Planting the seed for safety on Australian farms
Inspired by events in her own life, Alex Thomas has embarked on a personal mission to change the conversation around health and safety in Australia’s rural industries.
In the process, she has developed a unique on-farm and in-business rural consultancy that could save lives. Growing up on a property in the north east pastoral district of South Australia, Alex has first hand experience of the risks involved with work on the land. “When I was a child, dad was diagnosed with Q fever,” Alex said. “That, combined with the cumulative impact of so many dry years between 1982 and 2000, led to the breakdown of my parents’ marriage and the sale of our station when I was 16.”
The changes in circumstance would have a transformative impact on the direction of Alex’s life. Alex followed her father, Chris, to Roxby Downs after finishing school to work in health and safety in the mining industry. “About four years into my career at Olympic Dam, I recall Dad’s frustration around the emphasis that was being placed on paperwork and box ticking in work health and safety,” she said.
“Even though there were plenty of policies, procedures and other documents in place, they weren’t necessarily delivering safer outcomes for people.”
After participating in a work health and safety (WHS) leadership programme run by a group of organisational psychologists, Alex learnt of the importance of the ‘people factor’ in WHS – sparking her interest in “doing safety differently”.
“Safety is really important to me because of my journey with Dad, and given I had the connection to the land, I always wanted to provide that service back to rural industries.
“So, when the Global Financial Crisis hit the mining industry, I saw the opportunity to start my own WHS business to serve various rural enterprises across the country.
“Unlike mining, a lot of rural and agricultural organisations and businesses can’t afford the fulltime overhead of an in-house safety professional – let alone one that misses the brief on ‘keeping it practical’.
Originally published online on Glencore Agriculture. Article no longer available online.