A Chat With Adam Taunton

Tell us about yourself, what first got you interested in safety, and what made you decide to pursue a career in safety?


I first began working in the construction industry as an apprentice electrician with ActewAGL in Canberra. I qualified and gained experience as an electrician in the commercial and infrastructure fields with a large contractor in Canberra. During this time I was promoted into various supervisory/management roles within various Australian and international projects, and eventually to the Quality and Safety Manager role within the business. I was appointed in this role as I raised safety concerns and made solutions to rectify them. I wanted to make changes in the approach we took to safety. I decided to pursue a career in safety because I wanted to make a considered and meaningful impact in the Building and Construction Industry. I was tired of half measures or excessive administrative programs that did not achieve realistic safety. I wanted to deconstruct the processes back to the actual requirements and put it back together in a plain and easily understood format.

What do you see as the biggest safety challenge currently facing the industry?


This one is difficult to answer. There are a few but I would have to say ‘Accountable Behaviour’. I see so many individual behaviours that degrade the safety adherence of the individual, company and site. It is concerning that some (albeit a small few) workers are willing to disregard the safety issues facing them in light of getting the job done quicker. As I have personally witnessed, this can sometimes be at the expense of the worker standing next to them, with catastrophic consequences. I think one of the issues incorporated into the equation is the lack of understanding of “why we are doing this”. Given the practical knowledge of the specific requirement and the consequences of not following such requirements, workers are more likely to have a healthy respect of the extent to which things can go wrong. However, I think one of the most notable improvements is the change to formalising processes to ensure consistent and effective delivery. The wordiness has been replaced by straight forward documented process so that everyone can read, understand and implement the required actions in order to meet the desired outcome.

In what way is the Scheme having a positive impact on the safety culture of the industry?


In my opinion the Accreditation Scheme and the OFSC have had a significant impact in raising specific awareness and compliance to the technical requirements of the National Standards, Australian Standards and Codes of Practice. Since I commenced work as an FSO in 2007, I have seen a substantial rise in the diligence applied to meet the elements of these documents. Specific areas I would like to note are Plant, Formwork, Scaffolding, Temporary Electrical Installations, and management of Design. For example, some years ago it was generally acceptable for scaffolders and formworkers to work at heights exceeding the nominated limitations, such as on formwork leading edges and during erection of scaffold. This behaviour has since been corrected and new work practices engaged throughout the industry to ensure that all workers are protected. I believe the bar has been set deliberately high, and as a result companies have increased resources and commitment to meeting these requirements, thus creating a safer workplace across all aspects of the business.

What advice would you give to companies preparing for their first audit?


I would advise all potential applicants to the Scheme to conduct a self-audit using the criteria and the Audit Evidence Guide. The Audit Evidence Guide is a fantastic tool that gives good information relating to demonstrating conformance, and is the document FSOs will revert to for direction. Given the substantial increase in expectations above the AS/NZS 4801 requirements, the applicants should be committed to the improvement model and willing to accept the requirements of the Scheme. It is important to remember that the FSO is only ever auditing a system, and that the OFSC is committed to working with companies to gain accreditation. In collaboration with the OFSC, companies can achieve accreditation and are able to demonstrate the ultimate commitment to improving safety standards in Australia.