Safety Culture remains an alchemy Reply

Safety Culture is an issue that has turned up in disaster investigations, training programs intended to change attitudes, benchmarking exercises and reviews into workplace fatalities, overpriced and evangelical corporate products and as pitiful excuses for mistakes.  Yet it still remains poorly understood and poorly defined as shown by a recent article in ISHN magazine.

The magazine asked “safety and health exerts” on their opinions about Safety Culture.  Below is a sample of the comments:

Safety culture has turned into a marketing ploy.

Safety culture is part of common language and pops up all over the place – and as in beauty it’s in the eye of the beholder. More…

When did LinkedIn become the social media for brown-nosers? 12

PikachuLinkedIn is a useful adjunct to the social media of Facebook, MySpace and many other incarnations.  The professional network is a terrific idea but it has several problems – one is misuse or misunderstanding LinkedIn’s function, the other is the ridiculousness of Endorsements.  Given that LinkedIn is as popular in the OHS profession as in any other, the problems, as I see them, are worth discussing.

Linking to Strangers

According to Wikipedia:

“One purpose of the site is to allow registered users to maintain a list of contact details of people with whom they have some level of relationship, called Connections.”

From the user’s perspective this is the principal purpose of LinkedIn .  One is able to maintain informal contact with current and previous work colleagues.  When one’s work status changes, the linked network is advised.  As many contact details as one wants to include are placed on an individual’s profile.

There is a sense to linking peers and colleagues but this purpose, in my opinion, is seriously degraded by total strangers requesting to be linked to you. More…

Safety change through rape?! 6

At many occupational health and safety seminars and conferences in Australia there is often an OHS professional in the audience who says that jail time is the only real and effective deterrent for those breaking safety laws, usually in the context of gross negligence, reckless endangerment or industrial manslaughter.  The threat of imprisonment is indeed a deterrent for some people.

But sometimes there is an OHS professional who colours their call for imprisonment by suggesting that, once in prison, offenders should be harmed or even raped.  An example appeared on an OHS discussion forum within the last week.  The comment, on an issue of fall prevention, included this phrase:

“Only need to send a few for a short holiday with “Bubba” and some soap on a rope, to get the message across to the masses.”

This person is suggesting that the deprivation of liberty is insufficient punishment for an OHS offence and that the offender should also be raped.  What does this say about the real values of a person whose profession is based on harm minimisation and the elimination of hazards?

If, as The Guardian newspaper says, the two main principles for jail are “in order to punish wrongdoers, and to remove the danger they would otherwise pose to the wider world”, where is the justification for abuse?

The “Bubba” comment above, and many similar comments I have heard over the years, may be an extension of the cynicism that many OHS professionals seem to acquire over their time in the profession.  But it is also offensive and shows an approach to humanity that I do not share and that I believe has no place in the OHS profession, or anywhere, for that matter.  It is lazy thinking, and these thoughts come from those who advise Australian businesses!  It is a shameful situation.

Kevin Jones

Three competency elements of the safety professional 1

The October 2012 edition of The Synergist, the magazine of the  American Industrial Hygiene Association, included a frank interview with Niru Davé of Avon. Dave says that many safety and health professionals have a low level of competence.

He explains his statement through his belief that there are three competency elements in a safety professional:

  • Knowledge – staying up-to-date with the information in your field
  • People Skills – respect and approachability, and
  • Contribution – communication and involvement, participating in and generating a strategic approach.

These elements could apply to any profession and to any professional association, or industry group. Indeed these elements can be both personal and organisational. More…

Inside Australian PM’s political problems is a nugget of workplace safety 3

Prime Minister Gillard (centre) and others at Government House Canberra in March 2012

The Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has been under intense media pressure over an issue concerning her conduct as a lawyer around 17 years ago.

It involves legal work for unions, her personal relationship at the time with a union official who has been described as “dodgy” and of most relevance to this blog, workplace safety.

Missed in all the debate is that the workplace safety issue seems to support the assertions of many in the business and industry associations that OHS is frequently used by trade unions as an excuse for action in other areas.  These other areas are usually industrial relations but in this instance OHS was used to mask a unionist’s alleged misuse of member and industry funds. More…

Unanswered questions on Safety Institute activities 10

Earlier this year, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) launched its OHS Body of Knowledge (BoK) project, an excellent collection of workplace safety information and research but one that has had restrictions imposed on it that seem contrary to its purpose.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has communicated repeatedly to the SIA about the BoK project and the, seemingly, related operation of the Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board (AOHSEAB) but, although the communications have been acknowledged, no responses have been received.  Some of the questions go to the heart of the meaning of an OHS profession and body of knowledge but also to the relationships of various organisations under, or connected to, the SIA such as the Health and Safety Professionals Association (HaSPA) and AOHSEAB.

OHS Body of Knowledge

BoK contains over 30 articles about most of the major workplace safety issues of modern times.  These have been produced by some of the most prominent OHS researchers in Australia.  But it can only be read on a computer screen and the PDF files have a security level that forbids any cutting and pasting.  Why would this important safety information be any different to guidance and data that OHS regulators provide for fair use?  The SIA has never provided a reason for this peculiar approach to spreading OHS knowledge.

The SIA professes the organisation to be about the following:

“We are committed to creating a profession that can deliver the highest standards of OHS and we do this through the engagement of our individual members, corporate and strategic partners, governing bodies and key profession stakeholders.

Through the SIA, individuals have access to qualified timely advice into public policy and regulation, research and development to advance OHS knowledge and guidance. We have developed a body of knowledge to set health and safety standards, procedures and practices to be adopted on a national basis across the profession.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog posed the following questions to the appropriate contact person, Pam Pryor, Registrar, of the  Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board  in early May 2012.  The AOHSEAB issued its first ever newsletter on 5 July 2012. (Hyperlinks have been added) More…

Australia’s safety education arrangements need clarity 12

On 18 June 2012, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) distributed two media announcements on behalf of the Australian OH&S Education Accreditation Board (AOHSEAB). One announcement states that RMIT University

“…was first cab off the rank as part of a pilot program for the accreditation of OHS professional education programs”.

That announcement continues to say that

“As universities progress through the accreditation process employers and recruiters will have confidence that OHS professional education programs adequately prepare graduates to enter the workplace as an entry-level OHS professional and potential students will have a point of reference when selecting a program of study.”

This sounds very positive but who is this accreditation board? The Board’s website lists the Board’s Members and states its purpose as

“accredit[ing] OHS professional education programs that meet the accreditation criteria and holders of accredited qualifications are then deemed to meet the knowledge requirement for certification as generalist OHS professionals.”

So the Board provides some additional credibility to OHS professional education programs through accreditation. Can OHS courses exist without this accreditation? Certainly. The media release says that universities are “lining up” but only Latrobe University is in the accreditation process at the moment.

The state of tertiary OHS education in Australia is confusing. Some universities are promoting OHS courses while academics at other universities (and the SIA) are bemoaning the closure of OHS courses.* More…

New Tooma OHS book augurs well for the rest of the series on due diligence 6

Tooma is a leading figure in Australia’s analysis and application of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.  He has also been a regular author for publisher CCH.  His latest book on workplace health and safety is entitled “Due Diligence: Duty of Officers”. 

The process for harmonisation of OHS laws in Australia continues to be a rocky one but there are some elements emerging that, even if the laws are not applied in each State, will change the way that OHS is perceived in workplaces.  The increased involvement and accountability of senior managers has been a prominent concern through the review process and is a valid starting point for this new series of books.

Tooma writes in the Preface that the series is designed for the “busy executive” (Is there any other kind?) as an explanation for the tone and structure of the book.  The book is what has been traditionally described as an “easy read”.  I take this as meaning a clean, well-spaced font, minimal footnoting and cross-references.  There is a good use of graphics and tables but sometimes the short case studies or examples break up the page too much in such a small formatted book. More…

OHS harmonisation may be dead, so who will pick up the pieces? 11

One of the best summaries of the current status of the new Australian Work Health and Safety laws was published in The Australian newspaper on 27 January 2012 (not available without a subscription).  Lawyers from Norton Rose, Michael Tooma, Alena Titterton and Melissa Cornell, express doubts that harmonisation of national safety laws is possible.  They write:

“At this point in time, it looks unlikely that harmonisation will be achieved at any time during 2012, if it is ever achieved at all.”

The question needs to be asked whether the whole harmonisation process has been waste of time of whether some good has resulted from all the effort.  Prior to Christmas 2011, some legal commentators were satisfied that the harmonisation process had “lifted” several States’ OHS laws to a contemporary standard but the aim of harmonisation, indeed the “promise” of harmonisation was so much more.

Australian businesses that operate over multiple jurisdictions are justified in pointing the finger of blame at the ultra-conservative business groups, lobbyists and alarmists for stifling a very promising reform.  The administrative process could have been handled much better but each government had signed commitments to reform from which many are now weaseling out of.  Regardless of subsequent changes of government, these commitments should have been upheld.

Tooma, Titterton and Cornell summarise by writing:

“For legislative reform that was meant to be about providing clarity to a complex area with differing standards across multiple jurisdictions, after four years of significant effort, it appears we may have been merely gifted more confusion and simply a different set of differences. More…

Professor Niki Ellis speaks about OHS, CSR and resilience 2

Next week the National Comcare Conference is held in Melbourne Australia.  One of the keynote speakers at the conference is Professor Niki Ellis, a prominent Australian OHS researchers and consultant  who is also heading up the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR).

On a sunny September 5 2011 I was able to spend half and hour with Niki at a noisy cafe outside Victoria’s State Library talking about:

  • The profile of OHS is Australia as a profession
  • The importance of a practical application for OHS research (what Niki refers to as “interventionist research”)
  • The need for innovation in tertiary institutions
  • The legacy of Dame Carol Black’s UK report “Working for a Healthier Tomorrow
  • The challenge for OHS professionals to cope  with emerging psychosocial hazards
  • The role and importance of Corporate Social Responsibility to workplace health and safety
  • The deficiencies of applying resilience to workplace mental health issues


Kevin Jones