Refining NZ’s Safety Warriors

22/02/2013 - Health and safety

Achieving excellence in health and safety is more than about policies and rules; it’s about really ingraining a safety culture that people can relate to. Below is a case study on how Refining NZ set about creating a safety culture in their workplace and community, and improving their health and safety performance.

Refining NZ is the country’s only oil refinery and the leading supplier of refined petroleum products to the New Zealand market. 70% of Z’s fuel is supplied from the refinery that is located at Marsden Point.

Refining NZ strive to get everyone home safely, every day. Like Z, safety is their priority. However, they started to see an upward injury trend and so they set out to investigate why, and how to change it.

A comprehensive review showed the normal expected outcomes, they needed more training and induction, and to look at hazard management systems and so on. But, they thought there was some underlying reason why safety performance had diminished. What they realised was that in order to make a meaningful and sustainable difference, they needed to focus on the culture.

At Refining NZ 90% of the workforce are males, and “strong, tough, proud blokes” at that says Refining NZ’s Anna Cassels-Brown “This ‘hyper masculinity’ is a strong mental model and can be a blocker to working safely.” Anna cites New Zealand heroes like Willie Apiata, Buck Shelford, Richie McCaw and Tawera Nikau as the type of role models their workforce would look up to. They are warriors. They play for their reputation as tough blokes.

At the heart of the Refinery’s safety message is that they want to send their workers home safely to their families. But what they were observing were workers who probably weren’t thinking about their families as they, for example, did not clip in their harness when working at height. This worker also has their reputation to think about says Refining NZ’s Health and Safety Manager Wade Alsweiler. He is concerned about “his reputation as a ‘good’ worker. Someone who will get the job done no matter what it takes. Someone who fits in socially and in our culture [of] being tough, not being a ‘pain’, not being the guy who is seen to be slowing down the job.”

This concern about image follows from powerful mental models that can make talking about and displaying safe work behaviours uncool. “It can be seen as pretty touchy feel and pretty naff” says Wade. So, at Refining NZ, they started thinking about how they could “un-naff” safety and tap into the warrior spirit and pride that is so inherent in New Zealand.”

Firstly, they turned their Safety goal of Zero Harm into a message that would resonate more with staff daily – Safely Home Every Day. The next thing they did was build a concept of a Safety Warrior.

The traditional warrior’s role was to ward off attackers and provide security for their families. They had to protect and they had to be mentally and physically fit to survive. Wade says the warrior was the ultimate guardian and a role much aspired to. The new age warrior is still the provider and guardian of their families. For the warrior to do this they need to earn a living through secure employment.

Refining NZ worked closely with Team One, an organisation that specialises in unleashing the potential in people. In this case sporting legends Buck Shelford, Tawera Nikau and Wiremu Edmonds, hard men renowned for their fearlessness sold a safety message of Pride, Power, Protection and the importance of family.

To support this they also delivered a Safety Warrior event. The event ran for a week, in which time the sportsmen alongside Refining NZ spoke at schools, marae and sporting groups to share what it means to be a warrior. A stage show was put on as well to share the message with the 700 refinery staff and their families. During the presentation the Refinery is likened to being its own community or village of warriors, needing to be protected with the village whanau all needing to get safely home every day.

Wade says, that for Refining NZ people, being a Safety Warrior is the cool, tough, staunch thing to do. “Actually the coolest, toughest, proudest people with the biggest reputations at our place are the ones who’ve become the elite Safety Warriors.”


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