Building Safety Greatness with Probuild
How Probuild used emotions to drive behavioural change and build a better safety culture.
If you live in a major Australian city, you’ve probably passed through the shadows cast by one of Probuild’s structures. With 1,000 employees and 10,000 subcontractors, Probuild is a tier one construction company delivering high-end commercial and residential structures.
From job site to head office, Probuild is built by great people with a shared commitment to ‘Building Greatness’.
You don’t last long in the construction industry if you’re not getting the fundamentals right. Probuild has built solid systems and processes, yet Group HSE Manager Sarah Cuscadden asked what else Probuild could do to lead their industry in safety, as well as quality.
The primary project objectives included:
Developing and implementing a world-class, industry leading communication strategy
Designing the safety culture
Increasing safety leadership capability
Putting safety at the front of everyone’s minds
Decreasing HSE incident rates
Defining, developing and maintaining a positive safety culture is a challenge for any EHS leader, but with a sometimes cynical and transient workforce, construction is an especially tough industry to cut through and connect with people over the long term. Young team members are also particularly prone to optimism bias — the belief that nothing bad will ever happen to them.
Throw into the mix environments filled with countless potential hazards, and Sarah’s already lofty aspirations become all the more challenging.
Building Safety Greatness is an ongoing, multi-channel, multi-audience, multi-campaign engagement program designed to drive behaviour and culture change, and improve overall HSE performance.
The program is built on a foundation of human-centred communication. Influential messaging always appeals to feelings first, before supporting it with logic and reason. The project strategy for Building Safety Greatness centred on uncovering the right emotions to become the precursors for behaviour, then developing the messaging and narratives to support them.
Using emotions in safety messaging is nothing new. Typically, though, it tends to employ negative emotions, like fear or sadness. It tends to adopt an authoritarian tone: ‘do this, or else’ and ‘don’t do that, or you’ll get hurt.’
Yet despite the human tendency to give negative emotions more attention in the moment, they’re proven to be ineffective at actually changing behaviours or fostering a productive state of mind. The most effective learning; the most progressive thinking; the smartest decisions; the greatest resilience to setbacks — these all take place when we’re curious and feeling positive towards the task.
Building Safety Greatness challenges outdated assumptions about ‘professional’ language. It prioritises appropriate for the audience over irrelevant notions of appropriate by adopting a familiar colloquial tone when talking to the front line. It embraces humour and irreverent illustrations featuring the odd butt crack. Whenever possible, building or construction metaphors are used.
Communication comprises a mix of digital and print mediums. Complex content is simplified and translated into visual illustrations, diagrams or animated videos with a narrative layer to increase engagement. Curiosity is used to encourage active learning. A regularly updated microsite ensures all collateral is easily accessible.
To get leaders on board and help them unpack the concepts with their teams, training session were held to increase leadership communication and facilitation capability. Toolkits including animated videos were developed to ensure consistency of message throughout the business.
Monthly Toolbox Talks were used to increase awareness and facilitate conversations about high-risk areas on site. The Toolbox Talks helped leaders transition from passive, one-way communication to two-way conversations encouraging active learning.
After only a year, Building Safety Greatness has already produced dramatic business improvements, exceeding expectations with an unprecedented reduction of incident rates, and improvements to lead indicators and other key metrics. Most importantly, though, it succeeded in keeping Probuild’s people safer on the job.
The effectiveness of Building Safety Greatness came from pushing safety from systems, procedures and processes to a place of human. It taps into the emotions that drive the behaviours that drive change. It also demonstrates the power of understanding the audience, and tailoring communication that connects with them by considering the right language, humour, and narratives.
The program was recognised internationally, taking out category winner in Innovation: Game Changer at the IoIC Awards in London along with two other awards of excellence. Nationally, the program was finalist in the National Safety Awards of Excellence for Best Communication of a Safety Message.