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Small Talk....with Tania Van Der Stap

We have asked multiple #safetysisters and #malechampions the same questions, and we want to share their stories, their highs and lows with you.

Meet Tania!


Why do you work in Health and Safety?

Authenticity. The profession provides synchronicity between who I am as a person and the work that I do. At a deeper level, the vocation is driven by sanctity of life and preservation of quality of life. These are values that nurture inner care and concern for others with mutual engagement of hearts. The diversity of the discipline from psychology to engineering to operational risk management, provides an expanse of professional learning much greater than most other professions. The opportunities for engagement of the mind, particularly requiring business acumen, are always evolving but the fundamentals such as risk management are like a stake-in-the-ground.

The profession has given me a voice through both the written and spoken word strategically and operationally at the local level and globally. Everybody has an opinion about ‘safety’ so there are endless forums for vigorous debate. To avoid this in social settings, I strongly suggest being any (I mean any) other profession.

What do you see for the future of the health and safety profession?

As the author of ‘Productive Safety Management’ published internationally by Butterworth-Heinemann in 2003 and more recently the chapter, ‘Risk Leadership – A Multidisciplinary Approach’ in the American Society of Safety Professionals book, ‘Safety Leadership and Professional Development’, I have a clear mission in relation to the safety profession. This is to facilitate the transition from ‘safety thinking’ to ‘risk management thinking’ by which multiple business objectives – production/productivity, quality and HSE incident mitigation – are pursued concurrently.

As alluded to earlier, there’s a need for safety professionals to become more business savvy which involves ‘the helicopter view’ on organizational performance and a technically sound risk basis for H&S programs focused on preventing fatalities, serious injuries and debilitating illnesses. I would add, we know that human beings are fallible which I describe as ‘HR residual risk’ and ‘HR entropic risk’ (ie when people are in a degraded state). Our focus needs to be on developing risk management competencies as a life skill.

What is an initiative you have been a part of or seen that you think really impacted safety culture?

The biggest impact comes from shifting focus from a ‘safety culture’ to a ‘risk management’ culture in which productivity, quality work and HSE incident mitigation are pursued concurrently. This requires both top-down and bottom-up strategies.

For top-down, engagement using a multidisciplinary approach is the key with the safety profession being an enabler of ‘The Work’. The best example is through contractor management. Contractors can be enabled to work to their own familiar, tried and tested, safety management system where possible, after the Company has undertaken due diligence. Imposing the entirety of a Company’s management system on the Contractor can introduce risks associated with complexity and the expected adaptation period/ learning curve, that is self-defeating in terms of all business objectives including safety. With a risk based approach, the boundaries of accountability between Company and Contractor can be captured through processes of risk assessment, consultation and communication resulting in an agreed HSEC Management Plan that becomes how the work is done based on ‘real risks’. This is particularly workable where the scope can be ‘ring-fenced’ and the risks associated with interfaces with other scopes can be managed by the Company.

Share one of your favourite Health and Safety moments/memories

In 2008, I arrived in Las Vegas to present at the American Society of Safety Engineers’ Annual Conference. My presentation (topic: all of the above) was 1 of 14 in that time slot and being in the international stream (feeling like a little person from Perth, Western Australia) my expectations of numbers were low. It was standing room only with about 600 people in the room. Throughout the conference, attendees were asked which sessions they had enjoyed and got most value from. Mine was included in the online feedback on the ASSE’s conference website.

There’s nothing like positive feedback, there and then, for hard work and perseverance. It’s always been a habit of mine to express gratitude to and recognition of the people I work with and I strongly believe, that simple messages such as ‘Thank you’ and ‘Well done’ speak volumes for the safety practitioner, especially given the underlying values of the profession. One of the easiest, most satisfying and effective ways of sustaining a ‘risk management culture’ is to recognise people for their knowledge, special skills, leadership qualities and commitment. The safety profession presents opportunities day-in-day-out to be part of a bigger solution in the context of meaningful work.

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