We acknowledge Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first inhabitants of the nation and the traditional custodians of the lands where we live, learn and work. We pay our respects to elders past and present.
"Making assumptions is dangerous - especially when it comes to people understanding and comprehending workplace safety." George Bancs
For George Bancs, founder of the digital safety platform, Talk 5, work health and safety (WHS) is about ensuring everybody understands the risks and how to be safe. "I think if we could just do that across all workplaces, we’ll be on the right track to avoiding incidents and fatalities".
Late in 2022, we chatted with George about how he came to be an advocate for WHS, what challenges and opportunities there are, and how technology, like Talk5, is driving change in harm prevention.
George has been an advocate for WHS since the age of 10, when he and his best friend witnessed someone falling off a roof and dying from that incident. Now a construction business owner himself, he fulfills government projects across the state, including roof replacements. As an employer responsible for keeping his team and subcontractors safe, he’s been further exposed to where safety issues emerge. Because how can workers be expected to follow guidelines they don’t understand or can’t comprehend? That question led to developing Talk5.
When asked how, George described what is undoubtedly a common story. Though his answer comes with a unique and innovative outcome.
"My team and I were working on the Eastern Distributor Motorway. Back then, we used what was called Take 5. It’s a written checklist for construction projects done in five minutes to assess risks and mitigate them. Each evening we went through the checklist. I'd read the questions and the team would help answer them.
One night, I had an epiphany - what would happen if I can’t make it to work one day? I tested a solution. But when I saw the results, I panicked.
Having asked all workers to fill in the Take 5 document, I discovered one worker with dyslexia, one was copying the answers from the night before and another was simply ticking and flicking through without comprehending the information. If something went wrong, SafeWork NSW would say, 'you knew there were literacy issues and lack of training to complete these documents. What did you do to help prevent risks?' It was then I knew I had to design a new solution for my company”.
Having employees with different backgrounds and personal circumstances like George describes isn’t uncommon.
Did you know;
- 44% of adult Australians are known to read at a lower level (pre-primary school to year 10 comprehension)
- 3.4% of Australians, or 872,206 people, acknowledged in the 2021 census that they don’t speak English well or at all
- the Australian Dyslexia Association estimates 10% of Australians are dyslexic (though the UK, Canada, and the US report 20%). It “is the most common cause of reading, writing and spelling difficulties”.
These statistics reveal the value of providing accessible WHS information, processes, and procedures. Further, research shows simplified language appeals to everyone. Where individuals may find issue is with use of jargon, technical language, or acronyms. Specifically, “jargon disrupts people’s ability to fluently process scientific information, even when definitions for the jargon terms are provided” (Shulman et al, 2020). By simplifying language, offering a multilingual approach, and streamlining processes, workers are more likely to build an understanding and comprehension of WHS.
By addressing the needs of his workers and acknowledging that speaking skills don’t equate to reading comprehension skills, George found a solution that supported all his staff.
“Talk5 isn't just about giving someone the capability to listen to an audit and respond, it also includes 'smart answers' to confirm if the person has comprehended a process or measure before they can move to the next step. They must answer; if not, it keeps asking for an answer. At the third failed response, a notice is triggered to management, so they can help close the gap - what a static checklist can’t do. Closing that communication and knowledge loop is the goal. It's taking the worker on a comprehension journey no matter the person's experience, background, preferred language or if they have a disability. It’s really about making safety for everyone."
George and his partners tapped into how technology, particularly Artificial Intelligence (AI), can help shape change in workplace safety.
The introduction of this technology complemented daily safety procedures and helped address an immediate risk that put workers in danger: the assumption that they can understand and comprehend what's expected of them. He's clear that,
"Assuming one can understand your safety message in a format like writing, is dangerous. Just because someone can speak English doesn’t necessarily mean they can read it. I cannot read Greek or Arabic, but that’s my background; if you translated documents into those languages, I’d be in danger. Assuming pictures will deliver a message across all workers' cultures is also not the case. What happens when they take a picture to mean something different than what you intended?"
George and his team are interested in safety communication gaps and filling them. For instance, they’ve partnered with University of Wollongong in Dubai to research Arabic, its dialects, and the most common languages spoken among workers in the United Arab Emirates. He may not be able to deliver on every request, but he hopes to at least integrate the 500 most common global languages.
During the 23rd World Congress in November, stop by the Talk5 booth and explore the software yourself.
It's your chance to learn more about how technology has a unique and central role in helping shape change in WHS.
Save the date and register to attend the 23rd World Congress.