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Behavioural Health and Safety Leadership with Brian Wedemeyer

The Key Behaviours of Safety Leadership | Brian Wedemeyer (Expert Interview #1)


Here we interview Brian Wedemeyer, CSP VP EHS for Partner Industrial. We discuss some of the different behaviours that are associated with safety leadership and how they can be tailored to get the best performance out of your organisation.

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– [Paul] Right next up is an interview with Mr. Brian Wedemeyer CSP VP EHS for Partner Industrial. We’re really excited to interview Brian today because we’re going to discuss the behaviors associated with safety leadership that have an impact on safety culture within an organization and then what human performance means in practice, the principles around it, and what is being done to break through the current safety plateau.


Over to you, Brian. We are absolutely overjoyed to be interviewing Mr. Brian Wedemeyer today who is the Vice President for EHS at Partner Industrial. Absolutely over the moon to have you. Thank you for attending the HSE North America Congress this week, hopefully, you’ve had a good one?

– [Brian] It’s been brilliant and thank you for hosting it and put it together for everybody. A lot of solid learnings and a good group of safety professionals. Thank you.


– You’re more than welcome. I wanted to talk with yourself because we met prior to this interview with HSE Network to discuss some of your sort of core challenges at Partner Industrial and get a better insight I guess to, you know, some of the behaviors associated with safety leadership that have a certain impact, if you like, on the safety culture within an organization and then also sort of chatting around human performance and then that’s coming up a lot in our events at the moment and in practice, the principles around it and I guess what is being done for us all in safety to be able to break through that current plateau.


I know Partner Industrial is a preferred and trusted provider of specialty maintenance services to the downstream energy power generation and industrial market. So I’m really keen to get your thoughts and feelings on a few areas. So the first question I’d like to ask not to, again, teach people how to suck eggs, right?


But for the benefit of the interview, you know, safety leadership has been defined as, if you like, the process of interaction between leaders and followers through which I like leaders can certainly exert their influence on followers to achieve organizational safety goals. What do you feel, Brian, would be the key behaviors in order to drive impact and safety culture currently within an organization?


– Yeah, that’s a really good question and we have this type of discussion with a lot of our frontline supervisors and our superintendents. What I see is the supervisors and leaders of the organization that lead by example, and they show the employee, “Hey, this is what we expect.” They do it through their actions and what they’re showing people on a daily basis. Those are the key leadership behaviors that we see to be most effective and I think that happens on a number of levels, right?


First of all, I think it forces that leader to first look at himself before he goes out and tries to correct everybody else. So I think he becomes a lot more sensitive to the details, I think he gets a better understanding of what he’s really asking for because if he has to ask somebody else to do it, it’s a little bit different if he has to first go show them. So that’s been our mantra, that’s not one of the first organization to say that, but we definitely espouse that leaders and strong leaders will lead by example and they’ll show their guys, and their women, and their folks that work with them and under them what they expect through their personal actions.


– Human performance is becoming way more prominent in behavioral and safety culture performance mythology is more now than ever before but breaking human performance down and determining factors that affect an individual’s ability to, if you like, work safely and efficiently. Some will say this is just another terminology bought into safety to show we are creating a process for improvement to reduce the number of incidents and fatalities.


But what does it really mean human performance in practice and what are the principles you feel define it?


– Human performance, I guess it’s a little bit different than behavior-based safety in the fact that behavior-based safety is more kind of a psychological look at the human psyche and the motivations and the behaviors as to what drives that employee’s behaviors within ultimately consequences, safety performance. Human performance, the human factor is kind of is a little bit different in a sense it almost looks at the individual as almost like a machine as a functioning body that could scientifically be analyzed.


So for example, we can only see and perceive so much with our vision or we can only hear so well with our hearing and so they’ll evaluate it in those terms. And so you start to look at first the employee or that individual that’s doing the task but then you also start to look at the task itself, you look at the environments, and you look and try to identify the different conditions or preconditions that we tend to exaggerate or encourage, some type of accident or mishap.


And so that’s really a change in what we’ve seen in traditional behavior-based safety and then also traditional safety. There’s some overlap and then obviously there’s not always consistency on what we mean by some of these different terms. So there is that aspect of it as well, but for me, that’s kind of what I see is kind of the core of human factors and human forms.


– That’s great. The current safety plateau that everybody’s certainly aware of this but to give, you know, better stats really because I think it’s important to mention, you know, the figures for serious and fatal injuries in the UK and the U.S. and other developed economies show a wearing trend right now.


While the rate of minor injuries is fallen by about two thirds in the past 30 years, the number of serious injuries and fatalities has remained consistent in the same period which is quite a scary situation to be in. This has become a lot more profound in the last seven or eight years where the fatality rate has plateaued as the profession and regulator increasing they’re dedicated resources a lot, at the moment, to mental health and wellbeing.


We have a to ask are we doing enough, Brian? You know, are we really doing enough to improve the control of serious and fatal injuries? So I guess my question to yourself is, how do we as leaders in HSE recognize this?


And secondly, to that question, is our current approaches and thinking for serious and fatal injury prevention working or do we need to try something a little bit different?


– Yeah, it is. It’s an interesting position we’ve put ourselves in for the industry because you’re right. Most reports are going to show that, like you said, minor incidents are decreasing and we see this within our own company as a microcosm, those get driven lower, and lower, and lower, and lower. And so now we were amassing millions of man-hours with no recordable incidents. And I think it’ll be interesting situation that’s happening within our industry is even though we’re seeing that we’re seeing massive, you know, events and we’re seeing fatalities on the increase and that the data supports what you’ve just said.


One thing that I’m concerned about is as we drive the incident rate lower and lower, lower, there’s more and more pressure on the supervisors in the frontline leadership and the employee themselves to almost continue to support that effort, i.e. be less honest when something happens. So, “Hey, we’ve surpassed 10 million safe work hours,” you know, how likely is that employee to report an incident at that point now that everybody’s been celebrating these big wins and these achievements?


So as a leader now you have to be sensitive to that, you have to continue to encourage folks to, “Hey, we have to keep our communications open, we have to continue to execute on the basis, and then we can’t overreact because we have a minor incident rate and then lose our guard because we have to understand that fatality and these other severe threats are still out there, they didn’t go away, right?”


And so that’s a very real concern sort of within our organization and the industries that we deal with and that is a very real discussion that I’ve had with my president CEO, they’re keen on the fact that good leaders also will get out in the field and they try to get to ground truth to try to break through those communications issues that you kind of touched on earlier.


But that is an alarming…and I don’t know that we have all the answers either, that’s the other thing that’s very alarming is there’s a lot of smart people that have talked about this subject over the last couple of days and I’m not real sure that any of us really know the answer to that one.


– That’s the challenge that we face, but well, I mean, I’m sure, like I say, we’ve got some great minds in this industry and that’s what the HSE Network is here to do, is to provide education to the HSE world. And, yeah, I can’t thank you so much for being here and thank you very much for doing the interview with us for HSE Network today.


Thank you, Brian.


– World-class organization, glad to be a part of it. Thank you, sir.


– Thanks, so. You’re welcome.