Safety from day one - an apprentice's story

Supervisors and apprentices play key roles in developing a long-term culture of occupational health and safety.

Male supervisor instructing a female apprentice on fixing an elevator

Imagine a first-year apprentice, first day on the job … the nerves, unfamiliar setting and eagerness to get started mean there’s a lot on his mind. But this isn’t just any apprentice. He’s been through a rigorous recruitment process and he’s determined not to mess things up. His name is Daniel and he’s working for KONE, a global leader in the elevator and escalator industry on one of their modernisation sites where his team will be refurbishing an existing lift.

While Daniel’s first task was to jump on top of the lift car and drive it up, he wasn’t going to do anything until he’d done a thorough risk assessment. He noticed immediately that the top hand rails on the lift car were missing, presenting a safety risk. He paused not because he didn’t want to do his job but because he wanted to do it safely.

He discussed his concern with his supervisor and they agreed that additional precautions needed to be taken before they could continue. Daniel’s supervisor was so impressed he nominated Daniel for a KONE Bravo Award for putting safety first. On receiving the award, Daniel was both delighted and surprised. From his point of view, he was just doing his job and doing what he felt anyone else would have done in that situation.

But not every story has such a happy ending.

According to a SafeWork Australia’s report on work-related traumatic injuries and fatalities, younger workers are a vulnerable group. Seven per cent of worker fatalities in NSW in 2016 were 25 years or younger. The NSW worker’s compensation scheme is made up of almost 300,000 employers. Of these, close to 10,000 employ apprentices. The scheme on average covers 60,000 claims per year and almost a third come from claimants under the age of 30.

Accidents can happen easily, no matter how much we plan for safety. But with a strong safety culture in place, organisations can instil a safety mindset in their people from the very beginning and drive down injuries.

The value Daniel placed on safety is what helped him get his job in the first place. At KONE, safety is at the heart of everything they do. It’s a key part of their applicant screening process and forms part of their apprentice program from day one. 

Their screening process involves several stages, including aptitude and practical tests, a questionnaire and face-to-face interviews. Safety is a focus at each of these stages, with safety questions being asked at interview, in the questionnaire and throughout testing. 

“Competency, which includes safety awareness, is checked at each stage to ensure our apprentices are completely ready to go on site. This includes a practical test where apprentices are asked to use supplies to wire up an unwired power point. This gives us an indication of their practical abilities but also their eye for safety,” explained KONE’s Learning and Development Specialist, Natalie Gench.

“Once through this round, apprentices undergo a scorecard assessment, followed by a one-on-one interview with KONE’s HR Director. This interview is very focused on safety,” Natalie added.

Apprentices are then selected and must complete a pre-apprenticeship in an electrical trade before being allowed on site. Completed at TAFE, this certificate course includes a unit on safety principles.

But KONE’s focus on safety doesn’t stop there. Upon joining, all apprentices take part in a five-day induction program with safety elements throughout.

“The key theme of our induction program is safety, safety, safety. We go through the fundamentals of safety when operating on a lift car or other high-risk tasks. These sessions are aimed at engaging our apprentices with our safety culture and encouraging them to speak up if they see something that doesn’t look right,” Natalie explained. 

“Once on board, our apprentices also take part in a range of activities as part of Safety Week, including an exercise where they are asked to draw what safety means to them and talk to it,” she added.

How a supervisor engages with a new apprentice around safety is so important to developing a long-term safety mindset. 

At KONE, supervisors are equipped with safety supervision guidelines that clearly outline the level of supervision required for apprentices during their four years. The guidelines specify what ‘supervision’ means in practical terms with a strong safety focus. Importantly, they state that each task must be risk-assessed for appropriateness based on the apprentice’s exposure and experience. They also stipulate that a supervisor must always remain accessible and within audible distance when an apprentice is undertaking a high-risk task.

KONE’s apprentice supervisors take these guidelines very seriously. 

“With a strong safety culture, backed up by safety guidelines, our supervisors are now more willing to give apprentices more meaningful tasks and pass on their knowledge to our future generation,” explained Natalie. 

KONE currently has around 120 apprentices nationally and is completely committed to keeping them safe. And their focus on safety has paid off. Not only are their people happier and safer, a focus on safety has also allowed Kone to consistently reduce their workers insurance premium. Good safety makes good business sense!

icare’s team of injury prevention specialists will be partnering with NSW businesses even more closely over the next 12 months, helping those that most need support with building a strong safety culture. Contact the team at prevent@icare.nsw.gov.au to find out how icare can help your business reduce workplace injuries and in turn, reduce your premiums.