Safety, Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace

Sentis

From the inception of Sentis, some ten years ago, it was not a typical training programme. Initially working with the high stress mining industry in New South Wales, this team of psychologists and safety professionals has been dedicated to changing people’s lives for the better through the application of neuroscience.

Sentis, starting with only three consultants, grew to seventy in just a brief period and now travels the world training mining, resources and utility companies in safety and leadership performance. Its programmes are tailored to meet client needs and focus on attitudes to safety, leading to lasting improvements in performance.

Anthony Gibbs, psychologist and Operations Manager (Australia, Middle East, and Africa) at Sentis, says, “There was a bit of a gap in policies and procedures in this industry and we began engaging people in the process. I soon realised that so much money was being spent on equipment, machinery and tools, design, policies and guidelines while there was a plateau in the safety end of things. We wanted to capture people’s thoughts on how to get them from struggling to functioning and so on and the idea just built and built from there.”

Anthony came from a clinical psychology background to work for the government in the health environment sector and worked with people fighting various drug and alcohol addictions. The science of the mind had always been intriguing to him, as had the desire to help others. “I have to say that what really drew me to Sentis was the incentive to help people take control of their thinking in challenging situations and helping them to take control of all aspects of their lives,” he shares.

He explains that Sentis’ modularised programme enables organisations to use assessments for both the individual and the organisation to diagnose safety issues in the company culture and determine the key areas of focus. This end to end process can create significant changes in attitudes.

In the first stage of safety, some people might only engage in compliance surrounding safety protocols in public; when unmonitored, they may only do the right thing out of fear that they might be in trouble if caught. The next level would be private compliance, in which the individual would follow safety procedures in order to look out for themselves only.

The next stage, however, in the evolution of a safety culture within the workplace is the creation of what Sentis terms the ‘safety citizen’ – an ambassador to safety in all aspects and for all people working in the environment. “Safety citizens are essentially people who engage in safety because they choose to and that there is something in it for them,” says Anthony. “Safety citizenship is a stage of development created by peoples’ attitude around safety.” The safety citizen is always proactively looking for ways to make the workplace safe, making a better environment for everyone.

In the past, people thought of safety in the workplace as more of an issue of physical injury and liability. Sentis’ broad spectrum of services, however, delves into the emotional and mental approach to safety. The unique approach that Sentis has used in focussing on the attitudes that drive various behaviours has achieved outstanding results.

The company works from a model called Attitudes – Behaviours – Results. In this system, the results achieved by the individual are driven by their own behaviours and choices which are in turn framed by that person’s attitudes about the task or about him or herself as a person. Anthony explains that, “Most change programmes focus on behaviour and what you are supposed to do differently, hence the term ‘behaviour based safety.’ We are essentially empowering people to think a bit differently, and this has seen us get some fantastic results.”

The method results in employees who adopt increased ownership of the responsibility for safety. “So you’re looking at a twenty-five to fifty per cent increase in quality and a decrease of risk assessments. We are not telling people what they need to do; we’re giving them more reasons that they would choose to do this for themselves.”

A common assumption is that every employer should provide a safe and sound environment for its employees. “I think what companies generally do is tell people what they need to do or have a set of guidelines for each employee to follow.” But even under optimal conditions and with proper training, there is no guarantee of safety due to unpredictable events that can occur. Anthony maintains that the most important factor is how someone will then respond. “It is very much about an individual’s choice and a reaction to a choice made by someone else. We are very good at what we do, and that is why all types of stress level businesses get us onboard to work with their team.

“A typical process, if you want to be successful, is a top down approach from ownership, management, department heads and workers on all levels. We always follow through on each process with a great deal of supporting elements like training programmes, e-learning tools, risk assessments in the field and maintenance support after goals are achieved as well.”

To perform such specialised services takes a great level of skill and education behind the entire process and the company employs professionals from a variety of different qualifications such as doctors, psychologists and wellness educators. “It takes valuable time to get our consultants up to speed, so we bring them on in a very vigorous and strategic manner,” says Anthony. Sentis is continually researching better ways to engage clients to empower their own decisions and choices where safety is concerned.

A service such as Sentis provides is brought in for a range of needs – and levels of urgency. The company “might come at a time due for a wake-up call or a restructuring. Just very recently, we have been working with one of top banks in Australia dealing with high stress levels and have proven very successful. We have many ways we can assist people from different locations. We always deliver and all goals vary depending on the needs of the client.”

Indeed, Sentis has put roughly 80,000 people through its programmes, with the majority of its business resulting from word-of-mouth recommendations that spread from organisation to organisation.

The company is now looking to expand further, both geographically and in its range of services as it implements programmes across North America and into further markets worldwide. “We are just continuing to build our footprint now and were focussed largely on core safety at the beginning – and we are still – but also expanding into innovation, leadership and operational excellence. As we continue to grow with our company, we find the market is also increasing in size so we are expanding at a very sustainable rate.”

Sentis keeps active in its communities by attending conferences and summits and hosts its own Safety Summits annually.

The organisation also connects to communities through its support of a number of charities including one which provides clean drinking water to children in disadvantaged countries. Sentis Managing Director, Tony O’Brien, is also involved in Bush Heritage Australia which donates a percentage of all profits to sustaining the country’s unique plants, animals and their habitats. Sentis employees also work to help others while bonding as a group. “We do Christmas dinners where we shut the business down for a few days and we get together and help to keep the culture of the organisation strong by doing some charity work and team building work.”

The programmes run by the company not only benefit the clients’ employees but, through the management of risk, the reduction of errors and a reduction of damages to staff and property, result in long term cost savings for the client. “The financial benefits are huge so, when organisations start to work with us, they see the change and shift in the people and witness the returns. Long term trusted partnerships are then created and kept,” says Anthony.

“When people are functioning better, they engage with the systems and processes and the environment they are put in more effectively. The output is just better and higher.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

June 22, 2018, 5:24 PM AEST