Working together at Longford Sawmill
Michael Hadley and saw doctor Phillip Turner from the Longford Sawmill
The Longford Sawmill is proving that managing safety does not have to be expensive, difficult or time-consuming for a small business. With the help of a WorkCover advisor, the sawmill has quickly ensured safety is an integral part of its work.
The purpose-built Longford Sawmill is owned and operated by Stephen Smart and Russell Sweeting. It was opened in March 2007 (the company previously had a site at St Leonards) and employs 15 people, including many young workers.
Stephen first met WorkCover Advisor Phill John when Phill was a Workplace Standards Inspector; now as a WorkCover Advisor, Phill has worked with Office Manager Dimitty Smart to help the sawmill develop safety policies, procedures and other tools specific to its needs.
"Dimitty recognised the need to take safety to a different level," said Phill. "When they moved into the new mill, it was an opportunity to make things as safe as possible, and cement a good attitude towards safety. Having new technology is one factor in this, but having a good, workable safety system is also crucial."
"We've always been very safety conscious, because this can be a very dangerous industry. We relied on verbal communication before, passing on information and experience from person to person. Nothing was formalised or written down," said Dimitty. "Which meant that probably not everything that needed to be explained was passed on; maybe even the wrong information could have been passed on." The need for consistent and accurate information was obvious in a place with the combination of dangerous equipment and young workers.
Dimitty and Phill met to discuss what was needed, using various WorkCover Tasmania guides, including Making your small business safer and healthier, for direction.
"We had no clue what to do; this is certainly not my background!" admitted Dimitty. "But nearly every step I needed to take was in the guide." Phill helped Dimitty make sense of what was required and what would suit the sawmill's small team.
"If you follow this guide from cover to cover, you'll go a long way towards complying with the health and safety legislation," said Phill, "and in no time you'll have a basic safety management system in place as Dimitty has proven. A couple of weeks after we started, she had a first draft done; and about three weeks after that we were ready to induct everyone."
Dimitty developed tools including a health and safety policy, various safe work procedures, an induction process, and an accident reporting procedure. This has prepared the workplace for preventing accidents, and for dealing with them if they do happen. "A worker was injured recently and at first we panicked: what do we do? Who do we tell?" said Dimitty. "But once we made sure he had medical help, we remembered and used our reporting system, and notified Workplace Standards. Dealing with the inspectors after the incident was made a whole lot easier by using the accident reporting system we developed."
To successfully develop and then implement these new safety tools, Dimitty involved the team members. Two key players were saw doctor Phillip Turner and leading hand Michael Hadley. They oversee the sawmill's two distinct work areas, and act as a link between the team members and Dimitty. Importantly, they both have years of experience in the industry and of mentoring the newer workers.
One of Phillip's key roles is to make sure workers are operating safely and using their personal protective equipment correctly. "It's important to have someone with a safety focus on the floor who can be flexible and see all things," he said. Phillip also works with Dimitty to ensure first aid supplies are maintained (he has current first aid training).
"The new developments have been positive for everyone," he said. "We've had this opportunity (with the move to the new mill) to change old habits and attitudes and make sure things are as safe as possible. The main thing I see is that people now realise the importance of simple things, like wearing their safety glasses and earplugs."
Michael has worked in sawmills all his life, so he's "seen some lucky things and some unlucky things". He said even with the best equipment, things can go wrong; a lot of it is down to attitude. "People either sometimes get complacent, or they just don't understand how dangerous a sawmill can be. Before we made our rule about no mobile phones in the shed, you'd see the young guys texting with one hand and working on a sawbench with the other. They just didn't get it."
Michael's years of experience have given him an acute insight into how people act and think, and he reveals that sometimes an unorthodox approach is the best. "I always tell our new blokes that we have a policy here: never put your finger where you wouldn't put your old fella," he laughs.
"It makes everyone laugh, it breaks the ice, but they remember the message. And if I find them putting their hands too close to machinery, I just pull them up and remind them of our policy. It works."
As Michael says, the team at the Longford Sawmill "know they have someone looking after them, but they've also learnt that they have to look out for their own safety, too". This positive attitude is now supported by the solid safety management system that Dimitty developed with WorkCover Advisor Phill John's help and support.