Day in the Life: Ralph Schwarz Geoterrics Group managing director


Ralph webRalph Schwarz likes nothing better than a challenge, and his latest role delivers something different every day.

What does your role involve?

I manage the day-to-day business of the Geoterrics Group. I also act as an executive director of NoGoZone and Matrix Risk Management Services, in which the Geoterrics Group has major interests. I also occasionally hire out to exploration (drilling, seismic and cultural heritage) field projects as an auditor, health, safety, environment and quality (HSEQ) compliance QC, and cultural heritage liaison.

What is a typical work day for you?

No day is typical for me. One day I can be performing the day-to-day management tasks or seeing potential clients; another auditing compliance on a seismic crew in the highlands of PNG or Siberia, or a drill rig in central Australia or Africa; another conducting risk assessments in an office or workshop of a new client; another working with a group of Traditional Owners surveying cultural heritage finds; and another working to develop risk management and compliance system components with my very talented and dedicated team.

How did you come to manage Matrix?

I started in public safety in the Brisbane City Council in 1983, then with the NSW government working in the team that organised the first Water Safety Week where I was also a lecturer on water safety and teaching courses for a lot of the 1980s. In 1988 I took a position in New Zealand on a seismic crew for a few years, and worked a number of roles in seismic exploration. Following this I returned to Australia, and commenced a series of roles both in, and out of, the greater public safety and compliance servicing sector. In 2004 I was asked to help resurrect the Hellyer and Que River exploration efforts of Bass Metals as exploration projects manager, along with the day-to-day technical field work and supervision. There began my path of learning, writing and implementing HSEQ compliance systems. Along the way I have worked for a number of companies in this field. Matrix became an independent outgrowth of Geoterrics Services due to a reasonably high demand for my HSEQ consulting and system development skills.

Why did you choose to work in the compliance and risk management field?

When I started as exploration projects manager for Bass Metals in Tasmania, the managing director asked me to put a system together. I did a few courses, researched the Tasmanian Legislation, consulted stakeholders, and completed a draft HSE system. The process was a great experience, and basically I was hooked from then on. It was not only the system development work but also the in-field day-to-day business of safety on a remote field crew, a seismic or re-supply ship, a drill rig or core shed, or an office/workshop. I still love doing it all.

Where has your job taken you?             

A series of roles has taken me to Siberia, North, Central and Southern Africa, the Middle East, South East Asia, North America, and most of Australia and New Zealand.

How does your job challenge you?

Given the complexity of my work, I have no shortage of challenges. The primary challenge in today’s workplace is combating negative compliance culture from either ignorance due to young people entering the industry ill-prepared for the hazards and risks associated with the environment they are working in, or push-back from the ‘old guard’ mentality. I also find working with many companies in different industries that the cost of compliance is a huge concern, and I actively try to find ways to simplify and demystify compliance, working with companies to find affordable and sustainable ways to achieve their requirements.

What has been one of the most satisfying moments of your career?

There have been so many great moments, it’s hard to choose. Collectively though, I feel very satisfied when meeting a really combative personality with whom I have to work and bring them around to accept some compliance requirement. When I finally establish common ground and it all starts to click into place and we move forward in achieving the required outcome, very few moments can beat that.

What advice would you give to someone who wants a position in your field?

Firstly, learn the acts and regulations, standards, and codes of practice of the compliance jurisdiction you’re working in and learn the fundamentals of safety and risk management. Learn to connect with people on a real and personal level. Learn to examine and question all ‘conventional wisdom’ to assure yourself that what you are doing is the right thing – or find a better way yourself. Lastly, learn, practice and perfect technical writing – this skill will help pull it all together.