Workplace safety platform SafetyCulture is sending its employees to accident sites in developing countries so that they can better understand the realities of workplace safety.
Founder and CEO Luke Anear told Business Insider that he was inspired by the idea after an employee sent him an email questioning the relevance of its products.
“[They] said, ‘I know what we have to build for the next six months, but I don’t know why we’re building some of these things. Can you explain?'” recalls Anear, who before founding his business had investigated more than 2500 workplace injuries as a private detective.
“I kind of sat back, and it made me question who else perhaps doesn’t know we’re building what we’re building? It’s an important question to answer.
“I thought through my journey to get to this point and why I created SafetyCulture, and I’d seen, first-hand, what happens when people are injured, or when they’re killed at work, [but] a lot of our team members have never experienced any of that. They logically understood the problem that they were trying to solve, but they didn’t have an emotional connection to it.”
But more than that – it’s about life and death, says Anear.
“We’re not building products that are sort of nice to have in life. Face it. This is the difference between people living and dying at work, and so the consequences are significant, and if people are exposed to that, then they genuinely want to do something about it.”
In order to try to connect people to the problem at an emotional level, Anear decided to create a program that would send employees on an excursion-like experience to developing countries where accidents have occurred because the appropriate safety measures had not been implemented.
“We live in an environment here in a developed country where there’s all these invisible standards that make everything safe,” he said.
“So I thought, what if we went to developing countries, where we could, you know, very visually see the consequences of when people don’t manage safety and quality well?
“And then actually speak to people and learn about how they live, and the challenges that they have.
“We’re also solving a global problem, and so in order to do that, you’ve got to understand different cultures. You’ve got to understand the unique challenges that different countries face. We don’t ever want to just walk in and impose a solution on people.
“I think from those experiences, people then come away… with a renewed understanding and emotional understanding to their work. And, then they get on and build products that can change the world.”
Anear starts the process with a scouting trip to find the most suitable locations, and plans an itinerary for the trip so that it incorporates a “mix of experiences”. The location is then revealed at “a themed sort of announcement party” where they talk about the culture and customs of the destination, and people express their interest.
Each group is usually made up of 10 people from “a fairly diverse group” and are sent to new places quarterly.
“In particular, team members that are working on products that don’t get to speak to customers every day. So, you know, we have success and support teams that are dealing with customers all the time,” he said.
“We try to prioritise so that the product teams who are working deep on product without necessarily speaking to customers all the time [are included]. This is a great way to expose them to the problems they’re solving.”
So far this year, the team has already visited Bangladesh and Nepal.
Here’s a clip of their recent trip to Nepal which suffered a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April 2015, killing nearly 9,000 people and injuring another 22,000.
The theatres and operating rooms of the local hospitals had no air conditioning, says Anear, and the humidity and temperature was “through the roof”.
“They don’t have everybody scrubbed and when we ask them, ‘Do you ever have any infections?’ their answers are no. They’ve got a perfect record. And yet, clearly, they don’t maintain best practises.
“To walk in and actually see that and go, ‘Wow. These guys, you know, they’re trying to do the best that they can, but they also have very limited resources. They have very limited funding.’ That gives people very powerful references for why we build the products we build and why we’re trying to solve the problems we solve.
“The next trip in Chile, we go to the Alma Telescoping Site that’s 5000 metres above sea level. We’ll learn about how they run those and manage them,” he says.
Anear sees the trips as an a important part of the growth of business, particularly as the company has plans to scale to 250 staff next year. It currently employs 130 people.
“The culture is the single most important thing for me. If we can maintain an environment and a workplace that people feel great about coming to each day, and they are emotionally connected to the problems we’re solving, then they’re inspired to build great products,” he says.
“We are attracting some really talented people, but we need to have a way for all of them to be connected to the company. And so, you’ve got to come up with a process.
“As our revenues continue to grow we’ve been able to fund these sort of trips. I think the consequences, what if you don’t have a team that are emotionally connected to the problem? And you don’t go on these trips? Or you don’t invest in this area?
“You know, I think that’s the worst outcome. If you have a disconnected and [employees] are not inspired to solve the problem at an emotional level, then, that’s a much more expensive problem to have, cause then you’ve got a culture where people aren’t necessarily engaged. And they’re not passionate about the problem and their work.”
The startup, which launched in 2004 in the family garage in Townsville in far north Queensland, is backed by Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar. It recently shut down its San Francisco office in order to streamline its business in preparation for future growth plans.
It also scored $30 million in series B funding in October last year which it’s using to double down on its current operations.
“We’re heavily investing at the moment in re-engineering our core user experience… adding more capabilities and tools for teams,” says Anear.
“Our ‘land and expand’ business model is continuing to evolve and we have now about 25 customer success and support people who are helping our customers.”
The platform enables more than 30 million safety and quality inspections at companies including Coca-Cola, Hilton Worldwide and Singapore Airlines.
Anear also revealed 11,500 companies are using the platform.