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Stamping out negative attitudes, practices in the ‘fair go’ era

The IQA conference in Toowoomba last month had a quality line-up of presenters and topics that included surprise appearances from Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Senator Pauline Hanson – and the Michelin Man! It was one of the most insightful, enjoyable conferences of recent years.

The presentations that resonated with me most were from Jenny Krasny, Tegan Smith and Anita Waihi, and Ben Yong and Adam Savage.

The growth of the Women in Quarrying network in two years is amazing, and Ben and Adam’s session showed the IQA has some exciting young prospects in its ranks with innovative, new ideas that can communicate the values and virtues of quarrying to Gen Yers and Millennials. Adam’s tale of “grit” affirmed that some young people just need determination and encouragement to find their niche in life.

While the IQA and the extractive industry are making fantastic strides in lowering the “ceiling” for women and young people, Jenny Krasny’s presentation underlined some ongoing challenges.

These challenges aren’t specific to quarrying – they span many professions and sectors, from politics to film-making. As much as different sectors do their utmost to stamp out negative attitudes and practices, they nevertheless linger.

{{quote-A:R-W:300-Q:"Australia historically prides itself on the “fair go” but some age-old stigmas and mind-sets fester and persist across industries."}}Jenny cited several examples that should ring alarm bells – of workers rebuffed, belittled or harassed for asking questions or suggesting improvements to safety and productivity.

There was the female vehicle driver who (in 2017!) found the female toilet padlocked after she made a request for it. A truck driver was snubbed for proposing an idea in a concrete batch plant.

Graduates that queried the timing of a shift break when workers were at their most productive were told “where to go”. A manager denied a worker’s request for time off to take his sick child to the doctor. The complaints of fatigued, bored drivers and pit operators were ignored …

Jenny said all of these incidents occurred in organisations that consider themselves innovative and progressive. She reminded delegates that harsh words and actions can undermine an employee’s confidence in themselves and the organisation. A lack of confidence not only endangers individual safety, it has broader safety ramifications within the organisation.

Australia historically prides itself on the “fair go” – ie everyone’s contributions are valued, regardless of age, experience, gender, race, religion and kin. Yet some age-old stigmas and mind-sets fester and persist across industries.

Examples of bullying, discrimination and harassment abound, even though we supposedly live in “enlightened” times. Is enough done to put to a stop to it? Are workplaces courageous enough to confront offensive, intimidating and even threatening behaviour? Are employers prepared to support victims?

Considering safety culture is based on the premise of worker engagement, then surely such stigmas, where identified, should be addressed.

As Jenny asked: Are stigmas impacting on your safety measures?

As promising as the inclusion of more women and young people in the quarrying industry is, some unshakable viewpoints and old ideas endure.

In time, these will fade as the next generation of workers fill today’s positions. However, for now, there needs to be a concerted effort to curb unacceptable behaviour if the industry is to welcome newcomers of all persuasions in the years ahead.

It just requires “grit” on the part of industry operators to take a positive lead.

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