Just a little help from your peers goes a long way at GMW

Thursday 15 October, 2020

During Safe Work month, Goulburn-Murray Water is reflecting on initiatives in place across the organisation to protect the health and safety of its employees.

When Storage Operations Manager Scott Wikman was asked by his colleagues at Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW) to join a pilot program offering peer support, he didn’t quite know what he was signing up for. But after 12 years as coordinator, Mr Wikman said the peer support network had proven vital for the organisation.

At GMW, peer support volunteers undertake three days training with a psychologist. Set-up during the Millennium drought, the program has stood the test of time and is now more relevant than ever providing support to staff enduring coronavirus (COVID-19) related issues.

“Right now, I’m receiving around one enquiry per week from a colleague asking for support on a wide variety of issues including personal matters,” Mr Wikman said.

“For me, the program has been life changing. I’ve learnt a lot about myself. It’s taught me to be a much better listener and not to jump to conclusions as things aren’t always as they initially seem.

“Having someone to talk to who has training in dealing with sensitive topics without judgement can really help. Sometimes, this results in a staff member pursuing professional help, but often they find a way to work through the situation themselves.”

The Peer Support network comprises about 26 trained GMW staff. Initial training focuses on managing confidentiality, boundaries and ethics. There is an emphasis placed on understanding mental health and wellbeing, internal and community resources and the role of Peer Support within Critical Incident Management. Ongoing training is also undertaken with regular development sessions.

GMW General Manager People, Culture and Safety, Glenda Smith said “October is National Safe Work Month, and with this year’s theme: Work, Health and Safety through COVID-19 GMW is tackling this challenge head-on”.

“GMW’s Peer Support program is well utilised, particularly when staff need a friendly ear, in a confidential setting from colleagues experiencing similar circumstances,” Ms Smith said.

“Whilst Peer Support does not take the place of traditional counselling it does complement it is often the first step in someone seeking assistance.

“For GMW, the network is a preventative tool fostering good mental health and in a time of crises provides ongoing support for recovery.”