Faces of EHS

Faces of EHS: Tanya Jenke Gets Candid About the Value of Organizational Safety Culture

After graduating from Trent University, Canada with her B.S. in Environmental Science, Tanya Jenke started her career in the environmental, health, and safety (EHS) field as a lab technician for a professor. After two years of analyzing air, water, and soil samples for chemical hazards, Jenke sought another opportunity that would allow her to collaborate with others and “see how they interacted with their work environment.”

tanya jenke cority

“I took my occupational hygiene knowledge and enrolled into a course in Occupational Health and Safety at McMaster University, Canada,” Jenke informed EHS Daily Advisor.  “After graduating, I started looking for consulting jobs in OH&S, which is where I discovered Medgate, now called Cority. I called every day for two weeks until they brought me in for an interview. Luckily, my persistence paid off and 15 years later I am still here and loving it.  I use my knowledge and expertise in OH&S to empower our customers to implement EHS solutions.”   

Today, Jenke is the General Manager for Cority APAC where she manages the company’s Professional Services,Customer Support, and Customer Success teams internationally. Cority is the leader in environmental, health, safety and quality (EHSQ) software. Jenke is also studying for her Ph.D. with Dr. Marcus Cattani at Edith Cowan University with the School of Medical and Health Sciences.

“I am looking into the influence of external factors on organizational safety performance, and have published two papers, and aim to complete in 18 months,” Jenke says.

In our latest Faces of EHS profile, meet Tanya Jenke. Enjoy!

What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it?

What I love about OH&S is that it uses science to empower workers to make decisions on how to work safely. It’s a unique field that combines knowledge, choice, and support to protect people. With thousands of injuries every year, there is still a long way to go, and most are preventable, which I find frustrating and motivating. I am so passionate about this field that I decided to contribute to the development of safety performance, in collaboration with Dr. Marcus Cattani, and I embarked on a PhD at Edith Cowan University in the School of Medical and Health Sciences, researching the impact of external factors on safety performance. 

How can company leaders make safety a value within their organization?

I recently published a study that looked at some of the key causes of occupational fatalities in the mining and resource sector – from a combined assessment of 2000 questionnaire responses on workers’ perception of safety and 20 years of mining fatalities in Western Australia to identify common risk factors. The risk factors were based on a questionnaire developed by Dr. Cattani as well as Professor Michael Quinlan’s 2014 book ‘Ten Pathways to Death and Disaster.’  The study identified four common pathways and are suggested to be prioritized by company leaders; these are:

  • Pathway 1: Design, engineering, technical and maintenance flaws
  • Pathway 4: Failures in safety management systems
  • Pathway 5: Failures in Auditing
  • Pathway 9: Poor management – worker communication and trust

The Ten Pathways can be used as an internal company assessment tool to benchmark themselves. Additionally, it can assist safety professionals in having more meaningful dialog on safety matters in their organization. One of the findings from the study found that generally survey respondents that were in leadership roles had a higher perception of their organisation’s safety effectiveness compared to front line employees. This suggests that that there are gaps between employee expectation of safety leaders and what is practiced on the shop floor.

Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?

In the industrialized world, generally there appears to be a slowing of safety performance improvement or a plateauing of performance improvement.  Contributing to this is the subject of my research, and many other researchers. Over the next five years I hope that we see an improvement in safety performance, by developing practical solutions for organizations – wherever they are. Additionally, with the introduction of new safety legislation across Western Australia, I think there is potential for performance improvement, but I am not sure if the new harsher penalties associated with it will be the deterrent the government expects. Implementation of harsher penalties have been implemented in other states in Australia as well as in the UK, however the research on its effectiveness is not yet confirmed. 

How has the COVID-19 pandemic complicated or exacerbated problems with safety culture?

As part of my research, I looked at the impact of economic cycles on safety performance in Western Australia and found that economic growth could result in more occupational injuries. Examining over 500,000 occupational injuries between 2003 – 2019 indicated that as the economy grew injuries in the construction and manufacturing industries increased. While organizations in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Australia are generally seeing low injury rates experienced over the last decade, the asymptote of the injury curve indicates that prevention strategies have been effective, however there is room for improvement. As countries move into a recession period brought on by COVID the impact of this external factor on safety performance should be considered. 

A reduction in resources result in the removal of people from the workforce during a recession period, organizations that are reliant on administrative controls, PPE, and supervisors to control risk will be putting their workforce at an increased level of risk. Working in an environment with reduced manpower is stressful and can have an impact on safety reporting culture, if employees are feeling vulnerable, they may fail to report an occupational injury for fear of dismissal.  It is also important that organizations provide a safe environment for employees to report injuries. 

The economic environment influences the availability of manpower and a change in the economy will impact organizations. Making sure organizations can cope with change is important as the number of people in the workforce will change the risk. If the level of risk has changed due to an economic recession, it is even more important for people to accurately report occupational injuries to determine the actual risk given the current work environment.  Ultimately, the expectation of workplace health and safety regulations is that workplaces are always a safe place of work. Organizations which do not design their injury prevention strategies to be resilient to economic changes such as those brought on by COVID may be surprised by a reduction in their effectiveness, as there is a legal obligation to always maintain a safe workplace.  

How will safety culture look in the future?

It’s going to take some time, but I would like to see that small, medium, and large organizations value the safety of their people and demonstrate this by investing in safe ways of work.  Successful businesses will prioritize safety regardless of the external environment. Many have made a start, but with 180,000 serious injuries a year, there is a long way to go.

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of having two Safety Science papers publishedin the last six months.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Get qualified in OH&S, whether from an accredited college or university. It’s also helpful to join professional membership organizations such as AIHS, ASSP, IOSH, INSHPO, and CRSP.  Moreover, it’s important to collaborate and network with other OH&S professionals.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I am currently investigating the impact of COVID on safety performance. Specifically, I will gather employees perceptions on their organization’s effectiveness in safety performance and will assess if organizations are safe since COVID.  This will provide additional information to assist organizations in how to prioritize safe measures to reduce incidents. You can scan the QR code below if you are interested in participating, which is completely anonymous and voluntary.   

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