The Safety Institute of Australia‘s OHS Professional magazine has been out for a couple of editions now and the good news is that it is improving. The sad part is that it remains well-behind other OHS magazines.
The latest edition has contributions, finally, from a freelance writer, Liam Tung. Liam is not an OHS professional, to my knowledge, and this shows a little in some of the generalized elements of his articles. But the articles are at least original content and this addresses a repeated criticism of the magazine.
The SIA runs many OHS conferences but very rarely ever see these as sources of content. The current edition of OHS Professional comes with a supplement of some article from the 2010 Safety In Action Conference. It is a good souvenir of the conference but is very thin.
The lead article about OHS in Antarctica includes content that is familiar from many other Antarctic presentations. The author, Terry Vickers, was the scheduled speaker at the 2010 conference breakfast but turned up almost an hour late after, supposedly, thinking the breakfast was on the next day. This led to much discussion at the conference as the SIA committee decided to delay all the conference schedules by around 45 minutes to allow Terry Vickers to get to the venue which created mayhem for delegates. The mis-step was the talk of the conference at the time.
That the conference reports and some of the papers were included as a supplement is odd as there have been moves for years to integrate conference papers into the existing magazines. This has never been followed through to the best ability and the current supplement sets a precedent in that similar should be produced from the Sydney, Queensland and Western Australian conference.
But to be truly valuable, the articles need to be more than reports of the presentations but analysis of the speakers’ thoughts and content. The supplement does not do justice to the two presentations of Andrew Hopkins who provided some radical thoughts on the application of risk assessment.
The education stream in the conference may have provided more interesting content if the writer was more inquisitive about the push for research, the validity of an OHS body of knowledge and the communication strategies that are being applied.
In the past the conference papers have been available for purchase but it is understood this opportunity is rarely used. Over at least a decade the Safety In Action conference “papers” have become less relevant as the speakers have been able to get away with supplying only a PowerPoint presentation. This may be enough if one attends a conference but it provides very little legacy. Other conferences in Australia and overseas enforce papers much more and therefore produced greater longevity for the conference’s intellectual content. Some of the SIA conference CDs from earlier this century continue to be a useful reference specifically because the conference papers required more rigour.
The stand-out article in OHS Professional is one that allows Professor Niki Ellis to criticise the direction of the OHS profession a la Dame Carol Black. The freshness of original thinking is noticeable after many other articles that simply decry the lack of support for OHS research. The contrast indeed shows a confusion in the editorial approach to the magazine, a confusion that seems to reflect the Safety Institute to some extent.
The SIA needs to reexamine many of Nikki Ellis’ comments in light of its own future. The SIA needs to look seriously at the major OHS and social issues facing the national – mental illness. It needs to independently consider this hazard rather than simply jumping on the bandwagon of mental health lobbyists, of which there are too many. To support these advocates critically is far more valid than simply getting another corporate sponsor.
Ellis states that
“OHS is a multi-disciplinary field…..It needs multidisciplinary, applied research.”
It also needs a multi-disciplinary OHS magazine which OHS Professional could be, but currently is not.
Much of the current edition complains, some may say whinges, about the paucity of OHS research. It has always seemed odd that the SIA does not provide research funding from its own cash reserves. Speculation is that the organisation is in a strong financial position, or it was a couple of years ago.
The editorial is looking outside the SIA for funding when perhaps it should be calling on better financial management and increased revenue from its own resources.
It may also be relevant that the editorial note is authored by , a qualification not listed in the magazine. In fact the editorial roles in the magazine are confusing, with the Editor named as Liam Tung on the contents page but Dr Steve Cowley, a prominent OHS academic and researcher at the University of Ballarat, named for the editorial note.
The presence of LexisNexis in the publication seems to have changed markedly from the first edition but not as much as for the OHS Professional e-newsletter. The weekly newsletter has gone backwards in its presentation as if it was taking up too much time, and resources needed to be kept for the magazine. Part of the publishing deal between SIA and LexisNexis also included a twice-yearly research journal but the publication schedule for this seems inconsistent. This is surprising because reliability of production is an important element in generating a regular readership and a readership that eagerly anticipates a magazine. This is also essential if subscriptions are wanted, as seems to be the case.
The Safety Institute of Australia must have a magazine. It is an important promotional platform that supports the development of a safety profession. What is surprising is that the development of this title has taken so long given that the SIA has had magazines before, it is well aware of the standard of magazines produced by other safety association here and overseas, and it has a contract with a world-leading business information publisher in LexisNexis. This combination of skill and experience should be producing a better publication than the latest edition of OHS Professional.
[The first edition of OHS Professional was discussed in an earlier post and there have been several articles since on other OHS magazines available in Australia]
Disclaimer: Kevin Jones was put forward as an editorial replacement for the magazine in late 2009 but his placement was rejected by the SIA.