Select Page

From the Mines to the Heart: Advocating for Safer Tomorrows with Helen Fitzroy

From the Mines to the Heart: Advocating for Safer Tomorrows



As the holiday season reminds us of what truly matters, we are honored to feature Helen Fitzroy on The Safety Guru as she shares her moving message that will carry us through the holidays and beyond. Her husband, Steve, experienced a workplace fatality in an underground mining incident in 1991. Her story isn’t just one of personal tragedy but a call to action for all of us. Tune in as Helen advocates for a safer tomorrow with her unwavering commitment to safety, dedicated to ensuring that no other family has to endure what she went through.


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost, for the C-suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today, I’m very excited to have you with me Helen Fitzroy. She’s a safety advocate, an author, and a writer, as well as a miners’ widow. I’m really happy to have you join us, Helen. You’ve got an incredible story to share regarding the positive contribution you’ve made to safety. But I think maybe let’s start first with Steve’s story.

Thanks very much, Eric, and thanks for having me on the show. Thirty-two years ago, my husband, Steve, went to work underground. He didn’t come home. I was left with three little kids under the age of seven and basically stuck with a new title, Widow, which didn’t impress me very much. Then the whole journey began of how do I traverse this? A couple of years before Steve’s death, one of his really good mates, who was also a very experienced miner who worked at the same mine, refused to go to work on this particular shift because the particular supervisor had asked him to work under unsupported ground, and he refused to. They sent a young, inexperienced 21-year-old in there, and tragically, he was killed. Just five months before Steve’s death, another very good mate of his, who was also an experienced minor working at the same mine, fell down a ladderway underground and was seriously injured. He had compound fractures in both of his legs, along with some external injuries. He had to get elected out to Perth by the flying doctor, had two little kids under the age of three, and so he spent 12 months up in Perth having intensive rehab.

Wow. Leading up to all of that, there were some concerns, and Steve used to often come home and talk to me about his concerns. I suggested, how about we take a couple of weeks off, and we can go up to Perth to see how your mate’s going? We did. We shot off to Perth, had a couple of weeks, and caught up with his mate. He was back at work a week, exactly a week when he was killed. That’s when it all started.

He was raising concerns with you. He saw those trends, and I think this is the part in often cases like that. There are signal signs. How was the organization receiving this feedback? Because they’ve had a fatality, serious injuries, a very short period of time.

It’s probably worth also mentioning that he was considered—and we’re talking we were living in a mining town. It wasn’t a very big mining town. There was a whole… In the gold fields, there are a whole lot of little mining towns that probably had a population of 34,000 people max. He was considered in that particular mining town, probably the most experienced, the best, and the most safety-conscious minor. He consistently would come home and say to me because he would go and voice his concerns to the management, and they would say to him, What’s the matter, Fitzy? Aren’t you earning enough? They basically just deride him. There was no… It was a joke. That was frustrating. My advocacy is really based on if there’d been somebody out there that was going to stand up and assert themselves and tell people a story about this is what can happen. Perhaps you might have had a second thought about actually not going there anymore, going somewhere else. The thing is, in terms of when you asked me about management and what their views were, I was talking to a mine inspector a few years later. He had come out from South Africa, and he’d worked in the adjoining town to where we were, about 40 minutes down the road, another little mining town about the same size.

He said that when he arrived there, and he had extensive experience in South Africa, even though he was an English guy, he said that the company, which was the same company that was managing the mine that Steve worked in, would budget for seven fatalities a year. Seven? Just there, seven. My goodness. He said they generally achieved their target. That’s horrible. I know back then; fatalities were just a normal part of business doing business. It’s cheaper, really, to kill somebody at work than it is to permanently disable them because you know what you’re dealing with. It’s cut and dried. Whereas a permanent disability it could be, well, how long is this going to go on for what other… There’s that uncertainty about what the cost may end up being. Yeah, that was the culture then.

One of the things you advocate about safety is to remember the people we come home for. Tell me a little bit more about some of the messages you share.

Well, since Steve’s death in Australia, there’s been 506 more fatalities. 506 fatalities in mining. That’s 471 kids who’ve lost their dad, 100 widows. Now, that doesn’t take into account the parents, the siblings, the mates. It also doesn’t take into account those who’ve lost their lives through a work-related illness or disease. I think when I’ve looked at the stats for Canada, you’re not far behind. I think I tallied, and it may not be totally correct because I don’t have all the stats, but I think it was about 478 in the same time frame in Canada. That’s disgusting. After Steve’s death, it was probably around about ten years later when I first started traveling out to sites, talking to people. I was inundated with all of these phone calls and messages. On average data, I was getting about six a week, people asking questions. How long will that report take? How do I find this out? From families and workers. I started to make contact with agencies to say, well, what do you offer? How can you help? I can see the data and the pamphlets you’ve written and things, but they’re all doubling up, or the information is wrong.

I met with a lot of the regulatory bodies and agencies to try and encourage them to establish a support network for families following a situation like this. They didn’t think it was necessary, so I did it myself in the end, and I left a not-for-profit with the backing of a fairly big mining company here, BHP, with their support. But my conditions were that it had to be totally independent of any particular company, political party, or union. It couldn’t have any vested interests. That was established in 2010, and it’s still going strong. Yeah, it’s still going strong. I’m not as involved as I once was anymore. They’re doing fine without me. Yeah, it’s good to know that there’s now somewhere people can go to seek assistance. It might be financial, it might be just emotional, it might be a whole range of things, practical assistance to help them through that process because there was nothing when Steve was killed.

Absolutely nothing. The company didn’t step up either on that.

No, they didn’t. That wasn’t unusual back then. I know that even my husband was a member of the local union. They were disinformed as well. Everybody’s performance was inadequate. I think things have come a long way since then, though, and I think they’re a lot more tuned in now that people expect more. Yeah, we had to bundle our way through. I had to find my way through by myself, really.

In an environment where they were budgeting seven fatalities, it was.

A process. It was something that I accepted. That’s horrible.

Then to put up with the legal, five-year legal battle, where there was just—and I’m not just blaming the company, I’m talking about the insurers and the lawyers and just constantly delaying and ridiculous ploys that they would use to try and deter. Go away. Just go away, will you? I was determined not to do that. I was determined to stick to it. I felt I owed Steve that to get to the bottom of it, and eventually, I did. But it was a long battle, and that still happens today. I’m still in touch with many families who are still going through that process. It’s a struggle.

You share the message with the people that you speak to, but you also have a message for leaders.

Yeah, I do.

Tell me a little bit about your message for leaders in this case.

Well, I understand I appreciate, as a leader, that there’s a lot of significant data that crosses their desk on a daily basis, whether it’s budget issues, whether it’s related to production targets, whether it’s related to deadlines and staffing. I accept the significance and importance of all that information. But the point that I’d like to make is that in acknowledging the importance of all of that for a viable business, that has to happen. But behind every single decision that they’re making, whatever it may be, there’s generally a human being attached that may or may not be impacted in a negative way by that information. I would implore them all to consider carefully every decision that they make to ensure that there aren’t going to be any unforeseen circumstances. it won’t be them, but somebody else might be impacted negatively by the decision that they make.

What does that translate? Ultimately, I agree it’s understanding that there’s a person behind the paper, the decision. The further away you are from the decision-making, from the sight, from the work, the easier it is to separate yourself and your actions. In an event, it becomes very easy to disassociate yourself because you don’t want to have to carry the responsibility. You push that burden to somebody else.

Absolutely. You’ve nailed it because that’s exactly what happens. If you’re sitting in an ivory chair in the middle of the CPD somewhere and you’re making decisions and you’re looking at that promotion that may come next month, if you produce the goods, of course, the pressure is going to be on there for you to perform and to do things that perhaps it might be impressive at a board level, but at the front line, at the coal face, there could be somebody who’s going to be impacted by that decision that you haven’t considered. I suppose it’s just about being a little bit more aware of how that decision that you make while you’re sitting in the comfort of your cushy office might impact somebody down the track. It may not always be that easy to determine, particularly when you’re looking at production targets and things like that, where workers are often rewarded if they reach particular targets. They’re given bonuses and things. What happens? If you’re going to encourage a bonus mentality, you’re going to encourage people to take risks. You’re going to encourage them to do maybe things that they otherwise wouldn’t. Those sorts of cultural norms, I think, can create issues as well.

Absolutely. When you mentioned this, I had a guest on the podcast a few months back, and he talked about one: the complexity and safety is when you save a penny on every dollar, it probably won’t have a financial… It will have a financial consequence but probably won’t have a safety impact.

But, that second penny, probably not. Then there’s a temptation of just, Well, what about the third, the fourth, the fifth penny? But at some point, something breaks, and you never really know which penny it was, but It’s really understanding the chain of causality. Also, the element he brought up was that the closer you are, and you have proximity to the site to the people that are working, the more you’re making better decisions, the more you’re disconnected, staying in an Ivy tower, no pictures of the team members that are doing the work, never been there, it becomes a transactional balance sheet decision.

Yeah. I think also with that comes an added… It can be quite problematic for contractors. You can have the client and engage contractors to come in and do a lot of the work for them. Most of the time, when they do that, it is the coal-faced, front-line, hard stuff that they’re doing. They have to ensure that they meet their budget constraints. They also have to make sure because they want the tender. They want the next tender as well. The pressure is always on them, probably more so than the client’s employees, to perform and produce the goods because otherwise, there’ll be no tender.

This episode of The Safety Guru Podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting. The leading safety and safety culture advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance or introduce human performance capabilities. Re-energize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions. Propulo has you covered. Visit us at

We talked about the paper. Every paper matters. You touched on before that items were raised. There were signs. Organizations need to be looking for those signs or symptoms and not say, squeaky wheel, but trying to understand. Sometimes, you may have somebody who is a squeaky wheel who complains about everything. Oh, yeah, they’re at the – But how do I really see those? But there are a lot of others that are not complaining, and that surface an issue. Or even the person who complains, there will sometimes be some real legitimate pieces. How can people help triage through all of this to take action? Because this was clearly a case where there were enough signs and symptoms to say actions were needed.

Well, I think it comes back to good communication and leadership. Good communication and leadership means trust and respect. In the hundreds of sites I’ve been to over the years, I could virtually walk into a muster room where they’re doing their training or be in there and watch the crews walk in and predict who the good leaders are just by the body language of the crew as they walk in. That says a lot to me. It’s played out numerous times where you can just tell by the way the guys are communicating with one another, the way they’re walking, the way they’re… You can read the play. I think if we have good, supportive, respectful leaders who can communicate with every crew member, no matter what their little idiosyncrasies are, then you’re going to have the morale is going to be good. If morale is good, you’re going to be productive and safe. To me, it all comes down to selecting carefully the leaders that you choose. Look, leadership starts at the top. They say, Fish stinks from the head down. If you haven’t got a supportive leadership team at the top, you’re never going to get it at the.

Ground level. But even if you have a supportive leadership team at the top, it doesn’t always translate to the ground level because it has to be embedded in the selection process. It has got to be that if I find that you’re not showing up this way, I do something about it, and I act on it fast because we have that dialog on a regular basis in terms of who is a good safety leader, that I act on it.

Yeah, and you’re dead right. I’ve been to numerous sites that have been run by the same company, and the culture is different for everyone. It’s not just the top team. It comes down to who’s running the show here and what attitude they have towards safety, and to our workers, and the morale of our team. What do they rate as significant to our guys on site? It was really mind-boggling to me that I could go to five different sites, all run by the same company, yet the safety culture was different at every one of them.

I think it’s an important point you bring up because I often advocate that, yes, you may have one culture, but there can be a lot of subcultures that exist. Not wrapping your head around these subcultures can be really a blind spot. Because you may be 90% good, but you may have a bad side. I remember I had a couple of years back, somebody on this podcast who worked for an organization he acknowledged had a very positive safety culture. But he raised an issue. In his small location, which was a very small, remote rural area, it was a utility. When he raised a concern, which later proved to be a serious injury that happened, he was told both by the union leader and the local management, are you a man or a mouse? In other words, go do the thing, don’t complain, and literally, shortly thereafter, get seriously injured. The organization as a whole was good, but obviously, there were pockets of leadership in the union and management that shouldn’t have been there. I think where you’re bringing up is really this element of you got to know, and you got to act on those differences.

That’s hard. It’s one of those things that you’re probably getting inevitable that you’re going to get those pockets everywhere. There’s some that just slip through the hoop, and they’re out there, and they’re macho men who… I’ve seen them. I know they’re out there. You’d just like to think there’s someone a little bit higher than them. It’s going to pull them into gear every now and again. But it’s a sad reality.

I know when we first connected, you touched on a theme that is very near and dear to me, which is the difference between safety as a core value versus safety as a priority. There is a clear difference. Some speak of it as a priority. Some talk about it as a value. Tell me a little bit about what that means and the importance of that.

Well, it started to evolve way back when I first started traveling out to the site, and it didn’t seem to matter, particularly, I think, in the first couple of years. I went to every jurisdiction in Australia. It didn’t seem to matter where I went. In that first couple of years, somebody, usually within the management team or supervisor, would come up to me in conversation and say something along the lines of, we make safety our number one priority here. Now, with all due respect, and this is just my personal opinion, that’s just bullshit. Priorities always get shifted. If you make something a priority, you’ve given it a shelf life in my eyes. It can only be a priority until something more important comes along. That’s the nature of the world we now live in. That’s why it has to be a value. It has to be embedded, endemic, and intrinsic to every single thing that you do. You can’t just pick it off and on when you’ve got time, or when someone’s watching, or when you’ve got the resources. You take it home with you. It’s all the things in your life that you value. I think we need to encourage from the top down because we want to ensure that we have a genuine, consistent commitment from every single leader in the organization to ensure every single person on that site goes home safely.

Actions speak louder than words.

But I think it links back to what you shared before is if people are raising concerns, raising issues, if it’s a value and it’s really understood like that, then people wouldn’t close their eyes to it, neglect it, it’d be really core to understand it.

That’s right. That’s right. The quote that I came up with after that little encounter, after numerous encounters, was if safety were a core value in my workplace, there’d be no need to prioritize it. You can hear people say over and over and over again. I still hear it when I go out to the sights. Look, safety is our number one priority here. Well, look, I know you probably mean well, but just rethink that, will you? Because you have to be realistic, and you’ve got to do it a different way. It can’t be priorities inevitably get shifted, and so I’d prefer that they rephrase that.

But I think the consequences are much more than rephrasing. It’s also how people show up. Because I’ve seen it in organizations where it’s the number one priority, and then they have the strategic imperatives for the next five years, and safety is not on the chart, and then somebody raises their hands, say, shouldn’t safety be there? They’re like, Oh, right. Because it’s not a dialog at the C-suite, it’s not a value. It’s not something that people are evaluated on. It’s not reinforced day in and day out, and so it gets forgotten.

You’re right. One of the really interesting things that I’ve discovered over the years is I’ve noticed on the media online that when there’s a fatality, the company might come out. They’ll report that there’s been an incident, and tragically, somebody’s life has been taken, and we’re supporting the family, and we’re doing this. We’re supporting our colleagues, and whatever, then the last sentence will usually be the daily share price. Now to me, I have real issues with that being in the same article. Now, whether that’s the fault of the journalist who’s throwing it together or whatever, it seems to be a consistent pattern that I find quite offensive that you’re talking about the welfare of somebody who’s gone through a tragic experience or the loss of life, and then at the bottom, you’ve got the share price. The two don’t go together, in my view, and never will. Right.

The last topic I’d like to touch on is boom versus bust. Mining is probably more extreme than a lot of other industries. What’s the impact of boom versus bust in mining and safety?

Well, I guess back in the mid-2000s here in Australia, and I don’t know whether this was a global thing, but definitely in Australia, there was a boom. Every company is scrambling for more employees. They want to get that stuff out of the ground as quickly as possible. It got to the stage where they were employing people. One supervisor that I spoke to out on the side in the goldfield said to me, Basically, all you need to get a job in the mines now is you need to be standing vertically and breathing. That was how it was. He said that he had had a busload of young guys that he picked up from the airport, and one of them, he said, What’s your job? What are you coming out here to do? He said, oh, I’m going to drive a truck. This is an underground mine. Have you ever driven a truck? Have you ever been underground? He said, How the hell do I manage and supervise these young guys? That was the circumstance in the boom, and I saw it firsthand. Then, around 2015, there was a downturn. Actually, throughout that mid-2,000 boom period, in five years, we had 101 fatalities in the industry.

That indicates to me if you look at a graph, you can see the spike. Then back, moving on a decade, 2015, there was a downturn and people getting laid off. Other employees were expected to wear two and do the same job. The pressure was on in terms of we still need to get this stuff out of the ground, but we’re going to have to do it more economically without as many people. Then you start getting people taking shortcuts, people are their morale was low. The same old pattern comes back again, increasing incidents and increasing fatalities as well. It’d be just really nice if they could find an even keel instead of… But I don’t think that’s how the industry works.

It’s hard because there are definitely peaks and valleys, and mining is probably one of those top peaks and valleys industries. Definitely, yeah. The element, though, I have definitely seen in mining where in valleys where the economy is not strong, sites get shut down, and locations get shut down. I’ve seen it where the narrative started changing that safety is not physical safety but it’s putting food on my family’s table. That becomes very dangerous because they associate the mines that weren’t as successful and that were shut down were maybe safer minds but less productive minds. Then they start rewiring that safety actually gets in the way of my personal safety, which is putting food on my family’s table. That becomes very dangerous. But I’ve also seen other organizations that were… Kola was an example where there was an end date, either a mine site or a generation site. Things continued very well because the leader was really focusing until the last day; we will be safe. Part of it is also the choice of knowing that even if we won’t be here forever, how do I lead in that context?

Yeah, that’s right. That comes back to leadership and the culture that they established and set, and that everybody feels comfortable to have buy-in. Because if you don’t get buy-in from the employees that are there on-site, you can Sprout what you like. But if they don’t feel that they can trust or believe what you’re saying, that’s where actions speak louder than words. If you’re demonstrating that that’s your commitment, then you will get by. I think too often, the guys on site roll their eyes, and here we go again. That tells you a lot about the culture that’s established there. I think what you were demonstrating by your example is what every company should aspire to.

There are ways to hire maybe in advance of a boom—you can’t perfectly time it—but you’re not desperate at the last minute to take anybody. There are ways to recruit higher-quality talent. There are ways to invest in better training if you know there are going to be gaps because of who you’re able to get. There are mitigations to a lot of these elements, but it’s just being aware of it and recognizing it because, in both cases, it can have very negative effects.

Yeah, for sure. The other issue, too, is that if you’re putting… I refer back to the boom here in the mid-2000s, where you could walk off the street and get a job. A lot of these were young kids, really, late teens, early 20s who, Yeah, I want to get in there. I want to get some good, serious money. I want to. But if something happens to them, there’s no return other than for the families. Mom and Dad at home. They can’t sue the company. You can have a common law claim, but there’s no payment made to families or whatever unless you’re a dependent. For young, single guys who don’t have any dependents, which most of them don’t, there’s no comeback. There’s no comeback. It’s advantageous to employ young, single guys or girls because there’s no litigation forthcoming other than from the regulator, who might decide that your practices weren’t any good. But as far as the loved ones, nothing. There have been numerous examples of families that I’ve spoken to. One instance was a family from Brooklyn Hill, and the dad worked 30 years in the mines underground, and his son was killed in WA.

The company were fined $50,000. Now, this is a big Australian company that everybody globally has heard of. They were disgusted and really totally offended that their son’s life was worth $50,000. Now, they didn’t get that money. That just went into the coffers for the state regulator. But it’s an insult to think that with all of these issues that were found to be so inadequate, where he was working, that they were fined $50,000. There are numerous similar stories to that. Every life is valuable.

Absolutely. Ellen, thank you so much for joining me on the show today. Thank you for your advocacy for safety, but also for the families of those that lose a loved one. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that?

Well, they can email me. I have a website too, so either email me or go to my website and send me a message going to be great. Excellent. Thank you so much, Helen.

Thank you. Cheers. Take care. Bye.

Thank you. Bye.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-suite radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the path. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

More Episodes:

C-Suite Radio:

Powered By Propulo Consulting:

Eric Michrowski:


Helen Fitzroy’s passion for workplace safety commenced following the death of her husband, Steve, in an underground mining accident in Norseman, WA, in 1991. The accident left Helena a widow in her early thirties with three young children to raise. At the time of Steve’s death, mining fatalities were largely ‘normalized’ by companies and government regulators. The deaths were considered an inherent risk of the industry, with virtually no support offered to families to enable them to move forward with their lives.

One of Helen’s coping strategies was writing. She wrote to her husband, Steve, but also to herself and her children leading to the publishing of her first book some years later, “Just a Number.”

“Just a Number” outlines her family’s journey in the five years following Steve’s death, as they traversed the quagmire of emotional, legal, and bureaucratic processes that constitute life for a bereaved family following a workplace death.

Since writing “Just a Number,” Helen has been traveling extensively across Australia as well as overseas campaigning for improved safety and better support for bereaved families. She also delivers safety-focused presentations to companies across all sectors, highlighting the importance of both parties’ commitment to safety at work.

Helen’s commitment and passion culminated in the establishment of Miners’ Promise in 2010. Miners’ Promise is a not-for-profit organization established to provide emotional and practical support to members and their families following a crisis event such as a death, illness, or serious accident.

Helen served as a Director on the Miners’ Promise Board for several years, including a number of years as Chairperson. A qualified grief counselor, Helen continues close association with the organization providing family support advisory services to members.

Helen is a recipient of a WA Local Hero of the Year Award, a category of the Australian of the Year awards. She continues to speak prolifically to corporations across all industry sectors and provides ongoing grief counseling to families coping with the loss of a loved one.

For more information:




Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their Safety Leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance.

Safety Leadership coaching has been limited, expensive, and exclusive for too long.

As part of Propulo Consulting’s subscription-based executive membership, our coaching partnership is tailored for top business executives that are motivated to improve safety leadership and commitment.
Unlock your full potential with the only Executive Safety Coaching for Ops & HSE leaders available on the market.
Explore your journey with Executive Safety Coaching at
Executive Safety Coaching_Propulo

Cracking the Code: The Human Factors Behind Organizational Failures with Martin Anderson

Cracking the Code The Human Factors Behind Organizational Failures



You don’t want to miss our latest episode of ‘Cracking the Code: The Human Factors Behind Organizational Failures’ on The Safety Guru. Join us as Martin Anderson, a renowned expert on human factors and performance, shares his valuable insights and examples about the human factors behind organizational failures. Learn how to effectively and constructively embed lessons learned in your organization.


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost, for the C suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski. A globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Martin Anderson, who’s a human factors expert. We’re going to have a really interesting series of topics of conversation today. He’s got a deep background in human factors across oil and gas regulatory environments. His passion is really to understand how people perform in complex systems and also, ultimately, why organizations fail. So, Martin, welcome to the show. Really excited to have you with me. Let’s get started with a bit of an introduction.

Yeah, thank you very much, Eric, and certainly, thank you for having me on the show. It’s a real privilege to be invited here. Yeah, so in terms of my background, I started off with a psychology degree, and then I did a master’s in human factors. And after a few years of work experience, I followed that up with a Master’s in Process Safety and Loss Prevention. I’ve been a human factors specialist for over 30 years now. I’ve worked for a couple of boutique consultancies. I’ve been a regulator working as a specialist inspector in human factors for the UK Health and Safety Executive. I spent a few years as a human factors manager in an oil and gas company. I spent a lot of time assessing existing installations but also had input into the design of new facilities, working on 40, 50-billion-dollar mega projects. And over that time, I visited over 150 different oil, gas, and chemical facilities, both onshore and offshore, which gave me quite an insight into how some of these major organizations operate. And one of the reasons I created the website, was to share some of those insights. The other thing I’d like to talk about is going back 30 years, right to the start of my career.

I read a document which was called Organizing for Safety. It was published by the UK Health and Safety Executive in 1993. There’s a quote from that document I would like to read out because it had a huge impact on me at that point. It goes like this, different organizations doing similar work are known to have different safety records, and certain specific factors in the organization are related to safety. So, if we unpack that quote, it really contains two statements. First of all, the different companies doing the same things have got different safety records. And secondly, perhaps more importantly, there are specific factors that could explain this difference in safety performance. And I thought this was amazing. I thought if these factors could be identified and managed, then this safety could be massively improved. And over the next 30 years or so, one disaster at a time, these organizational factors have revealed themselves in major incidents, which I guess we’ll come to in a moment.

I think that’s a great topic to get into. So why do organizations fail? Because I think when we had the original conversations, I was fascinated by some of your connections between multiple different industries and common themes that were across all of them.

Yeah, sure. What might be helpful, first of all, because we introduced me as a human factors specialist to just briefly define what we mean by human factors, and then we’ll go into looking at some of the organizational incidents if that’s okay. Sure. For me, Human Factors is composed of three main things. We’re really looking at, first of all, what people are being asked to do. That’s the work they’re doing. Secondly, who is doing it? This is all about the people. And thirdly, where are they actually working? Which is the organization? So ideally, all three of these aspects need to be considered, the work, the people, and the organization. But my experience is that companies tend to focus on just one or two of these, usually the people one. Within the UK HCC, our team defined human factors as a set of 10 topics, which has become widely known as the top 10 used by industry consultants and regulators worldwide. Because prior to that, we would turn up to do an inspection, say, we’re here to inspect your human factors. And they were like, I don’t know what you mean. How do we prepare for that?

Whom do you want to speak to? What do you want to go and look at? So, after creating that top 10, we were able to say, the agenda for the inspection is that we want to come and look at how you manage fatigue. We want to come and look at your supervision arrangements or your competency assurance system. So, this helped to operationalize human factors. So, the other description, really, of human factors. A lot of people come to human factors through human error. They hear about human error. But if we identify human error, we need to understand how and why it occurred and not simply blame people. Are we setting people up to succeed? Are we setting them up to fail? Are we providing systems, equipment, and an environment that supports people to do the work that we’re asking them to do? And to introduce, as we move towards talking about organizational failures, I’d like to read a quote from Professor James Reason, who is a psychologist at the University of Manchester. And this quote is about 25 years old, but it’s still one of my favorites. And Reason said that rather than being the main instigators of an accident, operators tend to be the inheritors of system defects created by poor design, incorrect installation, faulty maintenance, and bad management decisions.

Their part is usually that of adding the final garnish to a lethal brew whose ingredients have already been long in the cooking. And I think that’s a really good introduction to our discussion on organizational failures.

So, let’s go there because we had a really interesting conversation on organizational failures and some of the common themes. So, what are some of the common themes, and why do organizations fail?

Exactly. When you say, why do organizations fail? Let’s just think about a few of those from different industries because these organizational disasters have occurred to the NASA space shuttles, the Harold of Free enterprise, Ferry Disaster, Shenandoah, the Kings Cross Fire, Piper Alpha, Caterpillar, Texas City, Burnsville, Deepwater Horizon, the Condo, lots of different rail incidents around the world, several so-called friendly fire events. And there’s also been organizational disasters in sectors such as healthcare and finance. In the UK, these include inadequate care during children’s heart surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary over a 10-year period. And, of course, most listeners will be familiar with the so-called rogue trader that caused the collapse of Bearings Bank. So, there were so many disasters in so many different industries. And I know when we had a conversation earlier, what we were considering was that, okay, they’re all in different industries, but there are lots of common themes that we could pull out of those from space shuttles to Bearings Bank, for instance.

So, what are some of the themes? Because I think the part that really caught my attention is I think you’ve done an activity where you had taken the facts from a different event, mastered it, and told me a little bit about that story in terms of how you mastered the facts that were from an existing element and people thought it was something different.

Yeah. So, the example there was that… I don’t know if readers are familiar with the Nimrod disaster. So, this goes back to 2006. Nimrod was a recollonance aircraft. And shortly after air-to-air refueling, it was on a routine mission over Afghanistan. Shortly after that refueling, there was a fire which led to the loss of the aircraft and, sadly, the 14th service personnel. And I was asked to get involved and advise that investigation. And as I started to read some of the initial information from that investigation, I started to think, this sounded just like another incident I’m really familiar with, which was one of the shuttle incidents the Columbia incident. So I put a presentation together, and on one side of the slide, I put the information from the Nimrod incident, and on the right-hand side of the slide, I put information from the Columbia incident. And then, I went through several of the issues that were involved, and I produced this PowerPoint presentation, and I mixed up the left and right sides, and I didn’t say which was in which. And when we showed it to the investigation team, they couldn’t determine which information came from the incident they were investigating from the NIMOD incident and which information came from the shuttle Columbia incident many years previously. 

It just showed you the two very different incidents in different industries, different locations, and different people, that the organizational issues were almost identical. That was quite powerful, the fact that people couldn’t tell the difference between the facts from one and the facts from the other because these causes just overlap so much. When you look at the very detailed technical level, there are differences between these events. But the common factors when you really start looking at the deeper or, the broader organizational issues, then there are so much many similarities.

What are some of the themes in general that you’ve looked at? You mentioned Bearing’s Bank, which sounds very different than Piper Alpha. What are some of the common themes?

It does. You think, what has the failure of a 100-year-old bank got to do with the failure of an oil refinery or an offshore oil platform or any of the other incidents that we’ve spoken about? People and organizations fail in very similar ways. The findings from these disasters are getting quite repetitive just because you’re seeing the same things over and over. When you look at all of these incidents and pull out some of the main themes, what are the things that we’re seeing? Because the important thing is that we can go and look for these in an existing organization. You see things like a lot of outsourcing to contractors without proper oversight. We call that in the nuclear industry, we call that not having intelligent customer capability because they don’t know what the contractors are doing. They can’t explain what the contracts are doing. Then you’ve got inappropriate targets or priorities or pressures because, in almost all of these cases, there were significant production pressures, whatever production means for your organization. Another key issue that you see almost every time is a failure to manage organizational change. And by that, I mean a failure to consider the impact of that organizational change on safety.

So, a lot of organizations are going through almost like a tsunami of changes and not really considering how that impacts how they manage safety or not considering that each of those separate changes has a cumulative effect which is more powerful than the individual changes. You also see a lot of assumptions that things are safe. So even if you have evidence to the contrary, assuming that everything is safe, rather than going and looking for information, rather than challenging, or rather than having a questioning attitude, organizations are pretty bad at looking for bad news or responding to bad news, not wanting to hear bad news. So in almost all of the incidents that we’ve spoken about, it wasn’t a complete surprise to everybody in the organization. There were people in the organization that knew things were going wrong, that they were getting close to the boundaries of safety, but they couldn’t either get that information to be heard by the right people, or people didn’t react or respond to that. So it’s really interesting when you look, and you read the detailed investigation reports, and there are always people that knew that things were going wrong. So that information is available in the organization.

And I think that’s a good thing because that means that, hey, this is good. We can proactively do something about this. We can go and look for some of these things. So the things that I mentioned there, and there are a lot more, Eric, that we could talk about. There are lots of organizational issues we could proactively go and look for because these incidents are devastating for the people involved, for the organizations involved, but they’re a free lesson for everybody else. Sure.

If you choose to learn from them and if you choose to see the analogy between a space shuttle, Nimrod, and Barings Bank, and whatever industry you’re in.

Yeah, exactly. Because you have to go looking for those issues, for those factors in your organization, so, there are two things or maybe three things you mentioned there. So, you need to go looking at other incidents. You need to take the lessons from those. You need to go and look for them in your organization, and you need to act on that. So, this failure to learn from other industries, for me, is perhaps the greatest organizational failure of all. The organizations think, well, it doesn’t apply to me because that was in a children’s hospital, or that was a bank, or that was an offshore platform. What’s that got to do with me in my industry? Failure to learn those lessons is the biggest failure because you can get away from the technical specifics of the incident and just try and look at the deeper organizational issues. But who in organizations is doing this, Eric? Which person, which role, which part of the organization goes looking for these events and draws the lessons and then goes and challenges their own organization? It’s actually quite difficult to do that. It’s like the problem with safety, isn’t it? Really, is that you can go into a boardroom and you can pitch a new product to a new market, and people give you money, and they’ll listen to you.

But if you go in and pitch that you want to spend money to protect and safeguard the installation against things that may or may not happen in the future is a much harder sell. It’s a problem for safety more generally.

One of the things I know we talked about was around what you call organizational learning disability, so people are good at investigating, but not true learning, and not embedding the change. I’ve seen this many times where people learn the same lesson over and over.

And that’s it. When we have these large investigations into these disasters, there’s always this proclamation that this must never happen again, and we need to learn the lessons. And then something else happens a year or two later in a different industry, but the same issues. So, you talked about a learning disability. Why do organizations fail to learn? Given that, there’s this wealth of information out there available as to why organizations fail. For me, I think there are two issues. I think there’s this failure to learn from other industries. All industries think they’re unique. They don’t think that they can learn because it’s a totally different industry. It’s nothing to do with them. But they all employ the same kinds of people. There aren’t different people working in different industries. They all employ the same people. They organize themselves in very similar ways, and they have the same targets and priorities and so on. So, first of all, that assumption doesn’t apply to me. It’s a different sector. So, failure to learn from other industries, we’ve spoken about, but failure to learn from your own investigations. And we see this in major incidents like NASA failing to learn from the previous incidents it had.

So, you have the Mars orbital and failure to learn from that. You have Challenger, then Columbia, and so on. So, what we find is that there’s a lot of sharing but not enough learning. So, after an incident, then there’s a safety bulletin put together, it goes on the intranet, there might be a bit of a roll, and so on. But you’re not, actually… If you’re not changing something, you’re not learning. So, something in the organization has to change for a lesson to be embedded. And you need to go back and confirm that you’ve changed the right thing. So, you can’t just change something and assume everything will be okay. So if you’re not changing anything structurally in the organization or in one of the systems or one of the processes, then you’re not embedding the learning. So that’s the first thing is this failure to embed the lessons that you come up with. I think the other problem is that investment derogations are not always of great quality. They’re not identifying the right issues. They may not be getting to the root causes. They might focus on human error. They might focus on blame. And Investigations that are done by external bodies generally are starting to look at these organizational issues.

But investigations that are done internally by the organizations themselves into their own events rarely confront organizational failures. It’s very challenging for the investigation team to raise issues that suggest there are failures at the leadership level. It’s challenging for the investigation team, and it’s challenging for the leadership to receive that information. So quite often, the recommendations and the actions are all aimed at employees, a bit like a lot of safety initiatives, behavioral safety, safety culture, and so on, are quite often aimed at the front-line workforce rather than the whole organization. We often see that in investigations as well if they’re not challenging these organizational issues, whether that’s because of a lack of understanding or whether or not that’s not accepted by senior leadership. Because people doing these investigations aren’t always competent. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. They don’t have the right experience, or they’re not given enough time, or it’s seen as a development opportunity. So, investigations need to have the right people doing them, asking the right questions in order to get the right recommendations out of them. Because if the process isn’t right, you’re not going to get the right recommendations coming out of it.

So, what are you going to learn because you haven’t got to the real issues? So yeah, I think there are two issues there, failure to learn from other industries, but also failure to learn from your own investigations. And we can talk about some tips that maybe could help organizations get to some of those organizational issues when they’re doing investigations. Absolutely. And also, it’d be useful to talk about how you can go and look for some of these organizational issues before you actually have an incident, which is what we want to get to. We want to have it, we want to learn, but we don’t want to have incidents in order to be able to learn. So why can’t we learn proactively without having an incident in the first place?

This episode of The Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety, and safety to your advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, reenergize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions, Propulo has you covered. Visit us at

Let’s start first in terms of how you can identify some of these organizational factors through the investigation process.

Through that investigation process, what you’re really trying to do to get to the organizational issues is you’re trying to zoom out from the detail, taking a helicopter view. You’re zooming out and looking down, trying to see this bigger picture. So, for example, most people who’ve done an investigation would have put together a timeline. So, a list of what happened to who or what equipment and when and draw a timeline and start to map what happened. But the problem is that a lot of those timelines start on the day of the event. And what I’d propose is that your timeline goes back to weeks, months, or even years before the event occurred. You’re trying to identify what might have changed in the organization in that period in terms of changes to equipment, processes, people, priorities, the direction the company was going, and so on. So, your timeline needs to go way back because of the organizational issues that we see in all of these events. These events didn’t just occur overnight. As Reason said in that quote, there was trouble brewing for weeks, months, and years beforehand. So, there are indications in the organization. So, your timeline needs to go back and look for those issues.

That automatically forces you to think not just about the actual incident but more widely about your organization. The other thing you can do really is review previous incidents that have occurred or other sources of data, maybe looking at audits or regulatory inspections, or staff surveys. You’re trying to identify common threads and trends, and you’re trying to identify how long these conditions have existed and how extensive they are across the company. Why did this event surprise us? Because, as I say, the information is normally available in the organization. So why did this come as a surprise? You’re looking not just at individuals, but you should be looking at systems. You should be looking at processes, and your mindset as an investigator should be thinking about what were the organizational conditions. What was the context in the organization that set people up to fail? So that going back way before the incident is quite a helpful change of mindset for people, rather than just going, okay, what happened on this day? And thinking about how you responded to the incident. It’s quite a useful tool to help you think more about organizational issues.

And how broad do you go? Because when you start going back to Zoom out years before decisions, changes in leadership, changes in investment, you can open up a very big can of worms. And I see if it’s Deep-Water Horizon, Piper Alpha, that there’s a need to go deeper. But how deep and how wide do you cast the net? Because I think it’s incredibly important like you said. Otherwise, you just limit to that person that made a mistake as opposed to start understanding what’s changed in the environment, the context. Sure.

It’s a lot easier in those big disasters to do that because they’ll have a huge team of people in these investigations. Some of them have taken five, six, eight years. They have the time and the resource. In an organization, you generally don’t have that much time to do an investigation. Quite often, the people doing it have other jobs, so they want to get back to the day job. So, it’s one of the reasons why the investigations are quite compressed in terms of time because most people are not full-time investigators. So, I think what you can do is it depends on the incident that you’ve had as to how far you want to go back. But I think looking at whether or not those conditions exist in other facilities or workplaces is a useful step that can really help you identify whether this is unique to this scenario or is this a systemic issue that we have in our organization. Organization. I think going back and looking at what might be key issues, so if you’ve had a merger or an acquisition or a major change in your direction or a new product or you’ve opened a new facility, those major organizational changes, if you had a downsizing exercise two years ago and since then there’s obviously been issues in terms of staffing and resources, then those are the key things you need to need to be mapping out.

As you say, you can’t map everything, but you’re looking for key significant changes or events or shifts in priorities or policies that might have occurred in the previous years. And I guess the time and effort that you spend in that partly depends on the consequences or the potential consequences of the event that you’re looking at.

But there’s still an element of you can focus the conversations like you just said in terms of what are the major shifts that happen as opposed to unearthing every piece. You’re still rewinding the movie further back. The other part I think is interesting to explore is what you talked about in terms of how we know and explore some of these organizational factors before something happens. And you mentioned that in all the incidents, you talked about somebody who knew something was up before. So how do we identify these themes before a major event?

Yeah, you’re right there, Eric. I think there’s always information available, and it’s just maybe not getting to the right people, or people aren’t taking action on it. So, these warning signs, red flags, whatever you want to call them, they’re unnoticed, they’re ignored or not getting to the right person because, as we’ve said, these incidents incubate over a long period of time. Those warnings accumulate. And that’s a great thing because that means that we have an opportunity to go and look for them and to find them. So, if you start looking, first of all, you should have a means for people to be able to raise those concerns in an independent, confidential way, some reporting system so that those concerns are coming to you. So that’s like one mechanism is some industries are much better than others at having confidential reporting systems where people can safely report a near miss or an error or challenge or frustration that they’re having. And that gives the organization an opportunity to do something about it. You’ve got to have the right culture for that, of course, because if your previous investigations blame individuals, then people are not going to come forward because they’ve seen what’s happened to other people.

So, they’re going to keep quiet, and these things get brushed under the carpet. So, it does depend on the culture that you’ve got. But having an independent, confidential way for people to raise those issues can be quite useful. So that allows issues to come to you. But you also need to go looking for these issues as well.

Yeah, I think.

That’s important. Organizations have had quite a few events. So, do they investigate them individually, or do they try and join the dots between different incidents? They might appear unrelated, but are they? Are you starting to accept things, either conditions or behaviors, that you wouldn’t have accepted a few years ago? People’s risk acceptance might change over time. Are you contracting more out? And do you really understand the technical work that those contractors are doing? Can you explain it? Can you challenge it if necessary? Are you having lots of budget cuts? The conversation is always around targets, budget challenges, focus on efficiencies, put productivity initiatives, and so on is a really good red flag. Are you starting to focus more on temporary fixes? Are you patching equipment? Are you stretching the life of equipment rather than investing or permanent solutions? Are you may be reacting to things rather than predicting and planning ahead? Now, organizations do lots of safety-related activities, and previous podcasts have talked about safety work and the work of safety. But if organizations start to see the completion of safety activities as being more important as to whether they’re effective, that’s quite often a big warning sign as well.

Companies are doing risk assessments, investigations, audits, and writing a safety case if that applies to your industry. And if the completion of that, if getting that done is more important than using it as a learning exercise and then whether it’s effective, that’s also a bit of a trigger for the organization. So, there are these things you can go looking for. I think one of the biggest things for me is because there are lots of questions we could ask, is that if you assume that your assessment of these major risks is incorrect and go proactively seeking information to continuously revise your assessment, you’re more likely to pick up these issues. Whereas if you assume that everything’s okay until it isn’t, it is too late at that point. Organizations are getting better in their maturity in their approach to investigations. But that maturity hasn’t carried over to being proactive in looking for issues. We’re getting better and better investigations, but we don’t want to have incidents to investigate. In organizations, there are tools or techniques. There are ways you can go and proactively look in your organization to find these issues. The maturity of investigations just hasn’t translated over to proactively going and looking for things.

There are lots of reasons why that might be the case.

I think it’s an interesting point because I think if you’ve got… The other element that comes to mind is if you’ve got an incident that happened, it’s clear who owns the investigation. But who owns this proactive view? Because in some organizations, it could be an audit, but an audit is not always necessarily equipped to do it. I know that in one organization, an audit made an audit in safety, and their focus in terms of driving safety improvement was to find ways to get employees back to the office faster, which has no impact on safety. But from a financial standpoint, if you don’t have expertise in what safety means, that might sound like a viable solution to reduce a rate, right? It could be your safety organization, but that safety organization needs to have the right visibility. It could be some form of a red team that’s constantly looking for challenging pieces. What have you seen be most effective in terms of where this resides and the practice around kicking the tire? Is that what you’ve got?

I think part of the issue there that I alluded to earlier on, Eric, is that I just don’t think this is a formal role within organizations. The departments that you mentioned quite often don’t have the expertise, experience, or time to be able to go and look for these issues proactively. So, the audits, investigations, they’re all quite constrained in their agenda, and so on. So, I don’t think there is a good example that I know of a function in an organization that is proactively going and looking at these areas. You do have risk committees and all these audit committees, whether or not you’re looking in the financial sector or whether or not you’re looking in oil and gas. I think there are pieces of the puzzle held by different people within an organization that can contribute to this review that we’re talking about. But I don’t think there’s really good practice out there of how that’s been pulled together into a cohesive, proactive, challenging go look to see whether or not we have any of these issues, particularly when you’re trying to learn from other industries. So if there’s been a big incident in one industry and there’s a big report that’s come out, and there are lessons and recommendations in that, organizations in that industry might look at that and might go and challenge themselves.

But that’s relatively short-lived, I think. If you ask people in organizations, what are the main failures in Piper Alpha? What were the main failures of Bearings Bank? What are the main failures in the shuttle incidents? A lot of people, including safety people, just can’t tell you what those organizational learnings would be. So not only are they not going looking for these things, but quite often, that experience, that understanding is just not available, Eric. But I think it’s a big gap. I think there’s a role for human factors, people, and systems people to be able to fulfill that role. But it’s very difficult for an organization to fund a position whose role it is, is to go looking for things that may or may not happen or that might be very unlikely to happen. In these times, it’s quite challenging to resource that position in an organization.

A couple of things that come to mind because I’ve seen some organizations do quite well at learning through case studies of others. So as a senior leadership team looking at something like the 737 MAX and what transpired around the box, looking at the Challenger, looking at Texas City, or looking at Deepwater Horizon, and using these as case studies to say, how could this happen here? And driving that reflection because then you’re starting to force this learning out of the industry and push that it could potentially happen here. And the other piece I’ve seen, and I think this is a… You talked about the human factors piece, I’ve seen some organizations that proactively, or maybe it’s every few years, run a safety culture assessment as an example. Now, my challenge with a lot of safety culture assessments is that people will do a survey which will give you no insights into what you’re talking about. But when I’m thinking about a robust one, you’re looking at surveying and speaking to a lot of employees to look about what could go wrong. And you also do a review of system factors. You look at a lot of the practices, the processes, the changes, the things that have occurred over the past few years.

So essentially, you’re kicking the tires on a regular basis at the organization. But what I’m talking about is it’s closer to really kicking the tires, but looking at the system components as well, even though the analysis, because the survey won’t be good enough.

I think you’re right. Organizations are doing surveys; they’re running focus groups. Some leaders will be doing walk-arounds. They’re going to facilities and talk to their staff. If prepared for that, that can be really, really helpful. They’re if you prepare them in terms of what they should ask, that can work quite well. I think these are all activities, and these are all tools that we have available, but I don’t think typically they are aimed at trying to pull out these deeper organizational issues, or maybe they’re not. The different sources of information maybe are not combined to give that overall view. Occasionally, organizations will get an independent organization in to do that review for them, which can be quite interesting. But again, that takes you back to the issue of you having to learn from those recommendations as well. And we have seen quite a few cases where independent contractors who’ve been asked to come in and review an organization quite often temper their findings because they want to get continual employment from that company. And we’ve seen that in some of the major financial events. But Bearings Bank is a good example where the auditors did not see issues, or when they saw issues, were not communicating them to the board because they didn’t want to alert the board to some of the issues that were there, which contributed to the demise of the bank.

So, there were lots of barriers and structural issues that might prevent some of the tools you suggested from working really effectively. But there are tools out there that can be used. We’re making general comments about what we’re seeing in the industry. It’s not to say that there are some organizations that are doing this well. I think it’d be really good to unpack those lessons in learning and communicate those more widely because there are pockets of good practice. I’m not saying no one’s doing anything at all here. There are pockets out there. We need to understand what they are, what is effective, and help to share those more widely for other organizations that maybe are not doing this proactively.

That’s often the tricky part because once something goes wrong, it makes front page news. The 37 MAX makes front page news, multiple investigations, lots of insights, lots of learnings. But does that mean that Airbus, on the other hand, that hasn’t had such a failure, is doing all of this proactively, you don’t necessarily know because they’re generally quieter about it. So, it could actually just be pure luck or actually good practices. And that’s the tricky part.

It could, but it could also be… If you look at an organization that’s had a few incidents or a couple of disasters, people might think, oh, well, actually X, Y, and Z is a bad company. It’s because of them. It’s the fundamental attribution error. If someone is driving poorly, you think it’s because they’re a bad driver. Whereas if you do something, if you cut someone up and so on, then you think, well, there’s all these other reasons why I did that. So, we tend to attribute failures to people because it’s an issue with them not thinking about all the contextual factors that influence behavior. So maybe that fundamental attribution error is something that’s important when we’re looking at these disasters because it’s easy to say, well, they’re just a bad company, and that won’t happen to us. We’re different. We employ different people. We’ve got all these processes and systems, and it won’t happen to us. Risk blindness is an issue for us as well.

I think if you touch briefly on Bearings Bank, the same symptoms that happen in Bearings Bank would probably have happened in many other locations because it’s not that hard to have a rogue trader. The difference there was the size of that rogue trader, but they’re present everywhere. Nab in Australia had three rogue traders on the FX side roughly around the same time. And there are lots of other examples that don’t get reported or get reported on the hundreds page of the newspaper if you really seek to look at them because it’s never a cause for success, but they happen a lot more often than we think.

I think they do. I think you’re right that we pick these examples, and we talk about these big disasters, partly because there’s so much information available on them. And it does become a little bit unfair that we keep going back to the same disasters, but they’re the ones on which we have much information. They’re the ones who’ve been investigated to the end of the degree. But you’re right, there are lots of other failures going on. Not all of them become so high profile. But we do know that lots of other organizations maybe have similar events, but they just, like you say, they don’t make the press for whatever reason, and they don’t become case studies on training courses for the next 30 years. But you’re right. You can pick Bearings Bank, and there would have been several of the banks with the same issues at the same time because they had the same processes or didn’t have those processes in place as Bearings Bank, but it just didn’t play out in the same way. As you know, maybe they had a huge loss, but it wasn’t enough to destroy the bank, and therefore it’s less visible to everybody else.

But you’re right, we’re picking a few case studies here because these are the ones, we have detail on. But it’s not to say this isn’t occurring much more widely than that.

So, Martin, thank you very much for joining me. I think a really interesting series of topics, the link that a lot of organizations relation feels for the same reasons. I think what’s really big takeaway is how do we learn better from investigations and then how do we learn proactively before anything ever occurs? How do we have that questioning attitude on an ongoing basis because it’s too easy to close your eyes and something and think, No, it’s okay? We’re okay. And really, how do you drive that questioning attitude within the business? So, Martin, these are really interesting topics. Obviously, your website, human is an excellent source for insights. Is that the best way if somebody wants to reach you to get more insights?

Yes, certainly. I write quite a lot on that website, so you can go there and have a look. There’s a lot more information on there, or you can follow me on LinkedIn. If you search for Human Factors 101, you’ll find me there on LinkedIn. Please get in touch.


Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams, and elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

More Episodes:

C-Suite Radio:

Powered By Propulo Consulting:

Eric Michrowski:


Martin Anderson has 30 years of experience in addressing human performance issues in complex organizations. Before joining an oil and gas company in Australia as Manager of Human Factors, he played a key role in developing human factors within the UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE), leading interventions on over 150 of the UK’s most complex major hazard facilities, both onshore and offshore. He has particular interests in organizational failures, safety leadership, and investigations. Martin has contributed to the strategic direction of international associations and co-authored international guidance on a range of human factors topics.

For more information:




Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their Safety Leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance.

Safety Leadership coaching has been limited, expensive, and exclusive for too long.

As part of Propulo Consulting’s subscription-based executive membership, our coaching partnership is tailored for top business executives that are motivated to improve safety leadership and commitment.
Unlock your full potential with the only Executive Safety Coaching for Ops & HSE leaders available on the market.
Explore your journey with Executive Safety Coaching at
Executive Safety Coaching_Propulo

Mindful Connections: Individual Responsibility & Effective Leadership in Mental Health with Petra Velzeboer

Mindful Connections Individual Responsibility and Effective Leadership in Mental Health



“Psychological safety effectively is trust.” In honor of World Mental Health Day, we invite you to listen to the latest episode of The Safety Guru featuring Petra Velzeboer, renowned mental health expert and TEDx speaker. You won’t want to miss this episode as Petra shares her expertise and advice on creating mindful connections through effective leadership, the importance of vulnerability, and beneficial strategies to approach mental health with a preventive mindset in the workplace. Tune in!


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. I’m really excited to have with me, Petra Velzeboer. She’s a mental health expert, a TEDx speaker, and author of Begin with You. Petra, welcome to the show.

Thanks so much for having me.

We’re recording this; obviously, this World Mental Health Day that’s coming on to us. First, I want to hear your story. You have a lot of experience in the mental health space. You’ve committed yourself to doing a lot of work to help organizations create an environment that’s safe from a psychological standpoint. Tell me a little bit about your story.

Sure, thank you. Well, I guess I grew up in a really toxic environment, right? So, I grew up in a religious cult, which is a little bit extreme for some. But interestingly, and I’ll go into why these matters to me, it’s interesting how many similarities there are between that environment that I fought my way out of and the corporate world and the toxicity that I see there. So that, I guess, informs some of my approach. I guess part of my story is that, like many of us in the mental health space, I found myself in a time where I was struggling. So, I had finally left the cult and some of that buildup of stress and toxicity that I didn’t know how to process or let go of or any of those things. And it stacked up and affected me as I left in the form of depression, anxiety, and severe addiction. And so, the first steps of learning were to how do I sort myself out and develop good mental health. And over time, I qualified as a therapist. I now run my business, as you said, and support businesses to have that awareness both individually, so individual responsibility for our own wellbeing and mental health, but also organizational, that collective responsibility for safety, psychologically to support teams.

There’s a little hint of my perspective.

Absolutely. Tell me a little bit about some of the skills that are needed to create an environment that fosters mental health or good mental health in the workplace.

I think the first thing is always self-awareness, right? Because we can’t quite tell other people what to do or how to approach this topic if we’re not quite aware of ourselves, our own triggers, our own mental health, and the things that help us to build trust. So psychological safety effectively is trust, right? When we trust each other, we’re comfortable talking about mistakes or collaborating on projects and being vulnerable. And there’s loads of evidence, as I’m sure many listeners are aware of. When we put ourselves out of their vulnerability and create that trust, we actually create more innovation and better products. We sustain success longer term. But the actual day-to-day work of it is tricky if you don’t understand it or know yourself. And so that means if I’m going to talk to a team member, I’m going to want to know, am I exhausted or not my best self or unable to maybe build trust? Am I blaming? Am I not leading, by example, myself? And those are the small daily actions and skills that then trickle down and give others permission to put themselves out there as well.

And to organizations that are wanting to drive improvements from a cultural standpoint. Here, for example, in Australia, there’s a lot of focus lately around legislation around psychosocial risk as an example to create safer environments for workers both physically but also emotionally and mentally in terms of the workplace. Tell me about some of the things that organizations can do to embrace and drive that change. Because the self-awareness, I think, is essential, but that starts with a leader, a few leaders. How do you drive that environment?

Sure. I love the psychosocial risk because it does break down against management level, senior leadership level. What are the things that we need to look out for in order to support safety? If we think of safety just in construction type industries or anything like that, if we don’t trust and we can’t say, Hey, I’m having a bad day, I’m not my best self, we’ve got one of our facilitators, actually, who shot a stungun through his own hand, not because safety wasn’t in place as far as precautions, but because health wasn’t in place as far as looking after his brain and his mindset and being comfortable to say something. And so, these are small examples of the impact. But what organizations can do is firstly open up the conversation, right? There’s a great book by Amy Edmondson called The Fearless Organization that gives some great tips and tools for how to get started. But it really does start with open conversations as a team. So, we want to learn some of the tactics, but really, we’re living in a world that’s reactive. We’re firefighting. We’re in a rush, we’re in survival mode. And so, the first step is to take that step back and actually go, Actually, if we connect as a team and we discuss psychological safety where we think it’s going well, and the areas where perhaps it isn’t, we then now have a baseline to collaborate on this topic.

I’ve worked in companies where some departments say they have psychological safety and others don’t. So, it can be one organization but have pockets that feel different depending on the manager and how things are run, perhaps culturally in the country they’re in. There are many factors.

I know one of the pieces I was watching was one of your talks, and you mentioned a lot of organizations you go in when you approach them and say, what are you doing around mental health? They’ll talk about helplines, things of that nature. Why is that insufficient?

It’s a very reactive way of approaching things, and it actually perpetuates stigma, I think, because if it’s saying, Let’s talk about mental health, and then all we talk about is poor mental health, depression, suicide, help lines, and nobody wants to be part of that club. It’s only the ones who are really in a really severe chaos space that will be calling those helplines, but nobody’s going to put their hand up and say, I’m in crisis in that situation. But we want to come from a preventative approach. So, 10, 20, 30 steps before somebody are in that crisis space where they may need the helpline, what’s the culture? What’s the trust? How can we openly talk about mental health, well-being, and performance, and all of these things long before it gets to any crisis point? And people want to be part of a club that is performing and doing well and is successful. So, my work is about tying those things together, performance and well-being, being intrinsic to each other in order to lead successful lives. But in my book, I highlight what does success mean to you. It’s not just the classic. Did I get a promotion?

It’s like, am I connected with my kids? Do I get to have the holidays or the downtime that I like? But also, if you’re ambitious like me, do I have a healthy body and a healthy mind and friendships and networks to enable me to enjoy that journey and not get to the top of the mountain completely fried or burnt out like many people are, forgetting what it’s all about in the first place. And I know one of the things as well you talk about is the changing workplace. And obviously, a lot of people now we’ve worked in a hybrid environment or remote environment. How does that impact a mentally safe, healthy environment?

I think it’s about change. And so, hybrid work is one part of that change. But in a post-pandemic world, there’s been so much uncertainty, so much change, and that is making many people sit firmly in that survival mode for much longer than really our bodies are set out to sit in that space. Really, you want survival mode to be like that immediate fight or flight reaction because I need to decide to stay safe. But these days, you get a notification on your phone, and your body doesn’t know the difference between a real threat or a perceived threat. So, our nervous system spikes as if something terrible is going on. Now, remote work can have a negative effect on some people’s mental health, but I’m hesitant to say that that’s the problem, right? I’m a fully remote team, and we discuss mental health all the time, and people feel more connected than ever. And part of that is to do with flexibility, autonomy, and trust. So, when you have flexibility, autonomy, and trust, then people feel like they can work wherever they can be their best selves, right? And so, if that means coming in to have some face-to-face time or working from home, I mean, it really works for us, right?

And it’s the healthiest way that we can work as a team. What’s interesting is the number of policies popping up, right? So, our hybrid or remote work policy, as if there’s like, we must maybe control the masses a little bit and have a very fixed view of what this needs to look like, as if any of us have been in this situation before and can claim that the exact three-two ratio or two-three ratio is the way we’ll be the most productive, right? I want more leaders to be open and collaborative with their people. So, with my team, we will have discussions about how we work, not just what we do. When do you work at your best self? Is it the morning? Is it at home? What are the conditions that enable you to feel your best? So having those conversations enables you to understand your team, for people to know what flexibility actually means for your industry, because sometimes there’s loads of assumptions going on, and people get nervous when they don’t quite understand what’s expected. But also, managers saying, hey, we’re going to try this thing two days in or whatever it might be.

Let’s discuss if it’s working for us or if we need to change it. That’s more of a collaborative way to build psychological safety through a process rather than acting like. We’re top-down. We know exactly how this should go. And if you don’t comply, it’s your fault. You’re burnt out. You need to leave, that thing. The flip side is, for some people, a lack of connection and belonging, and that isolation piece we’re seeing, affects mental health negatively in lots of ways as well. And one of the themes I often hear in the hybrid environment is people challenged with a disconnect from work. In a workplace, you would work, say, nine to five or whatever hours you worked, and you went home, and it was easier to create that separation. And even as people have moved to more hybrid environments or continue in a virtual environment, it’s how do I drive that disconnect to be able to separate?

It’s creating boundaries, right? Right. And in the past, it feels like the boundaries were more fixed by your role, right? Everyone leaves at this time. I can see them leaving, and I walk out. I have the train ride or drive or whatever it might be to listen to music or read my book or scroll or whatever it is, and it creates that buffer. But these days, first of all, it’s harder to maintain habits because two days you’re in the office, a couple of days your home. So, your routine might be different on different days. And so, for many people, it’s hard to have that consistency. But these days, we need to take more ownership of our own boundaries, right? Because your laptops are at home, you could be working on your phone. You could be doing these things. So, it takes that self-awareness and ownership to go. This is the boundary I will now take responsibility for. So, I work at home. At the end of my day, I will probably go for a walk so that I can before my kids are around and I have to do any of that. So that’s me creating my own buffer or boundary to top and tail the day.

Everybody’s different. Our well-being tools and plans can change. That’s totally fine. But it takes this little moment of reflection to go, how do I feel? What’s good for me? And is the technology addiction or work addiction catching up with me somehow? And are there things that organizations can do to help people to essentially drive that separation, those boundaries, essentially?

Two key things. So one is, again, having explicit conversations about expectations, right? Because when there’s confusion and maybe the more junior people feel nervous about asking, right? That what they do is they watch people. So, this is the other piece. Are your managers and leaders leading by example? And that doesn’t mean everyone has to finish at 5:00, right? Because sometimes they might start later, they might have a project on. But it does mean openly talking about what we do to invest in our well-being. And that’s like a question we ask each other openly in my team. It’s like, what are you doing today to invest in your well-being? Or how are you going to close your day off? We have those challenges and open conversations, and it might be different, right? We’ve got some of the team who have kids and might pick them up and then work later. That’s totally fine. But we have had the conversation, so there are no whispers of, oh, that person’s not around. We get what their routine is because we’ve openly talked about it. So managers and leaders leading by example is not just saying, I’m going to switch off, and that’s one part of it, but it’s also, I’ve got this real important meeting, and when that’s finished because it’s really stressful, I’m going to make sure I hit the gym, or I call someone, or it’s like, how are we managing our stresses throughout the day effectively? That’s the important piece.

This episode of The Safety Guru Podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety and safety culture advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, enable your performance, introduce human performance capabilities, re-energize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions, Propulo has you covered. Visit us at

Very interesting and really good points on this one. We touched a little bit on psychological safety in Amy Edmondson’s work. You touched on mental health in the workplace. In my opinion, they’re not necessarily the same thing because psychological safety, at least the way I interpret it from reading Amy’s work, is more, do I feel comfortable speaking up, raising issues? But it doesn’t necessarily… It’s a key component, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a workplace that fosters healthy mental well-being. How do you draw that delineation? Because I’ve seen in some organizations where they confuse both and say, I’m dealing with psychological safety. Therefore, I’m addressing the mental well-being of my workforce. Key component, but not necessarily complete cause and effect.

That’s amazing that you’ve divided it in that way because you can be psychologically safe in a blinkered workplace. We talked about when we failed, like, hey, we’re all iterating a project. This didn’t work, but this did work, and we feel comfortable talking in the work context. If you think of maybe some of the tech companies out there, lots of introverts statistically, lots of men statistically, let’s make this product better. So maybe purpose-driven is something that really helps that side of things, but they would never say, How’s your mental health today? Or what have you done to invest in yourself? Or any of that language. So, for me, that’s about practicing bravery. It’s the same concept because it’s building trust, but people are less practiced in using those skills that Amy Edmondson talks about and moving them into a space about the person, so the individual, not just the collective task. And so, for me, it’s about the same ideas, leading by example, trust, bravery, these sorts of things, but then talking about the human that is connected to the project, right? What are you really passionate about? What lights you up?

Questions like this. And you can do this in either formal or informal ways. In my team, we’ll do the top-of-A-team meeting once a week. We’ll take turns, and somebody will ask a question like that. What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing, personally or professionally? And somebody might say, oh, to be honest, this thing’s going on. Or what’s one thing you’re grateful for? Or what’s the best holiday you ever had? Whatever. It’s just little things that can be playful, serious, or deep that help us get to know the person, which enhances the trust and safety of the work and the purpose on that side. But it also means you have built the building blocks that if someone is struggling, and we know that countless people are experiencing burnout, the suicides are high, depression, anxiety, these sorts of things. You now have the foundation where you can actually talk about these things. But there’s a misconception. Many managers don’t want to ask these questions for a few reasons. One is that they think immediately that that person needs time off. What if everybody has time off and duvet days because everyone’s like, oh, not feeling well?

But actually, the opposite is often true, that people are not looking for time off. When you’re coming from a prevention perspective, right? It’s actually like, oh, the fact that I could say it has given me some relief. And then my questions as a leader might be, what’s one small thing you can do to manage your mental health or to tackle that situation? And how can I help? Often, they’ll say, oh, it was just the fact that I was able to say it, and thanks for your support. Then, of course, you do have helplines in places that can add value. Then the other fear that managers have is they won’t know the answer, right? They won’t know how to fix the thing that the person comes with. I’m going through a divorce, my kid’s struggling, or I’m experiencing depression. And as you probably know, you don’t actually need to fix it, right? The thing that supports this is listening and creating that safe space. And then, I would follow that with empowering personal solutions. So, it doesn’t, actually… So just some of the training we do is relieving some of those pressures that we imagine bridging some of the skills for psychological safety into the well-being mental health arena.

So, tell me a little bit about your book. Begin with you. And then I’d love to hear afterward a little bit about some of the work that you do in terms of the interventions with organizations to help foster the right environment.

Sure. Thanks so much. So, my book came out in the early stages of this year. It’s called Begin with You. It’s a business book, but published by Cogon Page, and it has a bit more of my story. So, if you were intrigued by the like, oh, Cult-Life, who is this person? I certainly go deep into some of that and also the connections that I make from that personal experience and then the studies that I’ve done on the world of the workplace, but also, I call it groupthink, right? So, you’ll be familiar with that phrasing. Even in the wellbeing space, we’ve got all these influencers telling you every step plan to be your best and the framework for whatever. My challenge to people is to learn to think for themselves. In a world of information overload, how can we actually take that minute to reflect and go, what does my body need? Because it will be different from someone else. We’re almost in the stage of frantically trying to do well-being. If I meditate, if I have a cold shower, if I journal, if I practice gratitude, if I climb a mountain, all the things.

It’s like this competitive well-being. And I’d like people to… So that’s what the book is about, challenging the concept of what this means and refocusing on whatever success means to you and building that narrative. So that’s a little bit about that. And, of course, it informs the work that I do, which is around helping businesses from a couple of levels. So, one is their strategy. So, what’s your strategic approach around well-being? And how does it link to your diversity agenda, your health and safety agenda? Because we’re seeing lots of silos, especially in bigger businesses, right? Where well-being is like over there. But then all these other components are in different silos, not really coordinating, or they don’t have a shared comms plan. So, they’re almost competing for, no, I need this date for my awareness day, or I need to put on my talk. And we want people to coordinate because that’s when you can all be successful together. And so that’s around helping wellbeing leads as well, evidence the return on investment of what they’re doing, because it can be a little bit throw things at the wall and see what sticks. And so, from that information, when we can assess where a business is at, our job is to then advise them on that step-by-step plan, offer leadership training, and virtual sessions in person.

And we like the real in-person stuff or virtual, but as in live, because it just fosters connection and belonging, which we think is really important to well-being in the workplace.

The point of coordination, I think, is incredibly important because often safety is an example, which is a topic we touch on in this podcast the most, is physical safety. But it’s intrinsically linked to mental health and well-being because if you’re not fully there, your headspace is not in the work in front of you, you’re more likely to get injured. And if you’re not connected to the work or understanding the things that are impacting them today, you’re more likely to see somebody actually get physically injured as well. But again, as you said, it tends to be wellbeing, done somewhere in HR, safety, done somewhere in the safety organization, as opposed to trying to connect those dots.

Well, even worse than that, I’ve seen HR maybe be mostly female-led, and then the front-line staff perhaps being mostly male or have a different demographic. It’s like listening to your people and communicating messages that… Because I’ve literally seen posters that were purple and flowers and pink and yoga poses, and you’re just not reaching the demographic and the language that’s going to make sense to them. It’s like these little tweaks to help it feel real. Do you want to spend time with your family? What’s the legacy you want to leave? What do you want to be proud of? The financial cost of living crisis is impacting people. How do we make it real? I’m hearing a lot of like, oh, we’ve got these old school people in our industry, or we’ve got people who just don’t get it. I love getting in a room with people who just don’t get it because you will very quickly find that if you talk about your own struggles and then you open up a floor that normalizes this and isn’t just like, hey, are you crazy? There’s so much stigma. They’re just normal. Hey, we’ve all been through a pandemic.

We’ve all been through the cost of living or whatever challenges. Very quickly, those people who just don’t get it will start opening up about the stuff going on for them. Now we’ve got a connection point to build from.  

Absolutely. Petra, thank you very much for sharing your story and for talking about your book, Begin with You. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that?

Linkedin is where I am the most active and put out loads of free content and resources, but my website as well,, you can see everything that we do and reach me there as well.

Excellent. Thank you so much.

Thanks so much.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the past. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

More Episodes:

C-Suite Radio:

Powered By Propulo Consulting:

Eric Michrowski:


Petra Velzeboer is a renowned mental health expert, TEDx speaker, and CEO of mental health consultancy PVL. Her captivating story of being raised in a cult, paired with her down-to-earth nature and unique perspective on the world of work, helps her to relate to audiences on a level that few therapists can. Petra’s unique approach to the future of work sets human capital at the forefront of innovation for any company.

For more information:





Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their Safety Leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance.

Safety Leadership coaching has been limited, expensive, and exclusive for too long.

As part of Propulo Consulting’s subscription-based executive membership, our coaching partnership is tailored for top business executives that are motivated to improve safety leadership and commitment.
Unlock your full potential with the only Executive Safety Coaching for Ops & HSE leaders available on the market.
Explore your journey with Executive Safety Coaching at
Executive Safety Coaching_Propulo

Head & Heart Leadership: Strategies for Safety Leadership and Governance with Dr. Kirstin Ferguson

Head and Heart Leadership Strategies for Safety Leadership and Governance



“Safety is such an important gauge of how an organization is performing.” You don’t want to miss our latest episode of The Safety Guru featuring Dr. Kirstin Ferguson, Australia’s most prominent leadership expert and author of Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership. Tune in to hear Kirstin share her expertise about head-based and heart-based leadership attributes and the art of knowing which one is needed and when. Listen in to gain a deeper understanding of Kirstin’s unparalleled and distinguished strategies for safety leadership and governance.


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski. A globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy’s success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Dr. Kirstin Ferguson, who is Australia’s most prominent leadership expert. She was an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. She was the CEO of an international consulting firm, and she was appointed as acting chair and deputy chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. She’s a weekly columnist in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age. She holds a Ph.D. in leadership and is probably one of the few authors that have done incredible work around safety governance, which we will touch on in that regard very soon, and some elements around expectations for the top management team. She’s also an adjunct professor at QUT Business School. Kirsten, welcome to the show. Really excited to have you with me.

Thank you, Eric. I’m excited to be here.

You’re just about to launch a book, Head and Heart. I’d love to start out by hearing a little bit about what does… You talk about a series of moments. What does that mean from a leadership standpoint?

That’s a really great question. I’m conscious there’s going to be a lot of health and safety professionals listening today. And you guys know better than most those moments where you notice someone doing the right thing and going and acknowledging that and saying, Thanks for keeping people safe. There are also those moments, though, when we witness leadership where it’s not particularly helpful, and there’s a shame and blame culture. So, I guess for me, I really believe that leadership is simply a series of moments, and every moment offers us this opportunity for us to leave a positive legacy in our wake. And I think so often, life is moving so quickly, we’re in a digital age, and we can have unintended impacts very easily. But we need to be conscious that every single moment is an opportunity to leave a positive or sometimes a negative legacy in our wake. And it can impact. That’s what builds cultures. That’s what drives safety cultures as well.

And that a topic you touch on in your book is around the concept of a modern leader and the difference between a modern leader and a not modern leader, essentially. Educated, I don’t think those are the words you use.

I know. Well, dinosaurs and dick heads are somewhat in the traditional leader bucket. And apologies for the language. You’ll have to have a language warning now. But I think everyone knows the traditional leaders that really object to working from home or workplace flexibility. They like to stick with the way things have always been done. Modern leaders, though, are the leaders, I think, new generations and also most others want around them. And for me, the art of modern leadership, which is what this book is about, is about being able to lead with the head and the heart. I mean, that’s a metaphor we’re all very familiar with. But I wanted to go and actually understand what attributes we need as leaders through leading with the head and the heart. And it’s all about balance. And I think for safety professionals, this is particularly relevant because, as safety leaders, we know that the head side of things is all of our compliance metrics and lead and lag indicators and all of those capabilities we have as professionals. But without leading with the heart and actually having empathy for how people within your organizations are actually grappling with the jobs that they’re doing, having that humility that perhaps we don’t really know as much as we might think we know, the self-awareness of the impact our policies are having on others, then we can’t truly be the modern safety professionals that we need.

And I think leading with the head and the heart is such an opportunity for the safety world to really capture ways of leading that still ensure high performance, high quality, and high safety but also bring everyone along the journey.

And I love that metaphor. I think it’s very simple to understand and sends a very strong message. And you’ve broken it down into four attributes for the head and the heart. Is it worthwhile maybe getting into some of those attributes and maybe some circumstances where it would be beneficial to lead from the head?

Absolutely. The art is knowing what’s needed and when. I should say for every listener if you go to, you can measure your own head and heart leadership. It’s all free, and you’ll get a personalized report. I built that tool with one of the universities here in Australia because I think it’s important to be able to self-assess where you sit now. And a lot of people are very surprised because Eric, I’d ask you, would you say intuitively you’re more of a head or a heart-based leader?

Intuitively, I would actually say probably more heart. And then head still matters and probably historically more head, but more recently more heart.

Which is good to know. And of course, you realize, though, you need both. You can’t have one or the other in any situation. But I’d love you to go online along with your listeners, and you can see whether or not you actually self-assessment the heart because most people find them, they’re surprised. But the attributes of leading with our head, and I won’t go into all of them in detail, but the curiosity, wisdom, which is about really weighing up decisions in the face of very little information, weighing up risk and reward, perspective, which is about reading the room and capability. And I think for the safety profession, curiosity is incredibly important. I think in so many situations, we may think we know the best safety outcome in any given task or role, but perhaps we’re not curious enough just to find out why that hasn’t been implemented or why it’s not been successful or taken up by those on the ground. And that curiosity is around accepting and acknowledging. We actually don’t know everything, and so we’re always seeking to learn and challenge our own assumptions as well. And then the second of the head-based attributes I think are most relevant for the safety profession is one I’ve called perspective.

And that’s about really, in layman’s terms, reading the room and understanding the environment you’re leading in and also noticing who’s missing from the room and what’s going on outside of the room and really being conscious of your environment or the context that you’re operating in and that you’re trying to drive change in and trying to see a few steps ahead and the implications of your decisions. Those kinds of things, I think, in the safety profession, are incredibly important, obviously. But so, too is leading with the heart. And the four attributes of leading with the heart are humility, self-awareness, courage to speak up in the face of pressure, often not to do so, and empathy. I think courage is a particularly important skill for safety professionals because often you do need to speak up in the face of pressures around productivity or profit or whatever it might be that’s driving a contrary safety outcome, and it can be difficult to do so. You could have a whole heap of line managers saying, Actually, that’s not our biggest priority. As we know, as safety professionals, it needs to be if we truly want to keep everyone safe.

So, I think modern leaders understand that we still need to make decisions that are the right thing to do, even in the face of pressure from others not to do so. And leading with courage means you create psychologically safe cultures where everyone else feels able to speak up and have courage as well. And then the other attribute of the heart that I just wanted to call out is self-awareness. And I have noticed in my experience as a board director and in all the work I’ve done with the safety profession it can be easy to fall into a bubble that the work we’re doing is the most important thing in the organization and that, of course, we should be spending whatever we need to and keeping people safe. And in theory, everyone will agree with that. But I think having self-awareness of what’s going on around you and then how you’re responding to that and your awareness of the impact your actions and leadership and behavior is having on those you work with; I think is incredibly relevant. Self-awareness is all about knowing your limitations and working on those as well.

Is this something where you flex? Depending on the circumstances, you may lead more from the head, more from the heart, absolutely.

And this is the art. The art of modern leadership is knowing what’s needed and when. And there will be some situations where you go in to write a policy or implement a policy or something that’s going to use all your capabilities. There’s a lot of head-based work there. However, it’s never done in isolation. You also got to have some understanding, empathy for the people that have to actually live this policy. And the other thing to be aware of is even when you think you’re in a meeting that’s very head based, and of course, this is just a metaphor, it can easily turn. You can easily realize that, actually, what I thought was going to happen hasn’t happened, and it’s now becoming quite a difficult conversation. I need to really draw on my humility to understand and listen, my curiosity, and also my awareness of how I’m being triggered right now and how I’m responding. It’s that art that is impossible to put in a box and say here it is, but that each of us learns and develops as leaders.

Interesting. Is this something that people can learn skills? Absolutely. Typically, the head skills tend to be perceived as taut skills in some cases. But is it really true? We talk about emotional intelligence as an example. That’s also something that you can learn and flex.

All of the skills, and these eight attributes that I talk about can be learned, but they’re not in a textbook-learned way. They’re in an experiential way. And by being willing to learn and have a growth mindset and all of those sorts of things, I think the intellectual learning we do is probably the easier part of being a leader because you can actually open a book and study it with practice. All of these attributes are capable of being learned. Empathy can be learned. You can put yourself into a situation where you’re really using that empathy muscle, and that’s going to help you lead with empathy. It’s also important to remember that it doesn’t matter what your position title is. It doesn’t matter what your business card might say. We are all leading, and this is appropriate for everyone because we’re leading in our families, we’re leading our communities, we’re leading in our organizations. And even if you’re listening and you’re a safety supervisor or a safety team member, in the org chart, you might not be sitting at the top. You’re still leading. You’re still in the decisions you make those moments, in every impact you have, you are leading.

I think that’s something we need to remind the people we lead for those listening who are at the top of the org chart. If you went and asked everyone in your team, do they actually understand that they, too, are leaders?

In the safety arena, I think it’s so essential because you’re really trying to influence somebody’s choice when nobody’s watching. And that whole influence base is leadership.

That whole, what are they doing when no one’s there? And the idea of the way we do things around here, which obviously in the safety world, we talk about a lot, that is personal leadership by that person at 2 AM in the morning, and whether or not they choose to put their hard hat on or use three points of contact or shortcut way to do something so that they avoid doing it safely, that is leading. That is a moment, and that is a true moment where it is either going to end in disaster or it’s going to show that this is the culture we have in our organization. And so those moments apply regardless of who you are. But I think in the safety profession. It’s those moments you’re chasing. That’s the job, chasing those moments and hoping that in that moment and in the moment, you are leading, the right choice is made.

Absolutely. In your book, you also talk about emotional self-awareness. Can you tell me a little bit more about what that means for the modern leader and why it’s so critical?

Well, I’m going to give you an example. I was in a meeting maybe a month ago, and I had thought the meeting would go one way, and in fact, a quite positive way for me. And then, within a few minutes, I’m like, Okay, this isn’t where I was going. And in fact, it ended up being the absolute opposite. So I completely misjudged what I thought the meeting would be and how it would end. But what I was aware of within moments was those traffic riggers we all have, that feeling. For me, it was that flash of adrenaline, tight chested, feeling hot, thinking, hang on, what’s going on? A bit of fight or flight. And because I was aware of that, I was then really conscious because it was an important relationship with this person that I needed to manage myself. And that is emotional self-awareness. It’s aware of what Daniel Goleman, the father of emotional intelligence, called an amygdala hijack. Being aware that right now, it’s actually really important I stay present, and stay conscious of what I’m talking about because my body is reacting to the fact that this meeting isn’t what I wanted.

Whatever feelings trigger for you, it could be embarrassment or shame or anger or whatever it is, we all have it, and we all have those moments. That is emotional self-awareness. I think it’s having that insight into knowing what kinds of things are going to trigger you and then being really present and being aware of what’s happening so that you can have a really productive meeting, even though the outcome might not be what you want. I always think about, remember the Oscars last year when Will Smith jumped on stage. Now, that is a classic example of an amygdala hijack. And unfortunately for him, it was done in front of millions, hundreds of millions of people. We all want to try and avoid those. And that’s why emotional self-awareness is so important.

And how can you develop that? Because part of it is recognizing the signs. At least that’s the way I see it is you recognize the signs where something doesn’t feel the way you do, just like you would have a trigger before you respond the wrong way.

Well, sometimes it’s hard, and you miss it. I mean, I would have had more meetings where I’ve missed it than I have caught it. And I think I’m pretty normal in that respect. So there’s a bit of trial and error. Feedback. I’m a real believer in feedback. And in the book, there’s a lot of time spent on how to have really effective feedback conversations and how to give feedback and receive feedback. Because we’re unfortunately not very self-aware, there are some statistics from some research that I quote where 97 % of us, something, think we’re pretty self-aware. Most of us feel like, yeah, I know what’s going on. Only 10 % to 15 % of those we lead agree. Now, that is terrifying, Eric. I know I can see your face. Listeners, you can’t see Eric’s face, but his face is how mine was when I read that statistic. And that is why feedback is so important because self-awareness is hard to assess. We can look for the signs. We can learn to look for the signs. But if you can develop really good relationships with those around you who are prepared to give you helpful feedback that lets you know what’s going on and what others are observing, that’s going to really help build that skill.

This episode of The Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety and safety culture advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, reenergize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions, Propulo has you covered. Visit us at

Excellent. Your book, Head and Heart, is already debuting in Australia’s best-seller list. Thinkers 50 is already identified as the top 10 new management book of 2023, and you’ve been nicknamed Australia’s Bernie Brown. Quite impressive as a resume.

Look, it’s been a whirlwind. But safety is where I started. That’s how you and I came to know each other, Eric. I love the work that I’m doing now, but I’ve still got a very soft spot for the health and safety profession.

If I may, I’d love to touch on one of the topics that were key before this book was key to your Ph.D. really around safety governance. You’ve authored some of the most relevant work in this space. I think the importance of the top management team, and the importance of governance, are so critical. Unfortunately, a lot of organizations don’t do that well. What are some of the key attributes that make for good governance from your perspective?

I can answer this from both. Obviously, the Ph.D. research I did specifically looked at the role of boards and senior executives in safety governance and safety leadership, but also has been a director now, sitting on public boards, private boards, and government boards for about 15 years. I think as much as the Ph.D. took 100,000 words to say it. I actually think I can now narrow it down to one sentence, which is really role modeling what it means to be someone who believes in the vision of keeping everyone safe. And that role modeling idea means setting a vision for what it looks like in that organization and then holding people to account for that, but not in a blaming way. And I’m a true believer that if you get safety right, everything else follows. That means you tend to get higher quality levels, you get lower absenteeism, and you get higher overall operational excellence. And so, safety is such an important gauge of how an organization is performing. And if a board gets that, and frankly, not all boards do get that, I think many boards see safety as a cost of doing business as opposed to this wonderful opportunity to Excel in business.

But if you have boards that get it, the conversations I’ve noticed are much different. They’re much more high quality than they’re more mature around. How can we really now take it to the next level as opposed to looking at lag indicators and what happened last month and focusing on slips, trips, and falls when there are these enormous hazards right in front of their face that they’re not spending time on? So, I think most people listening probably know those kinds of leaders who get it and don’t get it. It’s hard if you’re working with a board or an executive team where no one gets it. I don’t know that that will then change unless something dreadful happens and there’s a real burning platform that means they have to change. If you have even one board director, and I’ve been in this experience where they are passionate and they get it, that can help drive different questions, different kinds of reporting, different quality of conversation. But we talked before we started recording about how in Australia and the UK, there are particularly stringent laws that govern health and safety. And that was implemented about a decade ago. And it’s really driven a changing culture by our boards and their focus on health and safety.

It’s sad that that had to do, had to be it. Why should it have been enough on its own? But it has led to an incredibly mature conversation in those two countries about health and safety. Usually, the risk of jail time will drive. It’s a pretty good deterrent. It does its job. It does do its job. And as we were shared before, there are occasional examples of CEOs that have lost their job specifically because of numerous fatalities. A series of fatalities have occurred. And that also sends a message to others to say, Maybe I do need to care about this as well.

Don’t you think, though, Eric, I find it really depressing that it takes someone going to jail because clearly a life has been lost or a serious injury for someone to go, oh, maybe I do need to pay attention? Ideally, you would have people going, I don’t want that person to lose their life. Regardless, what can I do to make sure that never happens?

But sometimes I believe it has a disconnect that if you’re on a board and you’ve never actually been on a shop floor in a mining environment, high risk, high hazard environment if you become an accountant, you become a lawyer, normally you’re not exposed to people dying on your watch, and it’s not the same. It’s theoretical. It’s not real.

Yeah. And that’s a really important point. And I think for the health and safety profession, bringing to life… Do you know what I talked about earlier about perspective and reading the room? If you’re presenting to a board about a hazard that you need to communicate, and some of those board members have never been on a side or understand it, you really need to read that room and understand how you can best influence the decision. And I know I was on one board years and years ago, and the poor health and safety professional kept bringing papers to say, here’s this hazardous task that’s being done, and we needed an investment. And the board just didn’t grasp when no one had done that role. They didn’t really understand. I didn’t understand. I knew that I was listening to the person, but I couldn’t picture it. At the next meeting, they brought along a video of the person doing the task. And the whole meeting was like, Oh, my God. Really? Did we ask someone to do that? That’s got to stop. How much money do you need? I think health and safety people really need to think and put themselves in the shoes of others.

And that’s the attribute of empathy and think, okay, if that director is an accountant out of New York and they’ve never been in a mine site before, how can I best communicate to them what I need?

I’ve seen, in some instances, organizations bring the board to a mine site or bring the board to a high-hazard environment so that you start with a tour, you visit it, and you experience what it means.

Best practice. Absolutely. Site visits are a no-brainer, and that should be part of every board’s understanding of the organization they’re governing. I think all the site visits I’ve ever done in my life can be quite structured. And they’re called wedding parties, you’re taking along, and you’re meeting everyone, and it’s all clean and perfect. And you’re not going to observe that really hazardous event. They’re important to do, but the more natural you can keep them, the better.

Yeah, I would agree. When you roll up the red carpet, and everything’s perfect, you’re not getting a real experience. I’ve heard some, even where it’s less structured, they’re allowing more variability. Obviously, there’s still some protection around where you want the board members to go, but where it’s more free, and maybe it’s a ride along with somebody.

Even better is not the whole board going. You paid off, and it’s not eight or ten people all going on a tour, but you’re in pairs with another director, and you’re given a specific thing to think about or look at. People can’t help but answer questions if they’re given questions. Probably the best site-visits I’ve ever been part of, where I was with another director. So, it’s good to have someone else because you’ll have different skills and different things you can talk about. But there are only two of you. So, if you are talking with someone on the shop floor, they’re not feeling overwhelmed like there are ten big bosses. And there’s something in the back of my mind we’ve been asked to think about. Now, it could be as simple as housekeeping, but it could be more complex on how open you find the people that you are speaking with answering your questions. How willing are they to tell you what keeps them up at night? Even that is a cultural touchstone that you can then come back and go, Actually, I found out no one would tell me, or I got a really rote answer that was pretty benign.

That tells you something because there will be issues keeping them up at night. How are we creating a safe enough environment they can speak up?

We shared a couple of examples just there of influencing the board in terms of what areas to look at. We talked about listening tours or going to a site, visiting, listening, and what’s happening. We talked about the videos, which I think are a great way of depicting what the challenge is. What are some of the other ways that an organization can influence the board? Maybe open up the view you talked about. Boards sometimes will go focus on an injury rate as opposed to looking at serious injuries and fatality risk. That’s a shift in mindset even. Have you had some successes where people influence the board? 

Yeah. I think I’ve worked with a whole range of health and safety professionals. The best are those that have a strategic mindset. What I mean by that is they’re not looking at coming to the board as a monthly job they have to do to report their paper and stats and take questions and then leave again. They will be thinking about what is going on in the business more broadly. There might be a merger and acquisition going on. There might be a divestment that’s happening. There might be something that’s going on in the organization. Or the share price has fallen through the floor, and there’s a lot of distraction. They actually link what’s going on more broadly because, you know, the board will have been talking about that to how it’s impacting what they’re seeing on the ground. Stats, statistics, and data are all very interesting, but without giving a story and being great storytellers about what it means in practice, I think you can lose people along the way. And so, I would encourage anyone listening to think of themselves as the thought leader, the strategic expert in that organization, around how health and safety can drive operational excellence.

What is it around that merger and acquisition that’s happening that’s distracting people, why is it that you’re noticing some impact on the shop floor because people are worried for their jobs or whatever it might be? So, I do think it’s about thinking of yourself as a strategic storyteller. I’ve just come up with that on the spot. But in the health and safety space, because that is where you’ll win hearts and minds.

I agree. Well, Kristen, thank you so much for coming to the show. I think your insights are really, really helpful, both in terms of the leadership elements as well as some of the elements on the governance side. Definitely encourage readers to do the self-assessment. We’ll put the link in the show notes. Pick up head and heart as it gets launched. Thank you so much.

Fifth of September. I can’t wait to have everyone in North America get a copy. I’d love to hear from anyone. I’d love to hear how you apply it in your environment.

Perfect. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Thanks, Eric.

Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, and grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams, and elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

More Episodes:

C-Suite Radio:

Powered By Propulo Consulting:

Eric Michrowski:


Dr. Kirstin Ferguson is Australia’s most prominent leadership expert and a highly experienced business leader in her own right. Beginning her career as an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, Kirstin has held roles that have included CEO of an international consulting firm and was appointed acting chair and deputy chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation by the Australian Prime Minister. Kirstin writes a highly popular weekly column in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. She holds a PhD in leadership and is an Adjunct Professor at QUT Business School. Kirstin was included on Thinkers50 Radar List in 2021 and shortlisted for the Thinkers50 Distinguished Achievement Award in Leadership. In 2023, she was appointed a member of the Order of Australia, in recognition of her “significant service to business and gender equality.”
For more information:

Head & Heart Leader Scale Self-Assessment:

Heart&Heart Book_Dr. Kirstin Ferguson




Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their Safety Leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance.

Safety Leadership coaching has been limited, expensive, and exclusive for too long.

As part of Propulo Consulting’s subscription-based executive membership, our coaching partnership is tailored for top business executives that are motivated to improve safety leadership and commitment.
Unlock your full potential with the only Executive Safety Coaching for Ops & HSE leaders available on the market.
Explore your journey with Executive Safety Coaching at
Executive Safety Coaching_Propulo

Leadership Under Pressure: Creating Conscious Control with Anton Guinea

Leadership under pressure: creating conscious control



In this episode, we welcome Anton Guinea, a seasoned expert in leadership under pressure. With his formative and compelling experiences, Anton has dedicated himself to helping leaders become the best versions of themselves for their teams. Listen in as Anton shares valuable insights on maintaining emotional control and keeping calm under intense workplace pressure. Tune in to learn about Anton’s practical approaches to cultivating a blame-free environment, encouraging psychological and physical safety, and creating conscious control to lead effectively under pressure.


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski. A globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy’s success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today, I have a very exciting speaker joining us, Anton Guinea from Australia. He’s a coach, a consultant speaking on leadership under pressure. He’s got some amazing stories that have shaped his thinking in this space. We’ll get to those very soon. He focuses on working with leaders to deliver the best version of themselves. I probably destroyed your sentence in some way, shape, or form. Anton, very happy to have you with me on the show today.

Thanks for having me, Eric.

So, Anton, why don’t we start out with your story? Because it’s fascinating. You had three events that shaped your thinking. Why don’t we start there?

Yeah, cool. Thanks, Eric. First, at the age of 21, I was unlucky enough to get blown up in a switchboard. I was working at a chemical factory in Glastonbury. I’d finished my apprenticeship, so I was qualified as an electrician and couldn’t get work in town at the time. Finally, I did get a very short-term role in a shutdown of the chemical factory. I rushed a job. I was working with a tradesperson who we were working together, and we were working closely to put something or mount something in a switchboard. We were working on switchboards. We’d isolated it, we’d test it for dead. So, we’d done everything right, we thought. The problem was that I was rushing that job, and I used a steel ruler to measure where we were going to put those components in that switchboard. And that was a really, really poor decision. And it was a poor safety decision. And it was a decision that was based on the wrong priority. So, the priority was to, in my mind at that moment, was to get a pat on the back or get a job because I was in a short-term role, to impress.

So, all those other things that shouldn’t be on your mind when you’re doing work in a switchboard that’s potentially fatal, sadly. Even though we’d isolated ourselves, which I’ll tell you that story in a sec. But as I started measuring, the steel ruler got in behind the main switch and either got close enough or contacted live electrical buzz bars, and it blew everything up, including me. So I was exposed to, we now think about 20,000 degrees C of carbonized air caused by that arc flash. And my hands and my face and my neck… So, I had long sleeve cotton clothes on, so I wore work clothes, but still, my face and my hands and my neck and my arms were burnt really badly. So, I had about 15 % of my body was second-degree burnt. Burns pain Eric, is something that I won’t even try to get your listeners to understand. It’s a horrible experience. And I hope for your sake and for theirs that no one close to you, or you have been through Burns pain because it’s just a horrific thing. And they can’t do much for the pain on site. So, I got down to the nurse’s station and she could use water and tried really hard. Got in an ambulance, got to the hospital, where they could use some morphine and take some of that pain away. And then it was into the recovery for the next five weeks. I say that I was doing a five-minute job. I was trying to save a few minutes and I went home about five weeks later. I went to intensive care with the arc flash, which is what it was. You get burned internally as well. There was some concern about my internal organs and the ambulance drivers shared with me, God love them, you can die up to a few days later from these injuries. I said, oh, thanks. Thanks, team. Great information. I was off to intensive care, and we were trying to see what the internal damage was. Fortunately, once I got to intensive care and they started checking that it wasn’t too bad, then it was off to the burn, and in Brisbane, where I got some really good care down there. And part of that healing process was all of that dead skin had to be removed because it was obviously charred, it was cooked from the explosion. And the new skin had to come through from underneath. And that experience of debriding, it’s called, where they would basically remove all of the skin on your hands and your face and do that quite specifically with tweezers and scissors, so they get under the skin where they can and pull it off. And then they cut it off and get a nice little pile of your skin happening in a little silver kidney-shaped medical container. It’s quite a horrific process. It was something that I had a lot of painkillers for. They gave me this thing called a suppository. That was interesting. I still look back on that. It was a really painful experience and just an emotionally painful experience, probably too, just getting a facelift and watching people peel my skin off. Then, of course, there’s the rehab because, with burns, your skin tightens up. It was a pretty horrible four to five weeks recovering Eric. And I’ll just go back to that story I was going to tell you before because I said we’d isolated and tested for dead. We’d isolated the panel that we were working in and tested that. But the whole board, the switchboard itself, was not isolated. And the buzz bars were coming in through the main switch.

So, the line side was isolated, but the live side was still alive. And the steel ruler got in behind the main switch where those buzz bars were because it was so thin, and it was so flexible. And you couldn’t even see the gap in between the main switch. It just got in behind it and all of a sudden caused this massive arc flash. And yes, it really was. horrible. And you don’t see it or you don’t… I don’t remember being in an arc in the fireball because they come and go in 0.5 of a second. So, these things just come out boom and then they’ve gone again. They self-extinguish. They literally bang in and out. And in that 0.5 of a second, you’re just exposed to all of that heat energy and that carbonized air. And the air is actually electrified as well. So, it’s ionized because of the short circuit or the electrical process that’s going on. So, they say you get electric shock at the same time, which is interesting. So, you get electric shock at the same time, you get the arc flash and the arc burn. So that was interesting. I was lucky that where I was holding the ruler, it looked like, and it felt like the electrical current actually didn’t go across my heart for some reason.

Once they did the checks, my heart was okay, and we couldn’t find any exit wounds on my body. Very lucky and grateful that I didn’t lose my life that day. I’m here to tell the story.

You had two other boom events. I remember we talked about it.

I love the word boom event because that’s what the switchboard did, went boom. Then 10 years later, probably, I was actually working in a copper smelter. After that first event, that first boom event, Eric, as you can imagine, it’s really horrible and it’s really hard coming back from that. There’s this thing called post-traumatic stress, right? I really feel like I probably was in that space for a few years. I couldn’t talk about the incident for 10 years. I was down about it. I was down about it. I didn’t want to be an electrician anymore. I did it for a few years on a mine site because it was low voltage, so I thought, oh, that’s safer. But I was never really a safe worker because I was so scared of electricity when I was on the tools then. So, it worked out that I wanted to get off the tools and I wanted to climb the ladder of corporate success as you do and be a leader. So, for some reason, that switchboard was the spark that changed a few things in my life. And one of them was, I’m not going to work as a spark anymore.

I’m going to do something with my life now, which I realized that I hadn’t been. One of those things was study. The other one was doing leadership. I got off the tools as quickly as I can and got into some maintenance planning roles and some leadership roles. And a few years later, I was age 29, so it’s probably eight years later, I’d done a degree and I’d done some other stuff. I was finally at the superintendent manager level in an organization. I’ll never forget that this is 20 years ago. It’s a bit of a legacy of what we call 1900s leaders, or the old-school leaders. And this refinery was very old and some of the leaders in it were a little bit old school. I was a new leader. I was trained sure. I was learning leadership. And what happened was I went to a management team meeting, and I was leaving in a manager role and I was sitting with the team of the senior leadership team. I’d made a really significant mistake on some work that I’d done on a budget. And the mistake was my budget was over by seven times because I was calculating it in yen, not Australian dollars.

Just a slight mistake. Many millions of dollars, right? But I remember sitting in that little management team meeting and sharing that mistake. And the management team went nuts. An abusive, aggressive, abruptly. And it was like, in your face swearing like that, really that 1900’s leadership style. And it was ugly. I still say to this day that it hurt my heart that, what do we pay you for? You’re this and you’re that. It was really hard to deal with in that time because I just didn’t have those skills at the time. And it was one of those moments, and it wasn’t the only time that it happened on that particular site. And it was one of those periods in my life where I went, you know what? Achieving all these goals, sometimes they’re not all their cracked up to be. You get to this point, and you go, Was that worth it? Was it worth all the effort to be abused? And to be, yeah, I’d made some mistakes, but I would have loved to be coached and mentored rather than brutalized. Abused. Absolutely. Brutalized, emotionally. And I actually, it wasn’t long after that I jumped out of employment because I said, you know what?

If that’s the way you’ve got to be a senior leader, that’s not for me. Now remember, this is two decades ago. I made a call, a conscious decision to actually help leaders be better than that. So, I made a decision to actually go out and be the person that did something about old school leaders. And I’ve been on a mission since then. If you’re an old school leader, I’m coming for you, basically. And if you want to be a new school leader, and if you want to be a little bit more emotionally connected and have conscious control and not think it’s okay to go and abuse or be aggressive and be abruptly, come and talk to me and we can work with you. Or if you’ve got a leader like that, I’m here to help you and your team deal with those types of leadership styles. And that’s the best version of yourself. That was beautifully put when you said that at the start of the session. I want to help leaders be those good humans. And that’s leadership, just being a good human. And so that second boom event, Eric, was such a game changer because I was so career focused.

I was so driven to do leadership. And then to see poor leadership, the decisions each other. One of the decisions was, that’s how I’m never going to lead. I will never ever lead a human.

And we often we learn from our worst leaders how not to be probably sometimes better than the best leaders we’ve had, unfortunately.

That’s right. We never remember the ones in the middle. We remember the really great ones who made us feel great. And then we remember the really poor ones who didn’t. And so I say leaders, be memorable for the right reasons. Eric. So that was the second boom event, mate, to work for really crappy leaders that just changed my whole career trajectory. And now I’m self-employed and I’ve been working on leaders keeping their calm ever since then.

In terms of calm, you talk about cool, calm, and collected. The topic you cover is really around leadership under pressure. Every leader has seen pressure at some point in time. Sometimes there’s a major event that pops in. Sometimes there’s a crisis that you’re dealing with. So, tell me a little bit about some of the tools and tactics that those great leaders drive when they’re under pressure.

Love it. Can I lean into that just quickly with the event first? And I’ll tell you. Absolutely. So, two years ago, 25th of May 2021, I was on a… So, I was consulting on a power station site. And literally, the plant went boom. It’s all over the internet. You can go and Google all this information. There was a major turbine on that power station that blew up the turbine shaft separating from this machine. It was a world-scale event. It never happens. And I feel sorry for the plant that it happened in. Fortunately, no fatalities. Fortunately, no injuries. And obviously, two years later, that turbine’s still not on the back into service, I believe now. But it was so scary, Eric, because the noise was horrific. The offices were close to the plant. There was a whole range of other flammable materials around that. The building literally blew up that the turbine was in and we could see it still exploding as we were evacuating the plant. The problem was that because the turbine went down and they lost power to the site, you couldn’t actually do a roll call. You didn’t know who was on.

The spot. Oh, right. Because you had no power.

So, how do you do you do that then? And it was clipboards. It was pen and paper. And on that side, it was a small country town. And you had brothers and sisters and wives because it’s a small community. So, people didn’t know whether their loved ones were hurt. It was a scary, scary, scary, scary time. And at the same time, though, with the leadership under pressure hat on, I was watching those leaders respond to that event. I was watching the general manager. I was watching their senior leadership staff gather the troops, pull everyone together, and make sure we were safe. Eric, they did such a good job. They just nailed it. From then, for me, it’s been… That was the example for me. That was a crisis event. I remember that was a world scale event and well managed. Now, in answer to your question, what did they do? T o me, the first thing was there was this amount of calm that was across the place. I always use the word calm now because I just felt calm. The skill set was for me, being in control of your faculties. Now, what I mean by that is that emotional control drives behavioral control.

There is a skill to emotional control, as we know. And we now know from the Daniel… So, I’ll probably bring a bit of theory into it now, if that’s okay. Because since then, as you know, I’m now doing pretty much PhD research into leadership under pressure because I really want to get inside people’s heads and do the research to validate a lot of the work that I’m doing. So, there’s this conscious control or this emotional control piece where the first thing we need to do to be in emotional control is to be able to describe our emotional state, to be able to put language and words around our emotions. We know from Daniel Goleman’s research in emotional intelligence that even writing it down or talking about it or being able to speak in emotions helps us to control our emotional state and have this conscious control around our emotional state because that drives our behavioral state. Step number one, Eric, is to understand that you are now in amygdala hijack, which means that you’re in a fight or flight response, which means that your pituitary glands have sent a message to your adrenal glands, which is released cortisol, which is stress hormone, and you are now high on cortisol.

And now, it’s very easy for you to get out of control. And your body wants you to. So, it’s sent all of its blood and energy to your outer extremities so that you can fight or flight as you need to, which is obviously a primitive response pattern. Now, to be able to combat an amygdala hijack is about being able to understand that we’re in this emotional state and then regulate that emotional state. Now, the way that we regulate that emotional state is through our language, and it’s through our breath. Now, and this is the short version of probably a two-day program of lead. You had a lead under pressure. The first thing is in our language, talk in emotions, but don’t talk in too powerful of words. We don’t want to talk about when we’re under stress, we’re under pressure. We don’t want to use words that have too much emotional power in them. So, oh, Jesus, we’re going to die, or we’re going to… This is a tragedy, or this is a catastrophe. So, our language will drive then what’s going on inside us, because… And it will drive what’s going on inside us and those people around us.

So, if you use big, catastrophic words or big, powerful words, all of a sudden you heighten other people’s emotional state as well. So, we want to be really aware of our language. And the first thing that goes, Eric, when we’re under stress or under duress is our breath because we start to breathe very shallowly. Right. Now, if I could say to leaders, the one skill if you did nothing else after listening to Eric’s podcast today, learn to breathe. Now, we were born. We all popped out. From a creation and evolution perspective, let’s cover both sides of that so I don’t offend anyone. We pop out and one of the first things that babies do is they g ag. As soon as their lungs hit oxygen, we g ag. We take our first breath and it’s called the g ag reflex. And that’s the only breathing training most of us ever got. And we learn the rest on our own. And leaders under pressure forget the importance of their breath, and they forget the importance, or they forget how much their breath is required to make sensible, smart, controlled, consciously controlled decisions. Y our brain uses 20 % of the oxygen that you inhale. 20 % of the oxygen goes to this 1.3 kilo lump of mass in our head, gray matter. 1.3 kilos, 20 % of the oxygen, 20 % of the calories.


Now, given that the first thing that goes when we’re trying to make these decisions when we’re under stress is our breath, because we’re breathing so shallowly, what we got to do is we’ve got to take a step back and we’ve got to start breathing properly. What’s breathing properly mean to you? Well, there’s a whole range of breathing techniques, but the message is to breathe in a way that you feel relaxed. You can relax yourself with your breathing, which will help your breath, help your speaking and help your language. So, the first thing that goes when we’re under pressure is our ability to speak properly. That’s only because we’re not breathing properly. Sure. Now, by oxygenating our body properly, which means breathing, belly breathing, slow breathing, and holding breathing, all of a sudden our brain is full of oxygen, which it needs, and we are more relaxed. And we know that when we’re relaxed, we make better decisions. And the world could be falling down around us. We know that breathwork changes our brains. And it’s called, I call it aerobic decision making, decision making with oxygen, like doing aerobics. Not anaerobic, which is without oxygen, but aerobic decision making.

Great. Now, the other skill that I’m about to, next Wednesday, I’ll be submitting a paper to a journal, I think, in the States, public service psychology journal. So, I’m going to submit a paper on leadership and all of this stuff. And one of the skill sets is, once we’ve got our breathing right, once we’re in conscious control, there’s this concept called normative competence. Normative competence. Which is tied to decision making, and it’s tied to decision making that is focused on the humans that are involved, the future of this particular boom event. So, it’s really easy to get sucked into the moment, but we’ve always got to have a forward focus. What we know about decision making and crisis events is the more we can have a forward focus, Eric, the more we can be looking to the future. Yes, we’ve got to… Yes, and leaders will be listening to this going, Hold the phone. Or you’ve told me so far as to breathe, and I get that.

And. Language. And language, absolutely. And slow your body language. Slow your body down. Slow down, literally slow down. Sit down if you can, because you want to be as relaxed as possible. Now, the next thing is normative confidence, which is decision making. And yes, you’ve got to deal with what’s going on right now. You’ve got to deal with that. We’ve got to contain the crisis event. But at the end of the day, we’ve also got to be looking forward. We’ve got to be saying, the decisions that I make now will affect us in the future. And what we’ve got to be looking at is the humans involved. Let’s look at the humans involved and let’s unpack the way that our decisions are going to impact them. So, leaders can tend to forget that as much they’re stressed. But what about their teams, Eric? What about everyone around them who’s also extremely stressed? And this is the problem for leaders. They get wrapped up in the organization stuff, or they get wrapped up in the political stuff, or they get wrapped up in how they’re feeling. The easiest way to have conscious control and emotional control is to have a forward focus and think about other humans.

Think about the impact of our decisions on others. How will this decision impact other humans? When we can get to that point, when we’re actually thinking about impacts, outcomes, and we’re thinking forward, we’re not just thinking in the moment, normative competence, decision making with a future impact focus. And then that will help other people stay calm around us as well. Because what we don’t want to do as leaders is we don’t want to incite, we don’t want to inflame a situation. People’s emotional state, right? We want to help them stay calm and collected. Now, what we know is there’s this thing called emotional contention. And what emotional contention is, is our emotions are mirrored by those around us. So the more that we can stay in control, and this is the beautiful part about being in conscious control for leaders, the more leaders can stay in control, the better their teams will, too. Because while leaders are out of control, this emotion is contagious, the energy that goes with this and the energy that comes through in the language.

All goes towards driving other people’s energy state up. So, what we want to do is we want to… And leaders need to be so focused on other humans that they can actually see what’s going on for them. This is part of being in control where you can think fast, and talk slowly. How’s this person going? How’s that person? How’s my leadership team going? How’s my disaster management team going? Leaders need to be that focused on not only the situation but the other people around them. I think sometimes that gets forgotten as well.

This episode of The Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety and safety culture advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, re-energize your BBS program, enhance supervisor safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions, Propulo has you covered. Visit us at

I think quite a bit there. I think the altruistic looking at others gets you also more grounded in terms of it’s not about me and my emotions. It’s about the broader group. Definitely. Let’s unpack a little bit more. You said something about think fast, talk slow. Tell me more about that idea because I think that’s also an equally important element when it comes to how you respond under pressure.

Think fast, talk slow to me is the summary of the Daniel Goleman model. Daniel Goleman talked about self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and social regulation. So that when you’re looking at someone else, Eric, you can actually be thinking about what they’re experiencing at the moment while you’re talking to them. Now, to me, it is the absolute epitome of multitasking. It’s multitasking.

It’s tough.

Which is tough, right? And we say there’s no such thing as multitasking because we’re task-switching. I say when we’re talking to someone, we’re multitasking because we’re having a conversation with ourselves at the same time that we’re talking to another human. And the thing is, we have triggers. So, there’s stuff that you might say that might trigger my emotional state. When we’re heightened, it’s easy to trigger people, especially when we’re in a boom event. I might say something that triggers your emotional state. And even for those listening, I just watched where Eric’s eyes went then. And so that’s part of thinking fast and talking slow. What do those body language movements mean? When I say something, what does that response mean? And if Eric gets triggered when I’m talking to him, make sure that I’m aware enough of that so that I can change, regulate, or influence your emotional state in the right way, so that I’m not inflammatory, if that makes sense, especially at the moment. Sure. So, I know what I’m doing to either trigger your emotional state or bring it down. So, think fast, talk slow. What’s the other person experiencing when they’re with me?

Is what I’m saying landing? Am I speaking too fast? Am I speaking too slowly? Is my intonation right for this particular person? Are they with me? Are we connected? Are we in rapport? Am I communicating clearly enough? Because when we’re under pressure, the instruction has to be very specific, and it’s got to be clearly communicated. And we got to make sure that message is clearly delivered and clearly understood. So that’s thinking fast, talking slow.

That helps. Absolutely. And let’s touch a little bit on blame. So, in a lot of events, you talked about your second boom event, which was blaming Anton for everything. What’s the element of blame? Because we have a tendency to gravitate towards blame when something bad happened. Tell me a little bit about what should be.

The right response. Yeah, great. Thanks, Eric. The human species, we tend to look for the person that caused it, that did it, that is responsible. Instead of looking at the organizational situation, circumstances that could have led to this boom, from occurring as well. I know even back when my switchboard event occurred, remember the general manager coming up and saying, Look, I was in intensive care in Gladstone, and though I’d started to come around, and it was either that day or the next day, and he came up to see me in intensive care, and he said, I just want to let you know it’s all good. We can’t fault you, or something like that. I know, right?

It’s an interesting comment.

I know. It was something like that. And I thought, oh, so you’re trying to? And I didn’t know what had happened. They’d worked out that there was a little gap around the switchboard. That’s how I found that out because I actually didn’t know that. I didn’t know what had happened. But the thing was, the first response for most people when they’re investigating or when they’re looking for causal factors, we go to humans. Now, it’s natural because… Well, it’s not really. Yeah, it is natural. 96 to 99 % of workplace incidents and injuries are blamed on or caused by human error. Human. Behavior. Even at that level. So, you just read the internet and you read that, all of a sudden you think, you’re conditioned, the humans wrong. Can we get to zero harm? No, because we’re all human and we’re all going to make a mistake. Well, yeah, I get that. And so, there’s this whole we’re human, we’re going to make mistakes, and so we got to blame someone when something happens. The thing about that is that you don’t look far enough back. You don’t look at the organization or you don’t look at everything else.

And when you blame people, what you do is you actually stop them from reporting. You stop them from contributing. So, you don’t have psychological safety in your organization. And psychological safety is a big deal. So, if people don’t feel safe to report, we know that, and you know this, that safety cultures, strong safety cultures are predicated on two things. One of them is reporting culture. How easy is it to report? How willing are people to report? The next one is, how easy is it to communicate about safety? And how willing are people to do that? So especially at the front line, is safety okay to talk about? Or are interactions, and are they an intrusion into our just getting our work done? Sure. When you’re measuring safety culture, you’re measuring those two things. When you blame people, you get people not to report because they’re fearful. Blame culture is just driven fear. They drive psychological safety down, and they drive the wrong message in an organization that if I report this, I’ll get sacked or I’ll get disciplined rather than having a learning experience. Now, I get it. Some of your listeners will be thinking, Yeah, hold on a second.

There are sometimes that people make intentional mistakes. Now, if you make an intentional breach, any investigation flowchart starts with, what was the intent? Was it to break a procedure, or was it just a mistake? What was the intention behind it? If there’s an intentional breach, that’s a different discussion. Most of the time it’s not, though. Most of the time it’s not an intentional breach. We’ve actually got to use a coaching mindset, more leadership rather than a blame mindset. Does that answer that question?

Yeah, absolutely. I think there are two leaders I worked with a while back and both made a shift where instead of finding fault with the individual, started blaming their role in it. Even if they weren’t the final fault, they started recognizing some of the elements of the actions that they did and how it impacted the outcome. What’s incredibly powerful there is that when the senior leaders started speaking that way, other leaders started taking their part of ownership. The element in terms of if you really want to drive safety ownership, it’s incredibly powerful because when you start removing the blame, recognizing the lots of people are part of it, then others are willing to be vulnerable as well.

Great summary. Beautiful summary. Taking that Extreme Ownership, great book to Lave Babin and Joko Will was the other author.

Jocko Will, yes. A lot of conversations around psychological safety. We’ve talked a little bit about removing blame, which is an element, a contributor to our psychological safety. Tell me a little bit more about how that links back to leadership under pressure.

Thank you. Great question. Psych safety, Timothy R. Clarke, four stages, inclusion safety, learner safety, contributor safety, challenge your safety. Are we included? Do we feel included? Is it safe for us to learn in this organization and learn from our mistakes? That’s the blame piece. Is it safe for us to contribute to be the best version of ourselves, to bring our whole selves to work? And is it safe for us to challenge the status quo? Now, poor leadership doesn’t include blames. People don’t feel like they can contribute and don’t ever challenge the status quo. status quo in a poor leadership organization or poor lead, it’s a poorly led team. In a team with great leadership, come in, inclusion. We know that there’s no groupthink. Groupthink came out of the NASA Challenger disaster where the junior engineer wasn’t listened to. And so, this is inclusion in decision making. Defer to expertise in the organization. Who’s the right person, doesn’t matter what level they are, to include them in the decision. If we need that information, bring those people up to the table. Learner, can we learn from our mistakes? Have we got a learning culture in the organization in general terms?

Do we send people away to conferences? Do we give them leadership coaching and mentoring? Do we help people grow and develop? We know it’s a fundamental human need to grow and contribute. And then the contribution safety is about not feeling like… So, in Australia, Eric, we’ve got this thing called a tall poppy syndrome so that if you do a good job, people try to pull you back down. You don’t want to stick your head out of the trench because suddenly, you’ll get shot. I know we’ve got a weird culture like that over here. We’ve got it. And you don’t want to have too big an ego. You don’t want to shine too much at times. This is contributor safety, right? I know it’s weird. There are some people that… Sometimes at trade level or in our… What do you call them? Craft teams, people have got to slow down, to slow down and work at the same level as the rest of the team, so that the project goes longer or so that they… You know what I mean? They don’t shine. And that’s contributor safety. You’ve got to be out. You’ve got to be able to do your best work and not feel like you’re going…

But it’s a version of yourself, right?

And then challenge your safety. Is it okay to challenge the norms? Is it okay to say to your leader, hey, I think there’s a better way to do this? And will your leader listen? So psychological safety is feeling safe to take interpersonal risks. Thanks to Amy Edmondson for that great definition. Interpersonal risk, which means speaking up. In short, psychological safety is, have you got the right people saying the right things because they’re comfortable speaking up and challenging and contribute.

Makes sense. Anton, thank you very much for coming, sharing your story. Leadership, member pressure, an important topic is when you’re in a world that safety is relevant matters, you’re going to be faced with some pressure, hopefully not of your boom events, particularly your first and your third boom events. But it’s good to be prepared to reflect, to have the skills to think about how I describe. So, I recognize the triggers.

Really think about how I regulate my breathing. You talked about that it resonated with me, the language I’m using, not big words. We’re going to die or anything of that nature. You talked a lot about the breathing and then really the forward focus and looking at the people and the humans in front of you. I think those are good takeaways from your message. Anton, thank you so much. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, learn some more about what you do.

How can they do that? The Guinea group is probably the best place to do that on the internet, Eric, or email me, Anton, at I would love to hear from many of your listeners. I would love to talk them through how we could… If they want some support around leading under pressure, psychology safety, or any of the other work that we do with leaders, please reach out. That’d be great to hear from them. Perfect. Thanks for having me too. Really appreciate it. Great questions, great stuff. Thanks again.

Thank you.

Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-Suite Radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, and grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams and elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

More Episodes:

C-Suite Radio:

Powered By Propulo Consulting:

Eric Michrowski:


Anton Guinea is an expert in the field of leadership under pressure, a best-selling author, and a motivational speaker. Anton nearly lost his life in a workplace accident and has turned that experience into something that others can learn from. He suffered through teams that had poor leadership and high conflict, which pushed him to studying a Bachelor of Business in HR and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and is doing masters level research into the psychology of leadership, teams, and leading under pressure. Anton partners with leaders and businesses who are under pressure to help them create conscious control so that they can create psychologically safe and high-performing teams. Anton’s speaking, training, consulting, and coaching programs are based on psychology, neurology, and biology, and they provide leaders with real and relevant strategies to improve their teamwork and leadership.
For more information:




Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their Safety Leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance.

Safety Leadership coaching has been limited, expensive, and exclusive for too long.

As part of Propulo Consulting’s subscription-based executive membership, our coaching partnership is tailored for top business executives that are motivated to improve safety leadership and commitment.
Unlock your full potential with the only Executive Safety Coaching for Ops & HSE leaders available on the market.
Explore your journey with Executive Safety Coaching at
Executive Safety Coaching_Propulo