safety-works-logoCreated with Sketch.


Dr Eileen Doyle has been a safety champion for many years throughout her exceptional career, facilitating and enabling the commercialisation of innovation in large companies, SMEs and start-ups for over more than three decades.

Eileen has been an angel investor for over two decades and in the process has invested in, mentored and advised many businesses. Eileen’s career spans executive roles, several Non-Executive Director roles and Chairperson. BHP Ltd, OneSteel Ltd, Port Waratah Coal Services, the CSIRO, Boral Ltd, Oil Search and the GPT Group are some of the billion dollar names etched into her resume.

Eileen is passionate about helping innovative SMEs and start-ups to build and successfully commercialise their ideas. As a result, Eileen has written a book called Call a Business Angel, this book provides a clear framework on how to create and build a successful business, along with practical advice, toolkits and case studies. 

You can subscribe and listen to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Stitcher.

3 Value Bombs

1. Engage workplace health and safety specialists early on, if you are starting in any sort of role where you have safety responsibility and you don't feel you have the knowledge and skills, get some experts in as early as you can. Anything that improves your safety eyes will help safety in your whole company.

2. Keep Safety Real by asking what it means to you. If you say to your people here's the big picture on safety, this is what it means for me and this is what I expect from you. That’s how you can make it real for everybody in the organisation.

3. Advice for future leaders:

  • One, you have to work on and understand the issues.
  • Two, give clear and concise instructions, and;
  • Three, lead by example.

Show Notes

The following show notes are adapted from the full episode transcription.

Getting Started

[00:03:18] I'd like to start our chat with asking you how did you find safety? Or maybe it's about how safety found you… Can you give us some backstory there? 

[00:03:29] I started obviously in technical roles, but in both BHP Steel and CSR timber, I had executive operations roles in the 1980s and the 1990s. And so naturally, as part of that operations role, safety health and the environment is a big area of responsibility, direct line responsibility in that area. And then, of course, from 2000, as I progressed to non-executive director roles, I was always asked to chair the committee that reviewed health, safety and the environment. So really, my whole career, I have always had an emphasis on health, safety and the environment.

[00:04:12] Ok, fabulous. And how did you come to understand what excellent safety leadership looks like? Did you have a role model? What did they do that made an impression on you?

[00:04:23] BHP Steel was on a safety journey, as all companies were back in the 80s and there were a number of really good role models in senior management there.

[00:04:34] I think the thing that impressed me the most was that we used Dupont as a consultant and I went on the Dupont program and you suddenly realise how much you don't know about safety, and you start to see how good their safety eyes are that they can look around and spot quite a number of things that you didn't spot. And so I think that was the biggest impression on me.

[00:05:07] Okay. So it wasn't just about the rules and the procedures. It was more, it's definitely about the behaviour and the knowledge.

[00:05:17] So yourself, what are two or three wins or achievements that you're really proud of in keeping your people safe at work?

[00:05:25] Look, I think because I've had such a long executive and non-executive career, there are just so many I guess I'd describe them in principle as safety moments of truth. Early in my career in the blue mill with BHP, there are a number of times where I stopped operations until an issue was resolved. I think that creates a great impression with people and they understand that safety comes first. So I think that was certainly one where I felt proud of that achievement that I'd made that decision and moved in that direction.

[00:06:04] Another one at a more senior level in CSR, as well as being the chief executive of the timber panels business I was the president of the Australian Wood Panels Association and I led the whole industry wide introduction of dust management in terms of ensuring the industry was providing all of the knowledge that they could to customers about wood dust.

[00:06:29] So, that would have impacted a really large number of people, most definitely across the industry. Yes, most definitely.

[00:06:35] Stopping operations back in your reference to the BHP days that was pretty unusual back then. Yes back in the 80s, it was probably a unusual thing to do, but I felt that it was the right message to give when you considered something was serious.

[00:06:53] I guess you must have felt pretty empowered by your leaders to have the confidence to do that.

[00:06:59] Yes. Yeah. I mean, I was certainly the manager of that area, but then I reported into other people. So I was very happy to say that, you know, we didn't quite make a certain production target because we had to solve an issue.

Greatest Challenges & Lessons

[00:07:12] Fabulous. Great. Thank you. What is or has been your biggest challenge in relation to health, safety and well-being?

[00:07:19] Look, I think getting systems in place is hard work, but at the end of the day, it is straightforward. I think the biggest challenge is felt leadership and a recognition by every employee that it's their responsibility as well. It's not just the responsibility of the company. Yeah, I think that is honestly the biggest challenge.

[00:07:38] Can you expand on that a little bit about ways that you've gone about achieving that understanding across businesses?

[00:07:44] One very good program is something that I've seen a few times and certainly has been conducted in Boral, where very senior leadership actually spend a few days at a particular site and speak to every employee and explain the obligation that they have in their senior role. But what it means for the obligation of every single employee. And I think that personal involvement has more of an impact than just about anything else. And making the clarity that role and hearing it straight from the leader exactly it makes a big impression rather than just reading it in a position description. Most definitely. Yeah.

What do you hear in the C suite in the boardroom currently about the biggest health and safety and well-being issues at the moment or going into the future.

[00:08:37] There's generally when I look across the different boards that I'm involved with now, I think that there's been a great improvement in general safety in Australia and in industries and in the companies as a baseline in terms of lost time injuries and medical treatment injuries, etc. As a baseline, I think there's been quite considerable improvement in that area. But fatalities still happen and I think the risk management approach and systems that are around the risks, which are obviously far less than an injury. But of course, the consequences are terrible. I think it's the risk. It's a risk management approach and systems that must be continually be reviewed in this area.

[00:09:25] Have you been involved directly with anything of that type of serious nature?

[00:09:30] I've certainly over my career, sadly been involved in a number of incidents where people have lost their lives. And it's takes a terrible toll on the families and all of the workmates. It is so important that you learn so much from every one of those incidents and ensure that you are doing everything you can to create zero harm in your organisation. So having a learning culture and really sharing, you must have a culture that continually questions could we have done that better? And if you could, make sure you improve your systems and tell everybody about it.

[00:10:15] So in relation to those risk areas, are there any particular areas like, for example, managing contractors?

[00:10:21] That's changed a lot in the last 20 years. A lot of businesses are acquiring new businesses and merging with others, there is always a lot of change. I mean, certainly in a lot of the companies I've been involved with, the actual statistics, I guess if you wanted to call it that in the contractor area has been worse than in your base company. There's been considerable work in improving that and actually recognising in a sense, contractors are part of your extended family and you need to ensure that they are given all of the training and information that you give your own employees. I think you improve your contractor management systems so you could be far more specific to contractors about what you expect from them.

So I think there's been great improvement in contractor management generally, and that's improved safety. You are also very correct in the sense that as you continue to acquire companies and a number of the companies I'm involved with have had a lot of acquisitions. The safety culture in that company you acquire could be quite different from yours. It could be better. It could be worse, whatever it is. I think you need to recognise it and use it. The practice I've seen, which is very effective, is when you move in stopping operations for a few days and going through doing an audit of the safety practices of the companies that you're requiring, which you would have had some view of through due diligence as well. But doing that audit and then putting in place your minimum acceptable standards for things and making it very clear to those new operations that are part of your business that until this is achieved, we're not even starting. That sends a strong message.

It's a very strong message.

[00:12:00] And it makes it very clear what your approach to safety is and how you value it. And I really liked that term contract as part of your extended family.

[00:12:11] I think there has been but needs to be perhaps more of a shift towards viewing them definitely in an equal light. So how do you keep safety real in your world?

[00:12:21] Look, I think it's the way you try and keep anything real. You have to actually bring it down to what it means for me. For each person in your organisation. So until you can say, here's the big picture on safety, but this is what it means for you. And this is what I want you to do. I don't think you make it real for somebody.

[00:12:43] So it's about the individual..

[00:12:46] Most definitely. And that's challenging if you're running a business with ten thousand people. So challenging.

[00:12:51] I think you have to have effective deployment tools in terms of methodologies where you deploy messages. Regular face to face contact with your one up supervisor. So you have to have good leadership programs so that your messages are deployed down through the organisation and each person is doing face to face with the particular leader.

[00:13:17] I think technology can also help with that. I remember doing some work with a client who created a broadcast or video, if you like, from the CEO annually for a few years as part of a safety day exercise and wasn't until the third time it was running because he couldn't obviously achieve personal contact all over Australia. It wasn't until the third time that it was run that someone commented to me, they must be really serious about this safety thing.

[00:13:44] So if it's communication and repetition and repetition is important and I think certainly the video and of course the visit from very senior people is an important thing. But face to face with your frontline supervisor is what has the greatest impact. Yes.

[00:14:02] Yes. So that message has to really cast right through. Yeah.

Pearls of Wisdom

Thank you so much. That's been some great insights. And thank you for sharing your story. I'd just like to finish with a couple of pearls of wisdom for people to take away with them. Firstly, what would you do differently if you had your time again?

[00:14:21] I think probably I would have used Dupont earlier to improve my safety eyes. So I think if you are starting in any sort of role where you have safety responsibility and you don't feel you have the knowledge and skills, get some experts in as early as you can. Yeah, because I think anything that improves your safety eyes will help safety in your whole company.

[00:14:45] And finally, what advice would you give to executives of the future as to how best to influence the health, safety and well-being of the people who work for them?

[00:14:55 I think I'd say three things to them.

One, you have to work on and understand the issues.

Two, you have to give clear and concise instructions.

And three, you have to lead by example.

[00:15:09] Lovely, Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure. We look forward to seeing you again. No problem. Thank you.

Don't forget to rate, review and subscribe!