How-to Guide: Fonterra Case Study

This informative how-to guide is to help others learn how to adopt Fonterra's approach to worksite health and safety.

Transformative health and safety practices require a cultural shift in how organisations deliver projects and how they treat their workers. Fonterra has demonstrated how caring about its workforce and building a 'Community of People' is also delivering business benefits, including improved productivity.

Who this guide is for

The scale of the approach taken by Fonterra is best suited to large (>$30m) horizontal or vertical projects, but we've also provided tips for how to adopt these principles on smaller projects.

Step One: Understand your current site culture

To understand how the culture and practice at your worksite contributes to project performance and health and safety incidents, you need to identify the underlying causes of events on your site.

Fonterra categorised incidents according to the Dirty Dozen, a framework developed in the airline industry that outlines 12 typical causes for workplace incidents. Fonterra also uses various concepts and tools to evaluate the behavioral competencies of participants, such as Structural Dynamics by David Kantor.

The Dirty Dozen

When an incident happens, ask yourself what caused it, for example:

  • A lack of knowledge – What additional training do staff need? E.g. working with equipment or working at height
  • Fatigue – Mental and physical tiredness are common causes of accidents, it’s important to learn how to spot the signs
  • Pressure – Are deadlines causing people to cut corners?
  • Norms – What is the lens you use to evaluate your current workplace experience? What are the behavioral norms that you accept?

Tip: Interview staff after a health and safety event or near-miss to find out what might have caused it, and add common causes to your site register so you can look for trends.

Step Two: Create a safe and collaborative workplace

Creating a safe working environment starts with its leaders. Fonterra established four regular forums run by professional facilitators:

  1. A bi-monthly team session for the wider construction management team from the client, contractors and largest subcontractors to develop common goals and values for the project, and establish trust and transparency.
  2. A monthly session with the client's senior executives and main contractors to develop high quality relationships, raise any concerns and generally discuss site culture.
  3. Regular coaching of key members of the construction management team to provide behavioral feedback in the moment
  4. A monthly session where supervisors from all trades involved on the construction site raise concerns with each other, including coaching on how to give and receive feedback.

Establishing these forums meant that the most influential people on a project had practice at communicating effectively and got feedback on how their behavior influences the situational outcome – allowing them to adopt their behavior going forward. According to BRANZ research, communication is a critical factor for a successful project.

Tip: Make sure that supervisors or foremen from your main contractors and subcontractors have good working relationships by setting up regular meetings to discuss risks and opportunities to work together.

Step Three: Create an environment where people feel valued and deliver value in return

Establishing a project construction village and facilities is often seen as an expense that nobody wants to cover. Fonterra realised that if it invested in an environment where workers felt physically safe and valued, had access to services and training, and where they could mix with people from different trades and businesses, their investment was quickly paid back in increased productivity, staff retention and effort. Fonterra also put up signs and notices to reinforce the project values and behaviour.

Creating the right environment might take time and practice. For example, on one project site Fonterra paid for a barista in an up-market café setting, but workers ended up preferring to sit in their vans. Fonterra also conducted daily toolbox meetings, discussing the most pressing site hazards for the day and opportunities for collaborative working – where different trades were going to be occupying the same space. This forum was used to hand out awards and recognition to staff that had exemplified the project's values.

WorkSafe has set out guidelines on General Risk and Workplace Management, which include details on the requirements for establishing site facilities. Going beyond these minimum requirements will make your site a more attractive place to work, make it easier to keep staff engaged, fit and healthy, and make them more likely to care about the project, their teammates and fellow tradespeople.

Tip: See what you can do to make your construction village and facilities as clean, warm and dry as possible. Even simple things like having clean toilets, free fruit, and a Friday team barbeque will make a huge difference in how people feel about coming to work.

Last updated: 25 February 2021