Late last night I sat in a small meeting room with the guys on the night shift from the shop floor of a large industrial site. They were being interviewed as part of the safety culture assessment we’re doing with their company.

This is always an interesting experience that’s never boring however tired you feel! There’s always a different dynamic with every group; individual characters who may not all work together and try quickly to establish who has the worst job. Or a well-established work group who know each other very well and play off on each others comments. Sometimes they’re very happy to have an hour off from the shift and arrive with their cup of tea and cheery smile. Other times they’ve had little communication about the assessment and may have been dragged off a job they need to get done and they’re quite a challenge to get calmed down and interested enough to talk.

Sometimes they can be challenging in another way as they insist this is all a waste of time because “nothing ever changes however many surveys they do.” This is usually indicative of companies who start new programmes with gusto, but never get the workers involved and don’t get down to sorting out real problems on the shop floor. I’m always honest about the extent of my report and what I hope to achieve with the feedback session. But I stress to them that I can’t do that without their input and their honesty about reality of life on the coal face.

During the hour I go through our sixteen statements from the culture assessment and I listen to their comments and take notes. I don’t judge them and I don’t react with a defensive remark, however far fetched their understanding may be, as this is often a totally new experience for them. No one has ever listened to them or asked their opinion for anything before and they usually really enjoy it.

I do ask for clarification and recent examples when they tell me safety rules are broken to make the job easier, to see if what’s bothering them is current or historic as I need to understand how often this type of thing happens on this site. Over the course of the interviews you meet other groups from different shifts who may corroborate this finding or maybe don’t talk about it so strongly and you can gauge if this is endemic or local to a certain shift because of poor supervisory skills in their line managers. When you interview the line managers you see what pressures they’re under; trying to juggle safety and production and only finding time for one.

The interview process is vital in getting to the nitty gritty of issues behind life on site and without this side of our assessment we wouldn’t be half as enlightened on how to progress.