Ep 21 Guy Lenoir has a knack of sniffing out risky workplace situations!

Brendan: Welcome to Episode 21 of the Australian Health and Safety business podcast. I’m Brendan Torazzi and today, I’m joined with Guy Lenoir. It sounds very French. Is that your background?

Guy: Yes, heritage is certainly French and a few other bits and pieces in there as well. It’s a bit of a mangle. Think of Renoir the painter. Just put an L in front.

Brendan: I know you’ve been involved with safety for quite a number of years. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey? How you fell into the world of safety?

Guy: I joined the workforce in about 1983 and I got into mining in about 1987. I’m a machine operator, process operator. I worked through several across in the Northeast, Gold Coast, (0:01:28.2) area and Black Flag. It’s actually when I was working at Bow and Arrow, I was working out there with a fitter and I started getting involved in mines rescue. I had my occupational first aid certificate. I always had sort of a bent towards safety because everyone that seems to get hurt they always came to me to get themselves fixed up.

Brendan: Was that because of your first aid?

Guy: It was solely just first aid. That was very the attention in those days is that safety and first aid that they’re the same thing whereas they’re not one. One is a reaction to the other. My manager at the time he actually died from (0:02:21.1) from his exposure (0:02:23.7) but I’m very grateful for him for giving me a start but they saw in me to have the potential to be something different more than just being a fitter and he encouraged me to do some safety courses and the like. He was the one that nominated me to become the safety officer for NMC Management.

I got involved in mines rescue. I had been headhunted up by industrial mine management at the time by a fellow by the name of Andy McDonald. I got involved with Black Flag Mines Rescue. It was actually during one of those events where we each had to do a recovery which left a quite indelible mark on me in the sense that it took a long time to recover the person due to having to stabilize the backs and everything. More so from the top down, I knew the fellow as well. It was a young bloke, not long married, had a baby. In a week or so ago I was having a beer with him and now we’re recovering him. It was a really emotional period there. That was in the day that we didn’t think about using psychologists and the like. It was more let’s get over it. Let’s go and have a barbecue and have a beer and talk about it sort of thing.

Brendan: The therapy was just getting drunk.

Guy: That seemed to be the way. I think sometimes it’s still the way with some people. They hide it.

Brendan: Can you talk about that rescue? What actually happened?

Guy: It’s basically a scab come off and the back sticks. It wasn’t tied. They didn’t have bolts in and he got squished.

Brendan: It was a fatality.

Guy: Yes. It just took a long time to get to him because we couldn’t advance because the ground was unstable. It was really an underground mine basically.

Brendan: Do you think that was sort of a real turning point for you personally to advance more into a career in safety?

Guy: Most definitely. That was my real trigger. A lot of scars with me. It has never left me. Kind of probably detected from my voice change but it’s still with me. The whole point is I’ve gotten to save lives. I’m one of those real passionate crusader at times. I’ve certainly mellowed over the years but still very passionate about it as well hence why we have formed the business back in 1996 to be a difference.

Brendan: Your business is called Switched onto Safety.

Guy: SOS, Switched onto Safety.

Brendan: You’ve been going since 1996. It’s coming up to almost up to 25 years in a couple of years’ time. What do you do? How do you help companies?

Guy: In a number of ways. We do a lot of contact management. We’re auditors. We audit the companies on how their contacts are performing. How they’re meeting legislative requirements. I do a bit of mentoring as well but mentoring supervisors not mentoring safety people per se. Mentoring supervisors because a safety person is an adviser, is guidance, is assistance. It’s what I term a power processional. We support the engineers, the metallurgists, the supervisors. It’s not an ivory tower of position personally. It’s a by position where we put on our overalls, you stick on your danger tag and you get underneath the bugger or the machine into the workplace and you work with the people. I’ve had that privilege of coming from the workshops basically.

Brendan: You’re not just talking about stuff in theoretical terms. You’ve actually been there on the coal face and you understand what actually happens in reality.

Guy: Absolutely. I’ve seen it. I have the ability to actually see things. It’s not a picture really. If you’re in a picture you can’t see the picture yourself because you’re one of the pixels. You’ve got to have the ability to step outside of the picture so that you can see the whole what is going on and what the relations and interactions that are occurring out there.

Brendan: Are you working mainly in mining still or have you gone much broader?

Guy: I’ve gone out of mining. We have a number of public and state government pedal contracts so assist in that like there as well as private companies. We do a lot of what they term gap analysis audit but it’s really just developing action plans for organizations and the techniques to achieve legislative compliance. A lot of people that I’ve come across the industry is they think their system is the law but the system is not the law. The system is the way we go about meeting the legislative requirement.

Brendan: Often I come across companies and they have policies and procedures and they all look nice and beautiful. They might be ISO accredited or other accreditations but there seems to be gap between these policies and procedures that sit on a shelf and what is actually happening in reality. How do you help companies I guess take that step to make sure that what they say they do is actually what they’re doing in reality?

Guy: That is one of the significant challenges is the wallpaper on the wall and converting what that wallpaper says to it’s all non-fluffy/airy stuff that they say but do they actually walk the talk. I approach it from that area. I run a program where I actually go up with senior management, directors. They’re not known to the people on projects and stuff. It’s a bit like that TV show that the bosses one, where the bosses go to the workplaces and see what is going on. It’s a bit like that one.

Brendan: Undercover Boss I think that is what it’s called.

Guy: It’s not to catch people or anything like that. It’s actually to see the reality of what is going on, the pressures that people are under out in the workplace because we have this plethora of paperwork. A colleague coined the term paper safe. It’s so apt that term paper safe. Paper will not make you safe. Having knowledge and knowing what you are doing and how we apply lessons learned to our younger people working in the industries as well so they’re not getting the bad habits. Somebody took the safety shortcut is decreasing the value of your life. It’s not just going to happen. We got out into the field with the bosses so to speak. We just go and have the look and see what is really going on, what are the interactions going on and show the actual disconnect between the systems and the reality of what people are actually doing in the workplace.

For instance I’ve been in audit not that long ago and I wasn’t with the bosses. It was a second party audit that I was doing on behalf of the principal. The contractor said all the right things in their safety planner but it was not evident out in the field. I’ve actually picked up some not good work practices basically unsafe work practices. Not throwing back pilings when they’re moving them and everything. I said to them you’ve really got to think about these things. You’re teaching young people here. You’re an old hand who is under a lot of pressure. They’re undermanned, under resourced as well. I can see that but that is not the excuse. It really bothered me. It bothered me so much that I couldn’t sleep very well the weekend after the audit. I actually wrote an email to the project director about my concerns and stuff because they don’t seem to be taking that seriously on site.

The unfortunate thing is I’ve got a call about four hours later that an incident had occurred on site. One of the blokes had lost his lower leg in a traumatic incident. That was actually something that I have actually picked up and that I had observed and I’ve informed them about. They were in such a rush to get the job done to meet the timeline, the timeline that is on the wall that they’ve got to be at this stage at this stage. At some point he said that is not achievable. It looks like it works on paper but in real life something has happened.

Brendan: I guess that is the challenge for every business really balancing the safety and commerciality of their operations so that everyone wins.

Guy: That is the eternal challenge. There are no new incidents. We see the same things occur year in year out. I have a bit of a bent towards this silicosis, black lung, pneumoconiosis side of things at the moment. We actually had eradicated out of most industries during the seventies and early eighties. Now we’re in the 21st Century and it’s reared its head in a very ugly way where we’ve got 28 year olds dying from silicosis and it’s something that we have known about since Greek times. We stopped them basically.

Brendan: Let’s go into that a little bit guide for people that don’t know about silicosis. Tell us about what that is and what is happening at the moment.

Guy: Silica, that (0:16:10.5) all the rest, it finishes material so you look at your cement, you look at your bricks and the dust there. The dust that you see is not the dust that follows you because that is the dust that gets collected by your mucus membranes and you blow it out and everything. It’s the find dust that gets down to your lungs. It actually starves your lungs and damages the tissue. It actually causes hardening within the lungs. That is silicosis in itself. It’s different to asbestos.

Brendan: How is it that we managed to eradicate it and now it has come back? That seems really odd.

Guy: I have a theory on that one. It’s that it’s simply that we are not applying lesson learned. It’s in law. We’re a bit fractured in this country in a sense that each states is different but we’re all the same really. I don’t understand why we don’t have just one law that covers the whole of Australia.

Brendan: They’re trying to do that.

Guy: In the UK, they’re smaller than us. They’ve got three to four times the size of the workforce of that. They have half the fatalities of us. That has got to be a red herring there straightaway.

Brendan: Do you think it’s our geographical size? Is that what makes us different to the UK or do you think we’re just a little bit immature in our thinking?

Guy: One, geography is a perception thing. It doesn’t matter. That person who is sandblasting or whatever in Queensland is no different to the one that sandblasting over in WA. I think we’re quite immature in how we approach these things. I feel like there’s an element of self-preservation in there that people don’t want to rock the boat as well. They have a mortgage. They have a family. You have that safety, security concept running in the back, your self-preservation side of things running in the back of your mind. I think that is where my difference is I was told I was too strong. When I went to job interviews I was too strong hence why I formed the business SOS.

Brendan: You mean strong in your opinions about how safety could be ran.

Guy: Strong in my point of view in the sense that are we doing this the best way we can without affecting the health and safety of someone. It might take half an hour longer to do something but we get the job done right the first time and not affecting anybody else. That is where I come from. I supposed it’s like stepping on toes. I don’t have a problem with stepping on toes. It’s a value set. That is what safety in health is. It’s a value set. It’s the values that we place in ourselves.

Brendan: It sounds like you’re in the right line of work really because that is what companies are engaging you for to pick up stuff and you’ve given the information and you point out what you found and I guess it’s up to them to act upon that.

Guy: We say that but what I would like to do is I actually have the people working for them going around so they have the understanding to make sure and they’re not repeating those things as well. Being in safety is not just about pointing out where they’re not doing it well. It’s also about pointing where they are doing it well.

Brendan: That is right. There’s often that perception of just focusing on the negative but of course there’s positives as well.

Guy: Most definitely. It’s also acknowledging people that they are doing it well because that gives people a sense of fulfilment and they’re more likely to continue acting in that way as well. It’s like in the old days I’ll be down in the hole underground and I’ll get the job done quickly. The shift boss knew how I did that quickly and he didn’t give me a pat in the back. It’s me that is taking the risk when I shouldn’t have really been taking that risk to get that job done that quickly.

Brendan: We’re going to wrap up the interview now. That time went very quickly. I’ve just got a few short questions to ask you before we wrap up. How old are you?

Guy: I’m 53.

Brendan: What do you like to do to keep active or fit?

Guy: I haven’t exercised in ages. I actually like being in nice, calm environment. I actually sit and lean against a tree and feel the life that is around me. A little bit more spiritual on those side of things.

Brendan: It almost sounds like meditation in itself really.

Guy: Most definitely. I’ve seen some horrible things in my life and I’ve dealt with some very horrible people as well. It’s quite toxic actually. We don’t look after ourselves very well. We don’t look after our health. I’m not just talking on the physical side of things. Our mental health is very important. That is how we approach things. This is sort of a consideration that we have to have within the workplace is that if something can be done in that person’s life they might not be a 100% thinking on that job.

Brendan: How many hours sleep are you getting each night?

Guy: I don’t get much sleep at all. I probably average about five hours of sleep.

Brendan: Do you have a website? How can people be in contact with you?

Guy: We’re very much into knowledge sharing. They will find the company SOS, Switched onto Safety on LinkedIn and please follow. It’s a very good knowledge sharing platform. We’ve got the obligatory website as well which identifies all the things that we do because we also provide products as well. One of my passions is in savings lives so we do do defibrillators as well. It’s not just about setting up the systems and measuring them to keep it but we are into saving lives too.

Brendan: Thanks very much for coming on the show today. Remember if you’re enjoying the show don’t forget to like us and share it with some colleagues or friends.

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