Not every school-leaver has a solid plan for their future. 

SHEQ Officer Orla Manning enrolled in nursing in Ireland when she completed high school, then switched to hairdressing. Not long after she completed her four-year training for that profession, she had the opportunity to join her sister in Australia. 

"Growing up in Ireland, Australia is seen as the land of sunshine and beaches," Orla says. "Especially if you've been watching TV shows like Home & Away!"

"I was keen to see what Australia had to offer, it was a bit of an adventure."

Orla put her hairdressing skills to good use when she arrived, but the opportunity to work in regional Australia for a year saw her switch to traffic control. 

"Working in traffic control introduced me to the transport industry and also opened my eyes to the importance of safety on the roads," Orla says. "I experienced firsthand the potential risks involved in having workers in close proximity to traffic and learned how important a strong safety culture and good safety planning were." 


Following her return to Sydney, Orla stuck with the traffic control business taking up a role at Evolution Traffic, and she soon moved into an office-based role with them.

Whilst there, she undertook her Certificate 4 in Workplace Health and Safety as she was clear now where her passion lay. 

Evolution Traffic were well known and respected by Ventia's Eastern Distributor contract team, so when Orla applied for a role as SHEQ (Safety, Health, Environment and Quality) Officer she successfully secured it.

Orla says by then she'd decided to undertake more formal studies in health and safety so in 2018 Orla started her Master of Science at the University of Greenwich (London). This degree also included a 15,000-word dissertation; the theme she chose was behavioural-based safety. 

"Employees know the rules, they know the processes and procedures and what they are supposed to do," Orla says. "But sometimes they make decisions or act in a way that is not in line with what they know. I wanted to learn more about why that happens."

A component of her dissertation was field-based observational work, requiring her to come up with a checklist that covered off the top five areas of risk she'd identified. 

Orla says that her studies showed that the key to performance improvement that sticks is positive reinforcement. 

"One of the outputs of my research was visual elements like graphs to show people how safety had improved through their actions, which made it real to them."

Orla says the combination of her studies and the practical application at work was where the value came from for her. 

Orla's manager, Bridie Vico, was very supportive of Orla and her studies, often providing a sounding board for theories and ideas. She also saw the value of the degree to the contract and Ventia more broadly. 

"Orla's ability to undertake high quality incident investigations and then produce reports developed hugely," Bridie says. "And it was great to see the passion she had for what she was researching and how well it applied to the work we do on our contracts." 

Group Executive SHEQ Christian Frost says that the skills Orla has learned during her studies are of great value to the organisation and he's really pleased to see strong female talent in the safety space. 

"We have some great women in our team, and as we look to improve diversity across Ventia it is team members like Orla that are helping pave the way."

With five years as a SHEQ Officer under her belt, Orla is starting to consider where she wants her career to go next. But first, she has an addition to the family to plan for, as she and her husband look forward to welcoming their first child later this year.

"There are lots of opportunities at Ventia," Orla says. "I am looking forward to exploring them."

If you'd like to read more about our business, you can check out Bridie's full story here or read about some of our Transport contracts here and diversity and inclusion at Ventia here.