Ashleigh Alexander, Senior Consultant in the Liability Portfolio Management & Remediation team, was nominated for one of ERM’s internal Safety AT ERM recognitions for her leadership on a project in regional Victoria, Australia, where major flooding had taken place. Here Ashleigh discusses her experience of managing this project to ensure that everyone remained safe, how ERM supports her in being safe at work and why health and safety is important to her.
Since I joined ERM as a graduate four and a half years ago, I’ve felt that ERM has always been very open to listening to safety concerns – and takes them seriously. Throughout my career here, Partners have always encouraged us to use our Stop Work Authority when needed and ensured we have all the tools required to eliminate any unnecessary risks.
This culture of health and safety was further highlighted to me recently as Project Manager for several sites in regional Victoria, Australia. Each site has ongoing groundwater monitoring programs and is at least two hours outside of Melbourne. Throughout 2022, Australia had multiple significant flooding events, which affected most of regional Victoria and some parts of Melbourne. While planning regional work can be challenging in and of itself with arranging accommodation, providing equipment and ensuring additional time is factored in for work completion in case of unexpected delays, planning regional work under extreme flooding conditions poses a huge health and safety risk.
In October 2022, regional Victoria was hit by some particularly bad flooding. As someone who has experience of being impacted by extreme weather events, when the news and stories from my colleagues who were affected started coming in, I was devastated for them. Displacement and damage to your home drastically affects your wellbeing and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. When events like this happen, the most important thing is keeping people safe. So, I highlighted to the Partners in charge of the regional sites that we had work scheduled in the upcoming weeks that was likely to be affected. After a few internal meetings, and then a few calls with the clients, we clearly outlined the key health and safety risk in this situation – driving in floodwaters. Therefore, if it was unsafe to drive to those locations, we would have to cancel any work due to take place.
We had everything on standby for the days the fieldwork was planned. As we got closer to the day before mobilization, I checked every morning and evening on what the current road and flood conditions were, and cancelled any works as needed. The night before work was due to take place at one site in Echuca, it became clear from the flooding forecast that it would not be safe to access the site. So, I decided to cancel the works and jumped back onto my laptop to contact the field staff affected and arrange for the return of any equipment due to be used.
The challenge with working on sites under an environmental monitoring plan is that there is a timeline that has been committed to and the clients have deadlines that need to be met. Delaying works means we extend deadlines and budget and be outside of what was initially proposed and agreed for the works planned. But the safety and wellbeing of my team is more important than finishing a job according to a defined timeline. Having had numerous conversations with this client discussing the potential impacts of the flooding on this work and knowing that their health and safety values and policies were consistent with ERM’s, I felt confident that they, and my managers, would agree with my decision.
Not long after I had logged off the laptop this was confirmed, as we received a request from the client to cancel the works due to the forecast. When I informed them that this had already been done and I would follow up with next steps in the morning, they were extremely pleased with how quickly we had monitored and responded to changing conditions, and how we planned and proposed new timelines as the situation changed for the impacted sites.
Health and safety at work matters to me because we all have a life outside of ERM, and work should not affect the quality of that life because of unsafe health and safety practises that can be avoided. The Safety AT ERM recognitions is one way that ERM highlights the contributions made by ERM colleagues to their projects, clients, teams, and the wider organization, and it was a lovely surprise to know that I had been nominated!
This experience has only reaffirmed to me that ERM has my back when it comes to health and safety. I know that they will back my decisions as a Project Manager and support me and my team in ensuring everyone is safe. Knowing this means I feel confident in having health and safety discussions with colleagues and clients, at every level. With ERM’s health and safety culture being so embedded into everything we do, I feel empowered to use my voice to prioritize health and safety every day… and it makes me more motivated to do so.
Ashleigh Alexander is a Senior Consultant in the Liability Portfolio Management & Remediation team, based in Melbourne, Australia. As part of her role, she works on a variety of projects in key industry sectors such as mining, oil and gas, and construction, and has experience of in site assessment, environmental monitoring, environmental remediation and compliance reporting.