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You can’t be what you can’t see

Diversity and inclusion are everything.

You can’t be what you can’t see.

 

If work health and safety (WHS) is for the benefit of every worker, then how do WHS professionals ensure every worker understands and complies with WHS requirements?

 

Maybe you’ve introduced bilingual or multilingual communications to coincide with the diverse language groups in your organisation. Or maybe you offered personal protective equipment (PPE) that fit both men and women’s bodies and ensured there were sufficient women’s facilities in traditionally male-dominant workplaces. What about workers’ religious practices – perhaps you have suitable WHS policies to match? These adjustments are all possible while remaining compliant and within legal frameworks.
For Wiradjuri man Rick Fox, Co-Founder of fr&nk and Managing Director at Fox Safety Consulting, engaging and developing WHS strategies and policies for First Nations workers and organisations is all about developing what will work best to meet their unique contexts and circumstances.
We interviewed Rick to hear what he’s learned while working with First Nations communities. In this article, he shares his work with First Nations people and how to support them on their WHS journey.
Read on to discover what makes Rick tick, and how his passion for WHS led him to where he is today.
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fr&nk Co-founder, Rick Fox
My journey to the WHS profession started like many others – as a second career. I came to the profession after being a mature-aged student working for a high-voltage distributor in Sydney. Because I bridged a couple of age groups, management threw the ‘risk assessment’ tasks at me. Humble brag: I was pretty good at them, and I enjoyed exploring the risks and controls.
Running in parallel with that, though, I realised I didn’t appreciate the way safety was being done in my sector at the time. It was more of a heavy-handed, policing approach, rather than a human-centred one. They never thought to ask us questions like, “why are you doing it that way?” or to put the human at the centre of the process.

 

Because of that, I put my money where my mouth was and went on to study occupational health and safety. In that time, I discovered I enjoyed talking to people and facilitating training sessions, which led me to full time safety roles. I haven’t looked back.

 
As Co-Founder of fr&nk and partnering with Local Government Workcare, this has enabled us to build WHS capability with four First Nations Councils around Queensland, Australia:
  • Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council
  • Torres Shire Council
  • Torres Strait Island Regional Council
  • Woorabinda Aboriginal Shire Council
These partnerships are all about helping the Councils be WHS compliant and keeping people safe, while living and working on Country.
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fr&nk Co-founder, Rick Fox
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What inspires and motivates me, is having a positive influence on people, and changing perceptions about what safety actually is versus what it most definitely isn’t. Overlay all that with the work we’re doing with First Nations Councils and looking at it from a cultural perspective, is doubly motivating because this work has sparked my imagination and helped me learn more about my own heritage and history.
This work allows me to look at the different perspectives and contexts – and by doing that it changes my whole understanding of what safety is and, therefore, what it could be. It doesn’t have to always be a conventional approach. It’s exciting to think about how the WHS is profession evolving.
Considering that, WHS has the potential to evolve and meet the needs of First Nations people. For example, cultural identity is unique to each First Nations community – including language, stories and customs that needs to be understood, respected and valued. So as safety professionals, we need to ask, “what’s really important culturally to the people I’m working with?” and then weaving that into what needs to be achieved in safety and health.
First Nations people are community-centred and family-centred which means there is a strong sense of interconnectedness. Why is this important? Because knowing the importance of how Elders support and represent their communities helps us to better understand those relationships and their respect for land, water, and the environment, which is deeply interwoven into ­­­­First Nations identity. For you, trees and water may appear simply as trees and water, but it’s not the same for First Nations people. Whatever WHS strategies or procedures are designed, they need to protect the land, water, and environment and promote sustainable practices.
Also, we can’t overlook that historical trauma is interwoven into First Nations experiences. First Nations people have experienced historical and ongoing systemic discrimination and exclusion that can impact their physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. This trauma can manifest in the workplace and impact their perceptions and experiences of safety.

 

It requires a nuanced approach that is sensitive to the unique needs and experiences of First Nations people. It requires collaboration and consultation with the community to ensure that WHS policies are culturally appropriate, effective, and promote the wellbeing of all workers.

 
To create culturally safe workplace policies and procedures, we must understand these broad contexts as well as the nuances of each First Nation group.
For example, think about the people whose job is to wrangle saltwater crocodiles in the Torres Strait Islands. For someone like me who comes from the city, it’s a unique concept, but for them, it’s their every day. Context is key. As WHS professionals, we just need to understand their circumstances and how we can help them manage that risk.
If you don’t understand “how things are done”, you’ll experience barriers. It’s about meeting them where they are and understanding their cultural norms and practices. That is how I do it, which is no different to how I would approach cultures in any other organisation.
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fr&nk Co-founder, Rick Fox
Ideally, where true success will arise, is by amplifying First Nations voices and capability. At an operational level it’s about creating pathways for First Nations people to move into WHS roles along with mentorship and genuine support so they can eventually take on leadership roles and contribute to WHS decision making. You can’t be what you can’t see.
From an industry perspective, this can start by partnering with First Nation organisations to help support WHS – whether through a financial arrangement or mentorship and knowledge sharing – and in turn, being provided First Nation cultural training and advocacy.
Bringing the frame further out, when talking about how to do this from a regulatory perspective or within governing bodies like Safe Work Australia, it’s important to involve First Nations people in the conversation when developing strategies and future plans. Asking, how does that tie into First Nations Communities and how they work? What are their perspectives?
There’s always work to do in the WHS sector, but there are some fantastic thought leaders doing tremendous things in the space. I’m inspired by the people I work with and continue to learn from. Being inclusive is a broad subject. You could take the words First Nations out of everything I’ve said and replace it with women, young people, or any other vulnerable group of workers and it applies.
If our sector is to advance and move forward, we need to look at finding a unified voice moving forward based on the core intent of what we’re here to do – preventing harm and preventing occupational disease.
And with everyone in the field helping to do that – the future is bright. If we can accept that people, culture, and work is dynamic, and if we can meet them where they’re at, we will do some good.

Diversity and inclusion are everything.

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