've got a problem bring in a consultant or a contractor to design it and fix it or to do it and move it. So with that sort of approach where you're used to doing that all the time, to bring them in and say "Here's the problem. Fix it”, that to actually engage that contractor with the workforce is something that's not really considered. If you're going to design a new plant you say "Okay. Here's the spec. Here's the scope. Go for it”, and then they design it, they bring it in and they build it and then the poor old operators have got to try and work out how to run it or the assembly workers have got to work out how to assemble, whatever it might be.

So the challenge for organisations is to have in their systems and procedures and policies etc, to bring in those contractors outside, give them the time and the resources to spend time with your workers so they actually can go through the proper design process and understanding what really gets done, what the work is really like so they've got a better chance of designing something with them that is a solution rather than a new problem.

David Caple: 

Okay. Good. Before we go back to some more engineering questions we've got another tweet from Jonathan. "What's the best way for young work designers to get hands-on experience and to develop expertise in safe work design?" Maybe Peter, I know you're recruiting at the moment. How do you mentor and coach and support young designers to have this holistic appreciating of work design?

Peter Holmes: 

It's a good question and I think there's no substitute I think for just getting hands-on experience and I think we're talking around the accidental designer. I think everybody's involved in design and so I think as a young designer you need to sort of recognise that you can play quite a pivotal role in shaping up how good work practices are designed irrespective of the role that you're in today. So I think experience is probably - hands-on is important. But the other thing is immersing yourself in actually the work. So I think how do you get better as a designer is probably to actually understand, you know, how people work. So we work with a lot of design partners and we encourage them to spend time on the ground actually either experiencing what a customer would experience or seeing how people actually do the job. So I think the young designers, how they get more experience – spend some time actually understanding how people work itself.

David Caple: 

Barbara do you want to elaborate at all about – you've mentored many young designers…

Barbara McPhee: 

Yes.

David Caple: 

…or accidental designers and ergonomists and physiotherapists in industry?

Barbara McPhee: 

Yes. Well I think if you've got a passion for it. I mean I had parents who were always sort of pointing out problems of design. They were both left-handed so they had a left-handed iron. We were all right-handed as kids so we learnt to iron left-handed. But you know, if you've got problems with design there are certain people who will question whether or not it can be done a better way and other people who won't. It's a mindset and once you get somebody who's really interested and keen it really doesn't matter where they've come from. They just bring their skills, their particular skills to that job and it's our job then to mentor them, make sure they know their professional limitations most certainly and get some extra education probably – ergonomics. There's lots of stuff on ergonomics around now. I think it's more to do with the personality of the person and the wish to make things better.

Peter Holmes: 

That's how I think it goes to a curiosity and I think you want someone who's curious.

Barbara McPhee: 

Yes. Yes.

Peter Holmes: 

That's what makes good designers.

David Caple: 

Okay.

Peter Holmes: 

They just ask questions, they want to understand more what makes people tick and how things work. So I think curiosity is a really good…

David Caple: 

It sort of – it's an interesting concept of designers as being an iterative process – asking questions, digging deeper, talking to the workers as you've said Geoff, but as an Engineer often you don't have that opportunity. You get given a scope of work and the job that you're designing might be in another part of the country and that scope will influence your concept of the product that you're producing for your client. What are our opportunities I suppose to enable you to do a more holistic job in dealing with that arm's length, "You're an Engineer. Just design it for us"?

Geoff Hurst: 

Yeah. It is a real problem for the Engineer when they're not given the opportunity of visiting the workplace. On the previous topic I must say that I've got three designers in the family and…

David Caple: 

Good.

Geoff Hurst: 

…to that end and of course they're all young and once I was young too. So the opportunity…

David Caple: 

We all were.

Geoff Hurst: 

…the opportunity to develop yourself in the design space is to actually have a go at it and use your design skills and that's listening. The more you listen when you're young the more you learn to become a better designer. So in this case where you're talking about doing things remotely and just getting a scope of work in front of you it's typical. It's what you spend most of your time doing as a young Engineer is being given something. You're in isolation. They want to keep you away from too much danger, keep your hands off stuff where…

(Laughter) 

I remember one day I turned up to one of my cooling towers in manufacturing and there was a concrete block in there 18 inches thick and a metre and a half square and we all thought "Where did this concrete block come from?" and it was one of our young engineers. He took some initiative all right. He designed this whole system and he started installing it before he told us about it and I'm sure he learnt a lot from that experience and we did too. We needed to keep the doors locked to keep – not so much around the cooling towers but keep him locked in his office. So you've got to do lots of listening, not too much action when you're young…

David Caple: 

Yes.

Geoff Hurst: 

…and then you gain your respect. It's sort of like any communication exercise that the more you listen the more right you've got to be listened to. So for a young Engineer that's the way to go and likewise for a good Engineer to actually go and do a job in a remote location well you've really got to get off your backside and go and talk to these people, whether it be visiting them or otherwise. Something we've left out of this conversation a little bit is the union representatives and the health and safety representatives. If you can't talk directly with the workers at least you can speak with those people. They're often given time or if they haven't been given time they'll make time to come and speak with you about the problem in the workplace and that at least gives you some inkling as to what's really going on in the workplace not necessarily by what they say but sometimes by what they don't say. So yes, to do a good design you've really got to engage with the workplace irrespective.

David Caple: 

Yep and it sounds like again the success is in the planning and the briefing and the scope and understanding of the issues and then they can use their technical skills to implement the solution.

Geoff Hurst: 

Yeah and using the right person for the right job too. I know the standards are saying or the guidance material is saying that we need to use the right people and I know in Engineers Australia we really struggle with professional engineers, engineering associates and engineering technologists. They've all got their role to play as part of the engineering team but in the workplace sometimes you'll just get a tradesman in and say "Here's the problem. Solve it for us”, and the tradesman won't be registered in any way and will try and do the job because that's what he's used to doing and will muddle his way through it and come up with a solution. I've seen it time and time again where a purchasing person will buy in a mixing tank for instance and the mixing tank will be there in the workplace for quite some time and then somebody will say "There's no guarding on this." "Okay, well." "And it needs guarding." "Oh hell”, and the Operator says "Hell, I don't want any guarding on it. I've got to get into this tank to clean it out occasionally." You think "Well we really need some guarding on it." 

So the technologist who installed it did the right thing by installing it but he didn't do anything by way of adding value to actually the safety of the operation and then later on you get a professional engineer in that's usually me solving the problem and the cost of putting the guarding etc, on that tank is more than the cost of the tank in the first place. So it's problematic.

David Caple: 

The refitting and retooling if there's a problem.

Geoff Hurst: 

Yeah.

David Caple: 

Just I suppose to avoid that Peter I understand that you do quite a bit of time in prototyping, mocking up. How does that process work?

Peter Holmes: 

Yeah. I mean I think as I said we do sort of research on what's happening in the current environment and then as we start to shape up concepts we have a very good process to be able to bring people in and actually be part of designing the physical space. So we'll often do that out of cardboard boxes in very low cost ways but actually allow customers and our people and even senior leaders to be able to come in and move stuff around and sort of go "Well how would you do that?" and "How would that work?" And dissimilarly we do quite a lot of research around that. So we will send people in sort of sight unseen and actually see how they perform a transaction or what the experience will be like for them. So we do a lot of research around filming, you know, sort of pre-questioning, post-questioning, to recording what people say, how they feel and we do all of that in a very low cost kind of prototype way before we actually go in to design and that's really allowed us to get a much better outcome from the start so we don't have to reengineer or retool down the track. So I think you can't spend enough time in that prototyping to actually get a better solution in the end.

David Caple: 

It's excellent. Barbara or Geoff have you seen something similar in that testing, pretesting, evaluating the concept before construction?

Barbara McPhee:

It really gets people going. It really gets them involved. Even if it's in cardboard, that the afternoon spent putting sort of things together in a configuration to see whether the configuration works, that to my mind is probably one of the best ways to test an idea and to get everybody on the same page. I've seen it in machinery design as well where I've gone into a workshop and the Mechanical Engineer in charge had set up three different configurations of roof bolting controls for underground mining and one group liked one. Night shift liked one lot, the day shift liked the other lot and the afternoon shift liked the other lot. So they then had to have a conference between the three shifts and they found out that they worked completely differently and that was a fascinating – they were so excited when they got to the solution. It was wonderful and I couldn't – you know, even if you mock it up as a mock-up if you know what I mean, you don't really, but you get that involvement. You find that that's the key and then you've got to hold them back and keep them on the right track.

David Caple:

Sure. But that participative design process is so rich…

Barbara McPhee: 

Yes.

David Caple: 

…in allowing us to observe and them to tell the stories about how they do it differently and why.

Barbara McPhee: 

Yeah.

David Caple: 

Do you want to say something?

Geoff Hurst: 

Because before you start in the prototype stage people will volunteer information to you but they'll tell you what they think. They'll tell you what they think you want to know. Even though you're being very open with them they'll still tell you what they think you want to know and so when you actually start prototyping it's actually when you get to see the real way they do the work because when you're around they'll do it the right way because they know how to do it the right way but it's very inefficient doing it that way. If you think about walking down the street, why don't we crash into each other? It's because we make adjustments in everything we do, just unconsciously. So in the workplace these guys are making adjustments all the time and they do it that often this particular way that they forget about what the real rules are. They do it their way.

David Caple: 

Yes.

Geoff Hurst: 

It becomes the custom and practice. But then when they start thinking about it and doing it in front of you, then they'll think "No, I'm supposed to do it this way”, and they'll artificially do it the right way. So when you get down to the prototyping stage often it will reveal the real method of work and then you can start really defining the problem and solving the right one.

David Caple: 

Sure. So I suppose the principles that are behind this is that if it's good for health and safety it's generally good for the business model, the productivity, the quality…

Barbara McPhee: 

The morale.

David Caple: 

…and the morale. I mean it's – there's lots of spinoffs if we do it well. We've got one more question and while we take that if there's anybody in the studio who'd like to ask a question. Thanks. We'll do that next. So this is from Kate. "Can the panellists talk a little bit about complex workplaces with multiple hazards – how to design work well in more complex situations?" So would anybody like to have a go at that one?

Geoff Hurst: 

I must say the paper industry and the chemical industry are probably some of the most complex workplaces I've worked in although the Ford Motor Company was fairly complex as well. The challenge with those sorts of complex workplaces is to make sure that you get all the players involved and sometimes it might be 14 or 15 people. So you can't have them all together at once. So a number of sessions, number of work sessions, sort of the thing that Barbara was talking about with the shifts. It's the same sort of deal. Get various work groups working on what the problem is first of all, to finding the problem and then when they've all got agreement about what the problem or problems are then start working on the solutions with them.

David Caple: 

Okay.

Geoff Hurst: 

So complex organisations are really no different other than it's a bigger problem or bigger set of problems. They've still got to work with people.

David Caple: 

And it's this multi skilled stakeholder group that we're talking about here which is very interesting. So let's – time for a couple of questions. So the first question if you could just introduce yourself. Sorry. Who put their hand up? There we go. Just stand up and introduce yourself and your question.

Audience Member: 

Thanks David. Angus McDonald and my question is for all the panellists. How can design professionals best help small businesses?

David Caple: 

Okay. Small businesses. Barbara you mentioned small businesses earlier.

Barbara McPhee: 

Yes. Yes.

David Caple: 

Would you like to answer Angus's question?

Barbara McPhee: 

Well first of all I think they've got to be able to afford us and that becomes a bit of a problem. We can't do it for nothing unless it's done through projects through Peter's department or whatever giving out money for small business projects. But I think one of the things is that to make it cost effective you really have to be allowing them to do a lot of the leg work which is good in one way because it gets them going on it but they can't afford your time for infinite periods of time. 

But I think one of the things for small business would be the productivity, efficiency, morale, general welfare issues and the fact that you can talk to virtually everybody in the organisation is usually a plus, that they don't work together in small organisations unless they're reasonably compatible. The non-compatible ones get out. That leaves a bit of a problem because you can have this decision by consensus and the consensus position is possibly wrong. 

Now that can be a little bit of a problem where you have to shift the whole lot of them to a new perspective, and I think seating is one of those things where you go into an office, a small office with two people working there and they all have different ideas of what a good seat is. But you have to analyse the work, you have to look at the person, you have to think how long they're going to be sitting there, what other things they're going to do, safety, cost, everything else and then you write it all down. You say "Right. These are our parameters. Let's go find a seat." So it’s not wasting time on stuff that isn't important but making sure you hone in on the things that for small business are important. 1) Making a profit, 2) Health. Often – I mean being realistic.

David Caple: 

Yes because there's the high turnover in the small business sector. So let's move on. We've got another question here. Have we got the microphone? Sorry. While you've got the microphone would you like to ask your question and then the microphone here. Thanks.

Audience Member: 

Okay, sure. Barbara was already able to provide a couple of examples of issues that required solutions but as design professionals is there some example or something that stands out in your mind that you've been able to do that's really influenced design at various work stages, like perhaps in project planning?

David Caple: 

Peter?

Barbara McPhee: 

Yes.

Peter Holmes: 

Good question. Look I think – let me think about it. I think some of it is where you have a difference in opinions around I guess what's important and I think in project planning one of the things I think is really helpful in helping design or good design work is to agree guiding principles. So actually up front to sort of say "Well what are the guiding principles that we need to adhere to?" and then as you're working through ideas, solutions, feedback, be able to link them back to those principles and go "Does it meet all those guiding principles?" Then if they don't, "Then how do we discard that and go back to the drawing board or think about another way of approaching it?" We've put lots of great ideas onto the chopping block because it just didn't link back to what was important for our people or our customers. So I think that is helpful in the really early stages of the project planning is agreeing those guiding principles and being able to stick back to them where you have divergent views as you're going through, through to project delivery.

David Caple: 

One more question from the studio. Then we've got another tweet.

Audience Member: 

Yes. Steve Young from VIOSH. All of you as panellists have been talking about the role of consultation with stakeholders and coming up with a good agreement as to what the best solution is. I'm sure all of us couldn't agree more with you all. But I think we also all know that when it comes to the CEO's favourite project or lack thereof, all of a sudden these great design ideas tend to sort of just fade away. Now I was doing some research with a company last year and I discussed this with them.  When you've decided what the best solution is because they were pointing these things out to me. I said "How do you actually make them happen?" They said "Oh we hand it over to our SECAs”, and I'd never heard that term before except I looked around and I couldn't see Judith Durham anywhere but they said "No. S E C A - Safety and Environmental Change Agents”, and that sounds like a pretty fuzzy-wuzzy sort of term but what it was, it was a very authoritative role that people had given someone and in fact divisional managers had to answer to those people with respect of this major change when it came to safety or environment. I'd just like the panel's thoughts on that kind of way to push things through?

David Caple: 

Okay. Good question. Interesting. Do you want to comment Geoff?

Geoff Hurst: 

Yep. I'd say it's all part of the journey. It depends on where an organisation is on whether it's for Peter's end where they're really collaborative with their people or whether they're very autocratic. But somewhere along the way in between it is a solution for those sorts of organisations and often you find as a health and safety professional that you're somewhere in that space of trying to act as that advocate for the employees but at the same time take a project that's been made a mess of because it's been done in isolation not with the workers involved. You're trying to then massage it and massage the workers so that the job is actually then going to be done with warts and all.

David Caple: 

Sure. So Barbara, have you got any SECAs in the mining industry?

Barbara McPhee:

Well we call them "champions".

David Caple: 

Okay.

Barbara McPhee: 

And you get somebody in there who's influential, who's respected. They might be the floor cleaner or the bathroom – you know, bathroom attendant but they are well thought of, they think things through, they're respected, they can talk to the boss and they can talk to the workers and the champion is usually the person that you focus on in terms of solutions and include them so that they know exactly what they might have to promote and then they then do the talking. But I guess ours is probably a little bit more personal and from that point of view it's much easier to use somebody like that.

David Caple: 

And Peter you mentioned earlier that in banking you've got - change management is a big journey for your customers who've got their passbook or their cheque book…

Peter Holmes: 

Yes.

David Caple: 

…as much as it is for the bank itself?

Peter Holmes: 

Great. I think I always look at project kind of spends and change management is almost what gets tacked on at the end. So you've sort of got this budget and we'll find a little bit for change management. I think similar to bringing people like workplace health and safety people up front, having change management in there from day one is equally really important. We talk a lot about you need some heroes along the way. 

So very similar to a SECA you need the people who can kind of be the voice of the front line or the voice of the customer that can really say "This is great”, and "Here's what's important”, because it always sounds much better coming from a peer or someone from a position of respect than just a top down kind of authoritative mandate if you like. Yeah correct. So I think all different titles but there's probably people who play those roles in effecting change in the organisation.

But I would sort of add to it. I think what's important is we always have sort of senior executives who have great ideas. I think being able to link it back to the organisation's goals and strategies and then being really clear about the guiding principles again helps to influence even people at senior levels to say "That's a very good idea but your strategy is this and you've talked about you want to achieve this for customers in fact. Here's where this idea isn't going to quite deliver to that." So I think being able to use some of those principles can help you influence up as much as down.

David Caple: 

Thanks for that question. We have another one come through from the tweet, from Meredith. "What effect does safety culture have on work design? For example if there is no safety culture and it's seen as a hassle or something that doesn't apply to the workers, how would you make it work?" That's an interesting question. Thank you Meredith for that one. Geoff.

Geoff Hurst: 

Well I sort of see it the other way around. Not so much how does safety culture have an effect on work design but how work design affects safety culture? If you actually take the time to listen to your workers about the problems that they've got – this is how I got into health and safety. I actually did a good job of working with my workers in the boiler house when I was a Supervisor. I wasn't a safety person. I was an Engineering Supervisor. I listened to what the problems were. So they kept coming to me with problems because I helped them actually resolve the issues the way they figured they should be and we improved the operation of the boiler house no end. It became a very efficient part of the business rather than a real black hole as it used to be when I started there.

So what actually happened was the culture of the organisation was no longer "Let's keep the information away from the bosses." "Let's tell the bosses what's going on because they'll do something about it." So if you then involve them in the solution for your design of the workplace then the culture changes that they're actually then not only motivated to speak to you about problems but they actually find problems in the workplace that they solve themselves because you've encouraged them to become innovative within the bounds of what's allowed and they'll tell you what they've done.

David Caple: 

Sure.

Geoff Hurst: 

Then you pat them on the back and say "It's great." So it changes the culture of the workplace and as safety in itself can as well involving workers.

David Caple: 

Okay. Barbara did you want to comment on Meredith?

Barbara McPhee: 

Well I think this is another role for the champion who can say things as they see it. You can have very poisonous health and safety cultures and I think a lot of small business is still in that area. I think we've got a lot of work to do there. You know, they'll go by the rules but if you've got somebody who's respected and will stand up for what looks like woozy stuff you're far more likely to succeed. But if you haven't got a manager or a CEO or somebody who's in a position of authority on side and ready to hammer it you won't.

David Caple: 

Okay. Peter did you want to comment?

Peter Holmes: 

I think also I think it's more broader than that. I think it's actually about what's the organisation's culture and what's their purpose. So we're very much about you to do the right thing and respect for people. I think when you think about health and safety that's just a given. So it's no longer an extra task or something else that everyone needs to do. It's just part of the way we do things here. So I actually think you need to embed it into the broader organisational culture rather than just trying to make it a function or something that just happens by a team over there. It's got to be ingrained in everything that the organisation does…

David Caple: 

Okay.

Peter Holmes: 

…and that's I think how you achieve that.

David Caple: 

Sorry but we're just about out of time. So I might just ask each of you just to reflect on the discussions this afternoon and maybe just highlight one thing that you feel our audience should think about to ensure sustainable good work design in Australian workplaces? Geoff?

Geoff Hurst: 

Yeah. Well I guess being a small or medium sized business myself working with small businesses to large businesses I would offer some free advice. That is to collaborate with your workers. If you can't afford the design people to do the job properly then you've just got it all wrong. The challenge is to involve your workers, use the right resources externally - and what you pay for is what you get – and you'll actually end up saving more money than you're spending on good design and giving your workers the time to be involved is the best asset you've got.

David Caple: 

Okay good. Barbara?

Barbara McPhee: 

Well I think look from my perspective I think we should all consider ourselves designers and influencers - every single individual and if we can't, if we feel powerless to do that, then a lot probably won't change.

David Caple: 

Okay. Peter?

Peter Holmes: 

I would just say I think it's a pretty similar theme is engage early and engage broadly and make sure you bring in the right expertise and guidance and advice along the journey.

David Caple: 

Excellent. 

So that draws our session to a close and I'd like to thank our online audience to continue staying online for the next half an hour because our panel members will be able to continue to converse over tweet for the next 30 minutes.

I'd also like to thank our studio audience for coming along this afternoon and for your questions. I'd like you to join me and thank our panellists for a very interesting conversation.

So thank you very much.

(Audience applause)

§ (Music Playing) § 

 

[End of Transcript]


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