I had cause to give some students an idea of how well OH&S is doing in Oz. The aim was to give these people some big picture numbers that might help them counter the general view that OH&S is over-done, crippled with nanny state perspectives etc etc.
Initially I slipped into the mode we tend to use in OH&S-World of fiddling about with comparisons: looking at innumerable qualifiers to get a tight comparison, massaging the numbers endlessly. Eventually I realised it just didn’t cut it. Statistics over-worked just end up producing a mushy result. And if there is one thing people don’t need from OH&S it’s mushy results.
So faced with this I decided to step back and think of a Big big Picture bunch of numbers. The numbers I thought could resonate with the audience was how well Australia was doing with OH&S compared to Britain (comparable laws, comparable culture – sort of). Here is the result that readers might find useful.
After quite a few hours spent trawling through the endless numbers to get a base reference that meant something, I eventually decided full-time workers totals was a pretty straightforward one for most people to relate to.
And then it was on to the biggest Big Picture OH&S performance number – at least in terms of what is likely to have the ordinary punter paying attention. I used Work Safe Australia’s numbers for workplace “traumatic fatalities”. I had to exclude road related fatalities ‘cause the HSE don’t count ‘em.
When the last slide came up the result was as good as I could have possibly expected. The audience were a group of students, average age about 20. Right at the start I’d got them to be fair dinkum about their thoughts about having to go to a lesson on OH&S. “OK, how many of ya dreaded the thought of this lesson coming up?” Clear majority put their hand up. The point being, the audience were mostly youngins who were obviously going to glaze-over quickly.
The last slide caused a collective sucking in of breath. Naturally, I was looking closely for any evidence of cynicism: the collective gulp didn’t seem to have any evidence of that.
I offered the sources to anyone who was interested to check them: no-one was. (For this article I’ve listed sources below.)
What this exercise proved was that it is possible to make OH&S matter. But it has to be done thinking like a punter instead of having our heads buried in OH&S-World, where there is a bit of a tendency to over-complicate the number crunching. For mine, the numbers in the graphs confirms what I reckon we all know, OH&S in Oz is in bad shape. Complaints about how much effort is being put into OH&S can be dismissed, if we focus on the big picture.
As a closing aside, the graphs were produced using the exceptionally fabulous Apple presentation tool, Keynote. Each of the columns were animated and grew progressively higher on a click. It’s presentation tool I found to be easy to build with and don’t have much patience for that sort of thing. Well worth trying out.
Sources for the above graphs:
- Source for # of full-time employed in Britain: Office for National Statistics
- Source for Australian full-time employees as at July 2010: Australian Bureau of Statistics
- Source for number of workplace fatalities in Britain: HSE –
- Source for number of fatalities in Oz (2006/2007): Safe Work Australia