I’ve just had the most amazing 18 months of my life, hands down. As the Safety Lead for a high profile aerospace start up, from their first successful test rocket, through to the fifth commercial rocket, I’ve got better work stories to die for. Being on NZ’s aerospace program as the first workplace safety professional is life’s greatest accomplishment so far.
I decided to run safety there using new progressive methods that to my knowledge were only being discussed by academics at the time. The CEO was immediately keen because my ideas suited the needs of the organisation. We needed to stay bureaucratically lean while making sure everyone was as safe as could be.
What it meant was everyone had to take ownership for their own safety within their teams. They were required to set up their own safety systems, work out their own problems, and determine their own needs. Needless to say the guys didn’t take the news well that this was how we were going to do handle the high risk environment we were in.
This was compounded by the fact that the CEO was so deeply driven to get the company off the ground that the pressure was extreme for everyone. Really when I look back, I’m just amazed no harm come to anyone during that time. Everyone was so switched on though, and the reality was when people realised they had to look after themselves, they sure did.
The Second In Charge was great to work for. He’s the one who holds the organisation together like glue. I have him to thank for the success of Safety Differently, (as we called it). I think at times he wished I was more technically capable (so not my strength), but I engaged everyone with the ownership principles and they worked.
In the end, ironically, I got pushback from the government. They weren’t comfortable with the system, and wanted more regulation, external assurance, and control. Despite our great safety record, and a three day visit from their inspectors to show them the integrity of our sites, they still wanted to introduce bureaucracy. It was a sad day for me indeed.