With more than 700 work practice documents, many of them years old, AusNet Services realised it was time to ask: how much of our safety documentation actually contributes to safety?


Work practices on the high wire

20 October, 2019

The opportunity

AusNet Services has supplied energy to and from homes and businesses across Victoria for more than 100 years. As the owner operator of the Victorian electricity transmission network and one of three gas distribution networks in Victoria, this publicly listed energy company has a broad reach when it comes to keeping people safe.

This helps to explain why AusNet Services had developed and accumulated over 700 work practices in the past 20 years alone.

Documents that prescribe the way power lines, substations and energy infrastructure should be inspected and maintained, expanding in scope every time an incident occurred, or new technology or equipment arrived in the energy sector.

With many of these instructions and procedures out of date, duplicates or no longer necessary to their work, the executive knew they needed to tackle this well-intentioned mass of safety documentation but didn’t know where to start.

They invited Forge Works to perform a strategic review of their approach to documenting ‘work practices’ to see if there was a more effective and efficient way to manage the safety of work.

The solution

From the get go, AusNet Services asked the right questions. They wanted to know how many of their 700 work practices – whittled down from thousands more – actually contributed to safety, and whether these practices were still relevant to the people performing the work.

AusNet Services was struggling to manage the weight of decades old documents with the need to review and refine the company’s current practices, and then provide these to all of their workers and contractors via accessible technology out in the field and often in remote locations.

Forge Works started with a desktop review of 10 to 12 documents to familiarise themselves with the diversity of work practices the current team had inherited, before moving into the company to talk to the people who develop the documents and the workers who use them.

We spoke extensively to field workers about how they access and use these documents, and managers and safety professionals to hear their perception of the role of these documents.

From here we determined a series of themes around how AusNet Services could best manage, communicate and apply these documents more efficiently in future.

The outcome

With a strategic roadmap for how they could fix this issue, AusNet Services now had a process for untangling and simplifying what had become an unwieldy bogged-down system. While the review confirmed there was no short cut in sight, there were now clear steps to follow.

Forge Works provided a three-phase roadmap and criteria to help AusNet Services determine what a workable document should contain, in what was to become a multi-year project. The company knew they needed to apply a fresh approach document by document.

While having a deluge of safety documents that aren’t widely used or read is common to many companies, the issue of technology and how to make work practices accessible in the field, often in remote locations, added further complexity to AusNet Services’ challenge.

When no one is prepared to delete a safety document for fear that it leaves the company legally exposed should there be an accident, safety documentation becomes additive.

Forge Works helped AusNet Services realise they could sift through hundreds of documents from the 1990s and 2000s, enabling them to determine what needs to stay and go, and how to new practices might avoid the additive trap in future.

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