by Nathan Hight – Safe365 Co-Founder
Growing up through my teenage years as a volunteer surf lifeguard in New Zealand laid deep foundations within me about safety and well-being in the community.
Some of the lessons learned were rewarding such as playing a small role in a dramatic rescue as a 14-year-old newly minted lifeguard, where an AED (shock machine) was successfully used to save an elderly gentleman’s life. Other experiences were incredibly sad such as, at age 15, rescuing a middle-aged mother of two, performing CPR for 90 minutes. The lady did not make it.
Observing the impact on her husband and children in their moment of pain and loss still sits with me 25 years later. The value of a person’s life is profound and my surf lifesaving experiences since have been underpinned by a deep value of wanting to help anyone prepared to listen about how we can better look after people – whether at home, work or while recreating.
Throughout my career as a volunteer and then as a Management Executive within the national surf lifesaving organisations in both New Zealand and Australia we had a clear, powerful vision and purpose that related to reducing harm – protecting people.
When I teamed up with my business partner Mark Kidd in 2016 to start Safe365, I wanted to translate some useful lessons I had gained in a public safety context across into workplace safety and turn that into a socially impactful commercial enterprise.
The provision of lifesaving services, related public education, community water safety programs was organic and organised by community organisations of people that cared, and supported by risk management principles and standards. Interestingly, there was never a “Health and Safety at the Beach” Act.
There was no regulatory compliance driver for most of what we did to protect people.
As a result of that, decision-making and effort were underpinned from a perspective of “what will best reduce the risk of harm to beach users.”
Volunteers had to be led and influenced. Not directed and managed.
Directors of these organisations had deep empathy and care for the volunteers they were serving and made decisions that supported our lifeguards and the communities they set out to protect.
Taking this approach to things over many years in a professional context, working with thousands of people in my own personal journey, has returned some excellent safety and well-being outcomes at a local, national and international level.
I don’t see it as ‘secret sauce’, but rather a series of logical threads that weave together to form a way of doing things. It’s these philosophies that underpin how Safe365’s safety maturity software has been designed. I wanted to democratise a way of working, a mindset, that worked for me and that many people in my network wanted to understand and apply too.
It is natural for companies to want to ensure they are meeting legal compliance obligations (they get it thrust at them from regulators, legal advisors, many safety professionals and those career governance professionals looking to mitigate personal exposure). However, in my opinion, an over-focus on this outcome is likely to obstruct the purity of looking at worker health and safety from a higher level of thought, that is simply: “Are we doing everything we can to ensure our people are not harmed at work – even if it’s not a regulatory requirement, will it make them safe and well?” or, “Have we created an environment that maximises positive worker health, safety and well-being outcomes?”.
In 2023, you might call this taking more of an ‘ESG view of workplace health and safety’ with an emphasis on the ‘s’ and the ‘g’!
Previously it has been spoken about in terms of ‘safety culture’ or simply ‘culture’.
In essence, it is doing things because they create mutual value for your people and your company.
Every company has some sort of business model that (should) describe how you create value, how value is captured and how value is sustained.
I have not come across many companies where people are not the key ingredient for that model being successful, and therefore, ensuring the workplace environment fosters your team to be safe and well is one of the most important ingredients in most businesses.
As a thought process, none of this relates to having a compliance mindset. It relates to having a value-creating mindset.
It is this philosophy that has fallen sharply back into focus for me, and as a result, our entire team at Safe365 this week.
As I sat down to have dinner with my wife and two daughters on Tuesday 17th January, my phone lit up with an emergency notification “RESCUE @ OTAHU RIVER. 1821hrs. LG’s responding to person in water at Otahu River with 1 RWC. Requesting assistance from SAR Squad. Please reply with ETA. SURFCOM.”
An hour later, with the help of a rescue helicopter and an outstanding team of courageous surf lifeguards, we had located the lost person in large, challenging surf. I had pulled him onto the rescue sled behind a lifeguard jet ski, and assessed his vital signs while the operator got us back to the beach. I had performed cycles of CPR while the rescue helicopter landed next to us, and the paramedics could attach equipment to confirm our worst-case scenario. A life had been lost.
The very next day as I popped down to the surf lifesaving club to check in on the well-being of our people, a water rescue emergency occurred at a neighboring un-patrolled beach. I responded.
On arrival, one man had died, another was critical, two others serious and another person, a 15-year-old boy was still missing, submerged in challenging surf.
As an experienced lifeguard with specific skills in understanding beach morphology / beach types and assessing inshore rips and currents my focus for the next few days became trying to work with Police, Navy, Coastguard, and surf lifeguards to locate the missing person, presumed drowned.
Even in an extremely sad situation where a life has been lost, being able to return the body of a loved one to family is an important service in supporting them with processing such a traumatic situation.
That Friday, after a challenging week doing my volunteer job as a surf lifeguard, I hosted the Safe365 senior leadership team for our annual planning offsite at my house in Whangamata, New Zealand.
I had been preparing for the offsite early in the week and challenging myself and the team to really understand the true value of what Safe365 does, in 2023.
The team, Mark and I had spent 7 years building our technology out and working with thousands of clients including global companies like Amazon, Trip Advisor and Heathrow Airport and others. We reflected.
What I discovered is that our team get most excited about the core philosophies that underpinned why we started the company in the first place.
I also discovered that our team got most excited working with clients that want support and enablement in elevating their safety culture as compared to clients seeking to cover off their legal obligations.
We also reflected and acknowledged that for many businesses who have not focused on health and safety previously, a compliance focus is a natural place to start. But our core product, the Safe365 maturity assessment and digital improvement plan, helped those clients understand where they sit and how to move up along the maturity curve, until they could see the significant value in taking a mature ESG or culture-based approach to health and safety at work.
While the events I have experienced in the past week have been sad on many levels, they have played a role in ensuring our team at Safe365 are re-focused, committed, and passionate about what lies ahead in 2023.
We have a clear vision and purpose, powered by our foundational philosophies that have resurfaced in a very tangible way this week.
As an old proverb states, “give a person a fish, feed them for a day. Teach a person how to fish, feed them for a lifetime.” While this originally relates to moving people out of poverty, in our case, it underpins our approach to workplace safety and well-being, and how (and why) our technology works.
While many forms of safety come in the form of short-term consulting assignments, documents, manuals and one-off training interventions which often decay quickly post-implementation, Safe365’s online interactive maturity assessment and digital improvement tools create the long-term capability transfer into our client organisations and create the awareness and enablement to progress along the maturity curve. Thousands more organisations can turn health, safety and well-being into an acknowledged value-creating activity that supports business objectives, rather than a dreaded compliance requirement that seemingly for many workers, management and directors reduces value in the business somehow.
If you want to move work health, safety, and well-being from a compliance mindset towards an ESG-driven, value-creating mindset in your business, please reach out to myself or one of the Safe365 team or try out our technology for free at www.safe365global.com. We are extremely happy to share our experiences, thinking, data and technology if it can improve your business and protect your people. Safer workforce, better business.
About the Author
Nathan Hight is a senior lifeguard and life member at Whangamata Surf Life Saving Club, New Zealand, with over 25 years’ experience. Nathan is a former General Manager of Surf Life Saving New Zealand and Surf Life Saving Australia. In 2016, Nathan and business partner Mark Kidd Co-Founded Safe365 (safe365global.com) which works with over 8,000 businesses globally to reduce workplace harm and improve business performance. Nathan is a Certified Professional Risk Manager (ARiMI-CPRM) and holds a Bachelor of Sport & Exercise Science.