Lord Young smashes bridges instead of building them at IOSH conference

Following the post on the 2010 British election campaign a reader pointed out that David Cameron’s reviewer of OHS, Lord Young, spoke at the 2010 conference of the Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH) in late March 2010 and ruffled some feathers.

Lord David Young described the public perception of OHS as

“at best, as an object of ridicule and, at worst, a bureaucratic nightmare”.

However according to IOSH, Lord Young identified OHS professionals as the problem instead of considering the truth of many of the media reports.  This is surprising given that HSE has taken great pains to identify many of the myths that have entered the public consciousness over the last few years.  Anyone undertaking a review of OHS should investigate a little deeper than The Telegraph.  It does not augur well for any recommendations that David Cameron may be expecting.

Lord Young did at least mention the substantial influence that insurance companies are having on the management of health and safety.

But perhaps one should not be surprised by Lord Young’s approach.  An outsider may think him well qualified for the task as a former Secretary of State for Employment and Secretary of State for Trade & Industry until one realises that his tenure was under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and in a time that was not renown for OHS innovation.

According to the IOSH news release, after inaccurately criticising IOSH on the matter of professional competence he concluded his speech by saying

“Thanks for not throwing bottles at me!’

Some perspex guarding may be required on his return visit!

Lord Young seems to have been poorly prepared for, following Cameron’s OHS speech in December, IOSH’s media statement said :

“…IOSH welcomes Mr Cameron’s intention to tackle the negative popular culture that has come to surround our health and safety, backed by a commitment to bring more common sense into compensation.”

Clearly Lord Young sees IOSH as combative with Tory ideologies which speaks volumes about Lord Young’s review and the Conservative Party’s attitudes to OHS more generally.  What little optimism existed in December has been dashed by Lord Young less than four months later.

Lord Young wrote in an April 2009  newspaper article on the need for an independent civil service:

“David Cameron will have to restore the impartiality of the Civil Service without delay. Without impartial advice, ministers are rarely successful. Nor, in the end, are governments”.

It is recommended that Lord Young bears this in mind as he completes his review for Tory Leader David Cameron.  Or perhaps Cameron should have introduced a “competence based membership structure”, like IOSH did in 2005, for the Conservative Party prior to appointing Lord Young

Kevin Jones

Categories communication, executives, insurance, myths, OHS, politics, Professional standards, safety, UncategorizedTags , ,

7 thoughts on “Lord Young smashes bridges instead of building them at IOSH conference”

  1. You state that

    \”I am not convinced that there are “a lot snake oil salesmen out there preying on small business”.\”

    I\’m afraid it\’s true – and more so in regions where truly professional services are not well known, business is smaller and cash-strapped. I have seen the evidence of their work. Straight off the shelf proprietory OHS systems of dubious origin and even more dubious applicability sold to a small business with a handfull of employees so he could tender for Govt contracts -Cost $5000 – result – not useful, never used, a ripoff.

    I\’m not confusing these people with OHS professionals as we know them, but Joe Public does not know the difference, does not know who to go to for advice. There is no widely recognised brand, certification, label that business understands and accepts.

    1. Interesting point on small business and OHS information.

      WorkSafe Victoria has closed down its OHS consultants directory because it did not want to imply that it was endorsing the consultants. There are other reasons but this is the main one. It now directs the public to the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) and the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygiene. This seems to me to be shifting the (dubious) risk but not improving the issue of suggesting contact points for business, particularly small business, on OHS advice.

      The SIA has virtually no public profile in the small business sector, certainly, nothing like that of WorkSafe.

      In May 1997 study into communicating OHS information to small business Claire Mayhew wrote:

      \”It is argued that OHS has failed to penetrate very small businesses because the methods used…. are based on those employed with large business. Large business techniques are not appropriate and do not work with very small businesses.\” (WorkSafe Australia 1997)

      This comment was before the internet had established itself in small business, and western society, but the criticism remains valid as the barriers to small business OHS improvements were summarized as \”limited time and financial resources\”, that OHS was seen as a \”luxury: to be addressed only after \’core business\’.\”

      All Australian OHS regulators have been aware of the Mayhew study, some participated. Thirteen years later, with revolutionised communication methods, the attitude of small business to OHS seems to have remained the same. Small business still seems to have not \”bought in\” to the OHS message.

  2. Yes, the competence of some of the people masquerading as OHS Professionals is definitely a problem. There are a lot of \”snake oil salesmen\” out there preying on small businesses and taking money under false pretences.

    But the REAL problem with professional competence is threefold:

    !. Standing as a Safety Professional (SIA etc) should be based on actual competence – not rigid adherence to level of qualification. A lot of work needs be done to establish such a framework. My Postgrad qualification from a highly regarded university, is in reality worth nothing more than a TAFE Certificate IV – but it cost heaps more (feepaying students only) and took far less time. This suited me as a busy professional looking to validate years of learning, research, work – which was reflected in my average distinction grade. But no-one who stayed enrolled and finished the coursework was going to actually fail that course…

    2. The system of education does teach would be OHS professionals many things – theories, systems, techniques, technical knowledge regarding a huge range of workplace hazards. There is no substitute for real world, at the coalface (metaphorically) workplace experience and real life experience and understanding of people – who are at the heart of our endeavour. It takes time and a variety of exposures to gain this wisdom.

    3. Bigger businesses employ \”OHS officers\” \”SHEQ coordinators\” \”HSE Managers\”etc. (variously titled, various and broad range of responsibilities) and gives them:
    – insufficient authority and autonomy;
    – inadequate resources,
    – the task of meeting all relevant regulatory requirements – without any unerstanding, due diligence, or commitment by senior managers and directors.
    Business really doesn\’t know what to look for in a safety advisor – but they certainly dont want a critic, one who bucks their system.

    I frequently get to see the results of this, small and micro businesses who are too afraid to seek help from the regulator because they (mistakenly) believe they\’ll automatically be fined for regulatory breaches, turning to under qualified (or not qualified) self styled experts. Or acessing no advice at all!

    Bigger businesses often have opressed safety officers (out of their depth in the corporate world) who are unable to make any real changes to the \”way things are done around here\” but are responsible for of a huge and and unwieldy OHS management system, mainly comprised of massess of documentation, which supposedly evidences the employer\’s commitment to and action on safety issues.

    It\’s a mess. No wonder the uninformed observer sheets home blame to the OHS professional, or whines about red tape and over regulation. Reality falls so far from intent.

    1. I agree that the profession in Australia is a mess at the moment but I am not convinced that there are \”a lot snake oil salesmen out there preying on small business\”.

      WorkSafe Victoria has asserted that many consultants have provided clients with incorrect OHS advice but has refused to provide any case studies or statistics to support their assertion. The fact that the assertion of \”bad consultants\” has become accepted knowledge in the OHS profession is disappointing, particularly in an industry that values and promotes \”evidence-based\” decisions.

      There are certainly OHS consultants who should have provided better advice but whether the advice provided was \”bad\” or \”negligent\” is debatable.

      Too many organisations are imposing systems of registration on their members without providing any structure within which the members can upgrade their skills. Skill maintenance has been outsourced to universities which, as you have said, can be hellishly expensive, particularly for those OHS professional who are self-funding. OHS professional associations should offer more educational opportunities to its members, this will, in turn, professionalise the professionals more and, perhaps, to the extent where certification is needed less.

      In some Australian States, the OHS regulators have left the issue of competence to the professional associations, and some of these have been inactive on the issues and have relied on annual conferences where less than a third of attendees are members. The regulators need to up the criteria for competence from some of the professional bodies as some are serving their member\’s commercial needs more than the OHS profession as a whole.

  3. Tony

    The closest equivalent to IOSH in Australia is the Safety Institute of Australia. The SIA is similarly struggling with the issue of competence. It has received financial and administrative support in its program from WorkSafe Victoria, so competency of professionals is of concern with Australian OHS regulators also.

  4. The role of OHSW professionals has been defined by time and any additional regulatory authority or NGO trying to stamp it\’s control on perfectly competent professionals of the broadest possible constituency, smacks of potential exclusion of competent individual professionals who may have an aversion to membership of various organisations.

    OHSW covers the broadest possible canvas and the number of professions that are attached to service of the industry is equally as broad if not more so. I fail to see how an organisation such as IOSH could hope to cover this canvas and the information on the web site certainly indicates to me that there is a distinct leaning towards NGO bureaucracy and back door regulation.

    I believe there is more than just a sniff of self seeking and self serving without any real delivery of substantiated results on the shop floor of small business – the largest employer of workers in the world.

    Will anyone please tell me where in the world there is a safety system delivering real reduction in injuries across the board while at the same time looking after workers properly and without penalty because they have been injured???????????????? Maybe we could copy that system and not have all the additional expense we seem to be growing.

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