Managing workplace safety is not an easy job – in fact, it’s a tough and never-ending journey. It is easy to get it wrong and the consequences can be devastating, but when we get it right it is also hugely rewarding.

Tena koutou katoa. Nga mihi mahana ki a koutou.
(Hello everyone. Warm greetings to you all.)

My name is Rob Jager and I’m the Chairman of Shell Companies in New Zealand. I am also the chair of the Business Leaders Health and Safety Forum.

When I was asked to come speak to this conference today I thought what a fantastic opportunity to talk about the critical importance of leadership in achieving a step change in health and safety performance in our New Zealand work places.

And as I will share with you later, we really do need to improve our performance and put a stop to allowing people in our work places to be hurt let alone being killed. Fortunately I have never had to cope with a fatality on my watch, but for those that have, it is a life changing experience and one to be avoided at any cost. Our staff, colleagues, mates and their families and loved ones all deserve better.

So I am here today to talk to you about the role of safety leadership both from a Shell as well as from a personal perspective and how through the Business Leaders Health and safety forum we as leaders – and in this respect we are all leaders – can, by acting together, positively influence overall safety performance in New Zealand.

And make no mistake, the prize is significant and important, as our safety performance in New Zealand compared with other countries is abysmal and I would suggest unacceptable and ultimately unsustainable.

Managing workplace safety is not an easy job – in fact, it’s a tough and never-ending journey. It is easy to get it wrong and the consequences can be devastating, but when we get it right it is also hugely rewarding.

From a leadership perspective it demands more than a little passion and interest, rather real and visible ongoing duty of care and investment – both financially and emotionally, and an unwavering focus on compliance and accountability.

In Shell, Safety is at the heart of our business

I was born in a Shell hospital in Indonesia where my father worked for the company. As I started my own career on the shop floor at the Maui Production station, safety was always the top priority.

Over the years a safety first approach really has become part of who I am, a deeply held value, part of my DNA.

I’m proud to be leading Shell’s business here in New Zealand where we have been investing for more than a 100 years. We currently employ some 350 staff and have contracts with many companies, both local and international.

We are a joint venture partner in operations that produce more than 70% of New Zealand’s natural gas from the Maui, Kapuni and Pohokura fields in Taranaki and offshore, where we’ve been operating safely, in challenging conditions, for more than 30 years.

So we have a sound track record in this country as a safe and trusted operator and see a tremendous opportunity to build on that record as we embark on a new project in the Great South Basin, where we’ve just become operator.

Responsible Energy

When it comes to our staff, contractors, regulators, hapu and the community, Shell New Zealand is no different to any organisation – all of our stakeholders have a totally justifiable expectation of us as a safe and responsible operator.

One that cares not only for its staff but also for the community and environment in which it operates.

Getting the safety basics right is critical to any organisation maintaining its ongoing ‘license to operate’ and earning the right to grow.

In Shell’s case we have built a sound safety record over 50 years of operations in Taranaki.

The philosophy we embraced to achieve this comprises many elements but it all starts with an aspiration we call Goal Zero – an ambition, a vision that our operations will do no harm to either people or the environment.

Goal Zero in Shell is founded on three very basic but incredibly important ‘Golden Rules’:

  • comply with all rules
  • intervene if you see an unsafe situation, and
  • respect our neighbours.

STOS goal zero days

Yet despite all of our focus, efforts and money spent on implementing systems and processes, on training on, exercises, on contractor safety management and many many other things over many many years I am still far from satisfied as people continue to get hurt in and around our business.

While all of the systems and process are important it ultimately it comes down to having an environment where people are alert to the hazards around them, where people are focussed on doing the basics of their job really well each and every day, where people challenge the procedures that are too difficult to follow rather than ignoring them, where everyone knows the rules and sticks to them, where people help and look out for each other and where people take pride in what they do.

In other words, a culture or the collective values and attitudes of the organisation where people want to be safe rather than being told to be safe!

Much if not all of this comes down to leadership, which of course happens and needs to happen at every level, but most importantly it needs to come from the top.

So we have this great safety focus and operating framework, but how do we make it ingrained in our culture and day-to-day operation? How do we get our staff to think safety first? What is good safety leadership? And how can we do better as leaders?

What is safety leadership?

Allow me to start with an example to illustrate this. Shell recently completed a huge gas to liquids project in Qatar called “Pearl”. It took an investment of around $18 billion dollars and was the largest single construction site in the petroleum industry worldwide today.

At its peak, this involved 52,000 workers from many different countries and ethnicities, 500 million hours of work and 300 million km of driving, under challenging conditions. Based on Shell global statistics this would have meant more than 20 fatalities and more than 500 LTIs. Yet the project achieved a staggering 77 million man-hours without a single Lost Time Injury and only one fatality. That is still one too many but I am sure a real achievement and one to learn from.

One of the key aspects that made a difference was that the Pearl leadership team, led by Andy Brown, who recently took over as Shell’s Executive Director for Upstream International, did a fantastic job of creating a safety culture amongst its vast and diverse workforce where everyone really focussed on being safe and knows the rules and sticks to them.

As Andy recently noted, visible and committed safety leadership, based on three critical leadership ingredients – passion, caring and compliance – were fundamental in achieving this.

Creating a passion for safety starts at the top and is cascaded through every level of the organisation; every manager, supervisor and worker. More in a moment on how this can be achieved.

Investment means spending time and money not only on the educational and physical infrastructure relating to safety, but also on the more intangible elements involved in putting staff welfare at the heart of your organisation.

‘Compliance’ is all about taking the steps necessary to ensure your safety regime is thoroughly implemented and adhered to, not just spoken about.

People are held accountable for their actions.


Creating a passion for safety starts with a personal realisation of how many people could be injured or die in your business if you don’t get this right, if you don’t create the right safety culture. For the Pearl project the prospect of suffering more than 20 fatalities and 500 lost time Injury accidents really put things in perspective and avoiding this became a very strong personal and collective motivator and beacon that drove their passion for safety and their actions, not just at leadership level but throughout the organisation and contractor environment.

So what does a passion for safety look like? What can we do to show it is important to us?

Let me share with you some examples of what this might look like.

In our organisation all senior managers, contractors and sub-contractors are asked to physically sign our annual safety plan - visibly committing them to do their part in safeguarding the safety and welfare of all their workers.

This may sound trifling, but physically signing and visibly committing is a highly effective way to bring health and safety from being a background, theoretical issue to being something far more immediate and compelling. In a similar vein more than 120 NZ business leaders have signed a pledge to capture their commitment to doing what they can to keep their staff safe. This adoption of the safety agenda at the most senior levels is vital if the issue is ever to gain any traction and credibility throughout the rest of the organisation.

Passion – make it personal

That said, as we all know, as leaders we are judged more by our actions than our words, let alone our intent. So while as leaders we need to formally communicate frequently about how safety takes priority, it is arguably even more important to regularly get personally involved and engaged with both our staff, contractors and our contract management. It is about creating and taking every opportunity to talk passionately about what is important to you, what your aspirations are what your expectations are and what you as a leader might be able to do to help people stay safe.

So what might this personal involvement look like in practice :

I and my senior leadership colleagues actively participate in various safety meetings, I lead one or two of our annual safety day sessions (this year I will go to Maui A and to Kapuni), I talk at various project induction programs about Goal zero our commitment to keeping people safe and my expectations and aspirations, I participate in one of our annual back to work breakfast sessions where we re-integrate what is important and why and reinvigorate people after their holiday break.

I also actively participate in safety reviews and our incident review panels where we review accident investigations and proposed actions.

At least once per month I visit one of our operating sites. I go early to join the community meeting, then a toolbox meeting and then spend time on site talking with staff and contractors about their work, about the hazards, what they are doing to manage these, how they are staying safe and look after themselves and each other. I have smoko and lunch with the guys.

Everyone in the organisation knows that I am passionate about safety and that I take the issue incredibly seriously. I expect them all to follow my example. Without that senior-level buy-in, involvement and visibility the safety agenda just becomes theoretical – and that’s when the trouble starts.

But to be honest I could and should do more. I need to go more often, I need to stay overnight.

Caring for people

As leaders we also need to demonstrate what I call vulnerability; being seen to accept our responsibility when things go wrong and making it personal.

Showing vulnerability and being passionate about safety is vital but it is not enough. You also need to invest in people. You need to show that you deeply care about your staff.

Investing in safety training is an obvious starting point, with a clearly defined strategy outlining induction programmes, the courses to be covered by individual employees according to their specific job types and functions and allowing ample time and dollars budgets to achieve these. In New Zealand our staff spend thousands of hours and over $1 million per year on safety training ranging from gas detector training, to Helicopter Underwater Escape Training.

We also provide top quality protective clothing, office equipment, health plans, five star-rated company cars and state of the art helicopters fitted with the most advanced safety features available today, all of which are tangible examples of the value you put on your people.

But equally important is the emotional investment; support through periods of critical illness, potential burn-outs and family problems are cases in point.

The 40,000 workers on the Pearl project were given their own village; a home away from home; somewhere to eat, sleep, play and receive medical care. This not only reduced drastically the road travel involved but was a tangible expression of the company’s commitment to their wellbeing.

Yes all of this costs although it doesn’t need to be expensive to show that you care for your staff. In any case I strongly believe that we owe it to our staff and their families to keep them safe while they are working for us. Further, I have no doubt that these investments in welfare and training and development of your staff pays back in spades, in terms of productivity and quality.


Compliance is about setting tough rules and rigorously applying them...

Not to put too fine a point on it, this involves being clear with all staff that anyone who chooses not to follow the rules also chooses not to work for the organisation.

Shell, for example, has established 12 life-saving rules around actions and activities that have caused the most fatalities and serious harm injuries across the organisation.

They are as basic as wearing your seat-belt, or not using a mobile phone when driving. About not being impaired by drugs or alcohol, obtaining the correct permit to work, and wearing full protection gear.

These rules are simple, easily understood, easy to apply and easy to enforce.

There is no doubt that they have had a huge impact on our personal safety performance helping Shell Group fatalities to drop from over thirty to less than 10 in just a few years.

It’s also made a difference in our own operations here in Shell New Zealand.

Yet despite our safety culture we are still not there. People do still break even simple rules – Year to date we have already had more than 15 Live saving rule breaches in our Operations, and yes while this is not the objective, there have been a number of instances where people have been removed from our operations for breaking the life saving rules.

Just as an aside what is interesting, little gratifying but ultimately very helpful, is that from March 2012 the Oil and Gas Producers has introduced a version of the Life-Saving Rules which is being communicated to all its members, which include Oil and Gas companies and their main contractors.

The OGP scheme has eighteen rules, twelve of which are the same as Shell’s Life saving rules.

I should note at this point that all of this is not just about personal safety and equally applicable to process safety. In fact given the low frequency and often high impact of these incidents strong, passionate and committed leadership with a strong drive for compliance and continuous improvement are if anything even more important.

Which leads me nicely the one key additional element that runs through each of the critical leadership ingredients ........

Chronic unease

Chronic unease can best be described as a healthy scepticism about what we see and do.

It’s about enquiry and about probing deeper, really understanding the risks and exposures in a workplace and not just trusting in procedures to prevent harm from happening, not just believing in what you see or what you hear or what the statistics tell you.

It’s about resetting our tolerance to risk and responding accordingly and continually questioning whether what we do is enough.

A state of Chronic Unease is reached when leaders at all levels have developed a culture where they are alert to even the weakest signals of potential failure, and make effective and timely challenges or interventions.

It’s a state of mind I love!

Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum

I’d like to turn now to how the Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum, the idea for which was floated by the Honourable Kate Wilkinson in May 2009, in an effort to help turn around what can only be described as abysmal, unacceptable and ultimately unsustainable. The forum is based on the premise that as leaders we believe we can help change this. We drive the culture of our business, we make decisions, provide resources and are responsible for ensuring the health and safety of our people.

In short we set the tone and have a huge bearing on how a business is run, and we need to collectively do better because however you look at it, New Zealand is not a safe place to work. Every year far too many people are killed or seriously injured in our workplaces. Individuals, their families, the wider community, businesses and indeed the country as a whole bear the impact of these accidents. In fact our performance is embarrassingly poor compared with other similar countries and unlike many other countries we have not improved.

The Forum’s objective is to get a grip on the factors and behaviours contributing to this embarrassing trend, and to work with the bodies and organisations concerned to drive down the rate of workplace-related fatalities and injuries in our country.

In essence, we as leaders seek collectively to raise the bar, raise our expectations, and reduce our tolerance to unsafe behaviours among our staff, our contractors or suppliers.

We aim to achieve this through a wide range of initiatives, but most importantly through the sharing of health and safety leadership best practice.

The vision and mission for the Business Leaders Forum defines what the forum is all about; the establishment of many zero-harm workplaces right across New Zealand.

We believe this is the only mind-set that is acceptable for New Zealand business, and the only mind-set capable of achieving the ‘step change’ we believe is needed to improve this country’s workplace safety performance.

We are realists and understand that this is not currently the reality for many businesses or, indeed, entire sectors. However, we know what can be achieved and have a number of great examples where businesses are already achieving very close to zero harm and are focused on building the conditions that promote this objective.

Finally, we are interested in promoting discussion around, and greater understanding of, the difference between critical risk (generally associated with process safety) and minor risk (which often causes strains and sprains). Our commitment to zero-harm workplaces covers both these areas.

So, what has the forum achieved so far?


  • More than 120 Leaders have signed a pledge to make Health and safety a vital part of their business with the same importance and priority as quality, profit and customer service. This is a fantastic example of how Z-Energy leadership has committed to this vision. It is a big poster in their entrance signed by key members of their organisation, creating clear, visible commitment for all to see.
  • We’ve built a CEO leadership model and an assessment tool – 91 CEOs completed this assessment in 2011 and each received an individualised report showing areas of strength and areas for development. This is a New Zealand and possibly a World first
    We’ve launched an online benchmarking tool to help organisations record and compare performance
  • And we’ve hosted a number of seminars on safety leadership, and continue to hold peer learning events where CEOs share their experiences, success and failures to help each other learn and develop.

More recently we have moved to a membership structure and now have more than 80 members.

We have established ourselves as a sustainable, not-for-profit society, and we have expanded our operational capacity, including the engagement of an Executive Director.

In conclusion

We’re now in the process of confirming our strategic direction for the next two years. We see this focus being in three areas:

  • Leadership – where we’ll continue to grow world-class CEO safety leadership
  • Influence – where we’ll become a strong voice for business leaders on issues affecting workplace health and safety, and
  • Knowledge, practice and tools – where we’ll support the dissemination of best practice safety know-how and capabilities.

Let me close now by saying simply that it’s up to all of us, individually and collectively through a careful mix of passion, care and compliance we as business leaders can make a difference and save lives and improve NZ’s safety record.

I would like to encourage each and every one of you to give it a go and if you would like some support and help, or a sounding board, join the forum and get actively engaged it what it has to offer.

The infrastructure is now in place to help make that happen so get in touch with the Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum to find out how, together, we might drive down that hideous trend curve you saw a moment ago.

Thank you. I’m happy to take any questions you might have.