Marilyn Hubner Managing Director BuildUp Research and PhD Candidate VU  / 

story / Interview / July 18, 2016

I started working with the National Safety Council of Australia about six and a half years ago. I was employed as generalist trainer. Prior to that my safety background was limited to being a HSR. I had been working in a safety recruitment role, recruiting personnel and had completed a Diploma of Occupational Health and Safety and I was looking to make an impact. The people I met and worked with in the NSCA motivated and mentored me in such a way that improving safety performance has become my training focus. I’ve started my own company now (BuildUp Research), in an effort to provide specialised training services to organisations that are committed to using safety training as learning opportunities and not just compliance.

I am an adult educator, that is my passion and background. I love to see people learn and I want to see improvement. Even at the TAFE level, I would go to the teacher at the end of the unit and say, ‘These are the problems with this unit.’ Eventually they employed me to rewrite the unit and start delivering it. In that process of undertaking the course, researching the course and then delivering the course, I learnt about different ways to teach safety. That is where my experience came from.

There is a lot of opportunity for the industry as a whole to conduct training differently. Not only from within the industry, but at the University and trade level; from apprentices to university graduates. There is opportunity for the industry to do it better. The mindset is that construction is a dangerous industry and you have to expect things to happen. Mining, it is a dangerous industry too, however they don’t accept bad safety as a part of their job. It’s improving all the time. This is demonstrated in their figures.

The simple reason of why I love training is because I wanted to change the world. I didn’t know how else to do it. I tried to force the world to change and that just got me into trouble as a young kid. Training was something that I didn’t always want to do. It was something that I realised that I was good at and that it could get me to where I wanted to go. I didn’t choose it, it chose me.

My PHD is an investigation into the attitude and perceptions of construction site supervisors towards safety in general and more particularly safety training. I have people come into the training who don’t want to be there because they think they don’t need to be there. And I as the trainer can only do so much with what I have. I need to try and work out; What is that attitude? Where did it come from? Why is it there? And can I change the product or the way I deliver to fit into that? Companies are investing all this money because they want a particular outcome from the training. So that is never going to happen if I can’t deal with the attitude in the class room. You can’t just change an attitude overnight, you have to work out where it has come from and why?

I think it is much more about the effective delivery of the training and the product, rather than trying to change (or force) the attitude or behaviours of supervisors. In my research, that typical ‘I don’t want to be here, I have been doing this job for 20 years, I don’t think I need this, I just want to get on with their job,’  is the majority attitude. But as a trainer I wanted to know whether it truly was. Any investigation, you have to find out if it is just localised or is it everywhere.

I definitely believe there are gaps in safety within the construction industry. I think that there is too much of a reliance on a generic system. Say, for example, a SWMS is how we deal with contractor management. Everything revolves around that one document. I think focusing on that means we have our blinkers on. And that we don’t see the interaction between this task happening here on this SWMS and this task happening right next door on a totally different SWMS. If you look at a site there are all these pockets of activities happening that are all reviewed individually. The industry does tend to deal with the high risk activites well, but the systems surrounding that are narrow focused. Improved training that is relevant and meaningful for the participants can help increase safety performance.

The results of my PhD investigation have found that specific and relevant safety training, developed to meet the needs of the participant, and delivered using practical activities and engaging trainers will impact positively on the behaviour and attitudes of construction supervisors.

I played rugby for ten years and I love it. It’s good stress relief like any sport. I don’t play any more, I just go and watch the rugby now. I am passionate about learning. It doesn’t matter whether I’m learning about safety, art, rugby or anything. I think that every person needs to learn all through their life. People just become complacent and lazy and can’t be bothered as they grow old. This is what we need to change.

I tell my daughter that she should eat brussel sprouts, but she never does. My daughter wants to be a ballet dancer and now a vegetarian. She has just started to talk about being a vegetarian. She has just turned 13. I am saying to her I am neither going to support or oppose her decision, until she is able to come to me and say, ‘This what I want to be and this is why I want to be this.’ I always tell my daughter that she has to do research before she makes a decision. And hopefully she doesn’t become a vegetarian! I’m sure that’s no good for her dancing!


Both Justine and Danielle completed their OHS Certificate IV course under Marilyn’s guidance as their teacher. Marilyn is very relaxed. She has a kind, demure, always listening and asking questions. She talks passionately about leaning and teaching, something we often seem to forget with our hectic jobs. It’s important to take a step back and foster the teaching of our youth as well our opening our minds to learning; no matter how old you may be. Marilyn is currently working on her PhD which she is hoping to complete by the end of the year. We wish her all the best with her work and look forward to calling her Dr Hubner! Now that’s impressive. Thanks Marilyn for your time and support. All the best! 

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