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A Psychologically Safe Mining Industry

Mining is one of the few industries that has emerged from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic economic crisis in excellent financial and operational shape.  Now, the question is, what will they do with their profits? 

The top mining organisations have never been in a stronger financial position to make a big, bold pivot towards the future and utilise their record profits to embolden their innovative and psychologically sound organisations.

The world is in an era-defining transition from a fossil fuel heavy demand to a low-carbon sustainable economy. Mining companies should be making the organisational strategy of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and both Mental & Physical Safety a priority. This will provide miners with a compelling path to build trust which will help them to grow and produce sustainable outcomes for the future. 

Australian mining sector revenue:

                        2019                2020   

Copper           $13.98bn         $14.81bn         $0.83bn⬆

Iron Ore         $57.58bn         $68.27bn         $10.69bn⬆

Gold                $3.87bn           $4.03bn           $0.16bn⬆

Coal                $12.09bn         $8.80bn           $3.29bn⬇

Most of the top mining companies understand the importance of ESG & Safety and have good practices and processes. Unfortunately, some still see it as just another box to tick, and this failure to understand could be costly. Mining companies need to demonstrate that they not only understand the risks and opportunities of ESG & Safety but are committed to addressing them in everything they do.

According to PWC Mine, “Companies with higher ESG & Safety ratings had an average total shareholder return of 34% over the past 3 years – 10% higher than the general market index.”

The area in Safety that is the clincher in defining the success of a sustainable, safe working environment is Psychological Safety, aiding policies and procedures to all be in place and the use of a reference guide like the Job Hazard Analysis (JHA’s) reminding all the team members that Safety is a value that all organisations must have to succeed.

However, this isn’t the only type of safety that mining companies must actively keep in mind.  A psychologically safe working environment is a new type of beast in the mining industry.  Highly creative industries, of tech and innovation, have embraced this culture, like Google and Tesla and in these major tech companies, we see that a psychologically safe working environment is not only beneficial but is also vital to stimulate creativity, strengthen safety and further innovation.

What does a psychological safe workplace look like in the mining industry?

Teams are empowered to challenge reference guides like the Safe Work Instructions (SWI’s) and JHA’s and pick them apart to really get into the task at hand. There should be no fear of challenging a team member’s workplace environment or calling out an unsafe procedure.

Ideally, you should be able to approach the Manager or Superintendent and say that you have a different way of doing something.  Something as simple as “Boss, can we look at it?” or “are we over complicating things?” should be asked without the fear of ridicule, bullying or punishment.  As defined by Amy Edmondson, “a psychologically safe workplace is one where people are not full of fear, and not trying to cover their tracks to avoid being embarrassed or punished.”

A comment that I hear all the time in the mining sector, in reference to a suggestion of an organisation-wide program, is, “You can’t get every crew and team on the same boat.”  This would be is true if it’s not lived and breathed from the top down. So, in order to create an organisational-wide psychologically safe environment, we need to break each area down, start small and then grow.

Managers in any role—whether at the top or front line of an organisation – can do this.  On one level, it is so simple. However, simple doesn’t mean easy.  Organisations are usually designed in ways that exacerbate our natural tendencies for self-protection. Most organisations are hierarchical, and employees are acutely aware of status differences. In those organisations, people tend to be overly careful and cautious around those higher up than themselves in the hierarchy. 

Having a psychologically safe work environment will also lead to more innovative ways to sustain a high-level positive outlook and more commitment.  For example, encouraging activities like meditation, yoga and exercise would be beneficial as these activities activate the parasympathetic nervous system in the body and help renew one’s body and mind. Other forms of social interactions aided by this environment of mental safety can also fill us with sustainable energy, like helping others less fortunate, being in a loving relationship, spending time with pets, and engaging in playfulness and humour.

The fundamentals of this is fantastic, but the strength of this environment is holding everyone to account for their actions and stamping out toxic complacency.

Have you ever experienced a distressing change in your workplace?

It can be an extremely difficult situation to cope with, for any human being. A response to such a situation is explained by Elisabeth Kubler Ross who developed a model, which is also widely known Kubler-Ross Change Curve.

Organisations don’t just change because of new systems, processes or structures. They change because the people within the organisation adapt and change too. Only when people have made their own personal transitions can an organisation truly reap the benefits of change.

The easier you can make this journey for people, the sooner your organisation will benefit, and the likelihood of success increases.  We ensure that this is embedded it into our psychological safety programs.

Studies have shown that we can’t be positively infectious with others – and excite and engage them – unless we’re feeling inspired and sustained ourselves first.

“Leaders managing high-stress positions need to take care of themselves first and to then involve and take care of others.” says psychology expert Professor Richard Boyatzis.

If there is a good balance between work and personal environments, team members are more alert, more observant to issues, less likely to make mistakes and more gear to look after their work mates. 

The Barclayss Planet of Psychological Safety

What is a psychologically safe leader going to look like in the mining sector?

There will have to be more conversations with mining leaders in reframing their role. If you have your finger in every pie, you’re not doing your job. With leaders currently unable to be physically everywhere, this might be a good time to reflect and review certain practices.

This includes working habits, attend fewer meetings, make fewer functional decisions, and allowing yourself the time to focus on the bigger picture. With the introduction of a psychologically safe environment, this will enable your team to get on with the job more safely, ergonomically & efficiently.

Mining is now such a safety focused sector with a significant amount of budget allocated from each organisation to minimising harm. However, since 2015-16, the total number of serious injuries arising from the mining sector has remained mostly unchanged in the industry as a whole. Alarmingly, the rate in surface mining (predominantly iron ore) companies has risen slightly according to the WA Department of Mines.

A new innovative approach to tackle such issues in the global mining sector would be to adopt the ESG & Safetyapproach. Leaders need to stop procrastinating about implementing psychology-based change programs and start to live and breathe them.

Introduce psychological safety in your teams with the team contract and alignment map

I look at creating these contracts and maps when new teams are formed, when new talents join an existing team or when radical changes require the team to reboot its operating mode.

To start the conversation, I recommend setting the tone and the boundaries and establish team behaviour and rules. My client-contract sessions increase psychological safety and reduce potential conflict amongst their team members by:

  1. Aligning relationships on appropriate and inappropriate behaviours, making team values non-negotiable.
  2. Creating a cultural base to work in harmonious conditions.
  3. Allowing legitimate discipline in cases of non-compliance.
  4. Preventing a sense of inequality and injustice to develop within the team.
  5. Losing that “target on my back” mentality.

 

The most important questions to ask all of the team members in the contract sessions are the two trigger questions, to identify the IN’s – what we need to commit to – and OUT’s – what we need to avoid.

 

  1. What are the rules and behaviours we want to abide by in our team?
  2. As individuals, can we understand why the other team members work in certain ways? 

 

The Team Alignment Map (TAM) helps align everyone on a regular basis and requires frequent updates to reflect changes.  This keeps the team psychologically set each swing for all challenges they will face and enable their managers to focus on the long-term goals.

You can download your own copies of The Team Contract and the Team Alignment Map below.

You can download your own PDF copies of The Team Contract and the Team Alignment Map below: