On tour with ONRSR

Serious incidents at Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator, ONRSR, rose in 2018 prompting client to contract ACT Australia with the aim of decreasing risk by improving safety culture.

The national tour combines industrial live theatre with expert facilitation. Participants from ONRSR branches in Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania,  South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales were moved by the emotional story of a trackworker’s paralysis and subsequent struggle during a performance of The Family.  The incidents leading to the accident were attributed to poor workplace culture. This involved;

    • Reluctance to speak up
    • Lax risk and safety attitudes
    • Tenuous relationships with management
    • Overwork

Pausing between scenes to embed learning, the facilitator posed the follow questions; What in your life would change if you were in a wheelchair? How would it affect your work, your relationships, your future?

Forming small groups, participants were asked to list the safety issues from the areas of plant, process and people. Acceptable risk perception was addressed with the analogy of texting while driving. It’s illegal and dangerous yet people still do it. Why? Because people individually judge the risk and deem it to be low. In the event of unforeseeable circumstance, however, these actions can lead to tragic outcomes. Participants voiced their own experiences of near misses as part of discussions.

The workshop then moved to empower track workers and managers with the tools and confidence to discuss safety issues. Here participants were challenged and taken out of their comfort zone and into the sweet spot of discomfort where they could learn. Forum theatre made participants interact with the characters and ask questions in ways the characters felt comfortable to answer. Character responses were then examined, and the questions adjusted to establish trust. A quality conversation involves correct tone of voice, and body language, and the setting of a common goal i.e. we all want to deliver this job on time, on budget, and keep everyone safe.

Amendments included;

    • Transforming the question from closed to open
    • Avoiding intimidation,
    • Removing judgment, and
    • Strengthening common goals to find the truth rather than to punish.

These tweaks enabled the conversation to progress and lead to correct analysis of the issue. Participants then rewrote scenes with revised conversations and actions allowing the characters to avoid tragedy.