You’ve begun your role as the Chief Executive Officer of Auckland Transport at a moment of crisis, with hundreds of Auckland families coping with the death of their loved ones on the city’s roads every year. You have a mandate for change, a laundry list of initiatives, and a public and media ready to hear your actions.
No doubt you’ve heard – formally and informally – from your Board, from the Mayor and Auckland Council, the road lobby and cycling and walking groups. However, I am writing to you as an individual, and from the perspective of your end users – parents, sons, daughters, car drivers, motorbike riders, cyclists, pedestrians, bus riders, and train passengers. People.
I ask for your leadership – to guide Auckland to become the safest city in the world by instilling a world-leading safety culture at Auckland Transport.
You face an overwhelming number of tasks, varying in scope from the trivial to multi-year projects. to do. I am sure, for example, that you have read the Road Safety Improvement Review and its pages and pages of suggestions. But a long list of tasks means that nothing is prioritised; so while a to-do list will be helpful, the real solution is a change in culture, and this needs genuine safety leadership for Auckland Transport, and from you, as its leader.
Your leadership to save lives in Auckland can start by ensuring that your direct reports take a safety-first approach to everything they do. And you can set the expectation that they will set the same standard for their teams, cascading in turn these values to all Auckland Transport workers and contractors, and by extension, everyone living in and visiting our city.
This will be challenging – some people will resist putting safety first, and others will be slow to start to live the value. Everyone will complain about the extra burden. But it will also be inspiring – as we all see the visible evidence of change, and the change in culture that empowers, requires even, everyone to just make things happen.
The challenge also pales before the mandate – to save hundreds of Auckland’s families from coping with the loss of loved-ones who are fatally harmed on Auckland Transport’s network in each and every year.
This looks like a daunting assignment but it is an achievable goal. I know this from my own experiences observing and being part of safety turnarounds at two very large overseas industrial sites, each with thousands of workers and contractors. In both cases recordable injuries and fatal risks plunged, and production soared. I have looked back at my experience to give you some unsolicited advice about to tackle this sort of turnaround.
I hope you take up this challenge, and create a lasting legacy.
Suggestions for leading a safety culture.
1: Taking personal responsibility for safety of all people using Auckland’s footpaths, bike paths and streets. Live the safety value in your own actions, including:
Talking and meeting with the families of everyone who dies on your watch. Turning up to the funerals, hospitals and homes of the deceased, injured and traumatised. Taking your management team with you.
Starting every meeting, large or small, with safety. These can be a brief as a ‘safety contact’ – a short anecdote on safety (good or bad) that focusses the meeting on the greater aim.
Leading daily safety walks (and rides!) with your management team to observe activity, identify hazards, have structured conversations with staff and contractors, and assign responsibility to fixing hazards.
Demonstrating safety leadership by uncompromisingly putting safety first in planning, and showing visible leadership with dramatic actions like closing streets and lanes to address critical issues, changing work practices, and more.
Conducting layered audits with several levels of staff (and contractors) to deep dive into narrow topics to identify and fix larger gaps in processes.
Reviewing close-out reports for every injury-causing incident with your management team, giving fatal harm incidents even more attention. Ensuring that multiple root causes are properly identified, and Auckland Transport puts in temporary and then permanent fixes to prevent further injury. This is not about punishing individuals – but a quest to learn how individuals can be physically safe.
Requiring the same level of commitment from all of your management team and staff, all leaders of contractors, and all of their staff.
Bringing the board of directors along for the journey, including meetings with families, a safety focus in meetings, and on-site visits. To be fair, the board, and chair, should be with you arm in arm as you drive this journey forward.
2: Systematically identifying and removing hazards, both large and small, using a safety management system for all of Auckland:
Ensuring every employee and contractor is actively identifying hazards. The easiest way to do this is to mandate safety walks (for all supervisory staff), and safety meetings where hazards are identified.
Using the cascaded safety walks, management review of injury accidents, internal and external (public) reporting to identify and classify (severity and risk) hazards across the Auckland Transport ecosystem. Record these in a central system.
Creating and assigning (with permission) actions to Auckland Transport staff and/or contractors for all identified hazards. These is done during or just after the safety walks, in the formal reviews after injury-causing incidents, and by a self-selected or assigned internal team for publicly submitted reports.
Creating the bias and authority for immediate action for these hazards – actions that remove hazards within hours or days with quick fixes. You might need to buy a lot more road cones, but the trick with quick fixes is to give broad authority to all staff within a limited budget. Give everyone permission and authority to make things happen, even it it means going to Bunnings and buying planters.
Systematically reviewing the more serious hazards to upgrade the quick-fixes to permanent solutions that design the hazard out.
Having a bias for very low cost solutions – and keep a close watch on the incessant proposals for more expensive and slower processes to create permanent fixes. Is there a way to do it cheaper and faster? Would the funding be better spent on more implementations?
3: Report to us on your progress
Publish a list (and map) of all identified hazards and allow members of the public comment and vote.
Report, by hazard, progress to put in place temporary and permanent fixes to every hazard. Provide photos, stories and showcase safety heroes from within your staff and contractors.
Measure and report on the output statistics – not just fatality statistics, but hazards identified and closed out, the number of injuries and near misses, and the source of those reports. I will judge you not by the number of fatalities, but by the number of hazards you identify and the speed and methods by which they are closed out.
Work with NZTA and Auckland Council to address the risks that cross your domains. Report on and track the hazards in their domains.
This list is not about finding people to blame and remove, but about cascading safety leadership throughout the organisation so that everyone can come home safely each day. If you adopt an inspirational approach then you have a great chance of taking us with you on your safety journey – and we’d all like to be inspired almost as much as we’d like to be able to walk, cycle and drive our streets in safety.
Yesterday my wife had a meeting in the cafe in the Auckland Transport building, on a morning when a man in his fifties was fatally wounded after being struck by a car on a suburban Auckland road. Despite this the mood in the cafe was upbeat – shockingly so when so many of us hold Auckland Transport responsible for that death, and that of so many others, including a 15-year-old earlier this month.
Each and every fatality is preventable. The person in their 50s was in an area “notorious for accidents”. The 15-year-old was killed in an area that had been repeatedly identified as a fatal risk hazard to Auckland Transport.
Nothing meanwhile has been done to fix the issues I identified after I saw a man pass away on The Strand four years ago. There are still no signs for cyclists descending Parnell Rise, the gravel on The Strand remains and there is no sign of a separated cycle lane.
We wait for the next preventable deaths.
The honeymoon is over. I ask that you hold yourself responsible for all future injuries and fatalities under your purview, and do what you can to reduce harm to us all.
I will personally hold you to that standard, and already hold Auckland Transport’s Board, and Auckland Transport’s staff and contractors to that same standard, and I constantly ask myself whether I am doing enough as well.
Lead us to a safer place.