‘Why is the most important reason for good workplace health and safety standards not at work at all?’ asks the Homecoming advertisement by implication. Because the injured or killed worker will leave his/her family behind, or harm them if they are injured or killed. S/he needs to think about them and the workplace H&S standard; about their pain and the OHS standard. About them and his/her possibly unsafe behaviour at work so s/he can return home in one piece; return to them. And the imagery is of a patiently waiting young boy, waiting for his father at the front of the house holding a ball. How desperate, lost and lonely that little boy would be if his father (in this case) was killed at work. Your heart goes out to him and thereby an emotional driver has been activated. And, in truth, tragically, such occasions do happen, too often.
Then the father appears and the boy smiles from ear to ear, we can feel the happiness permeating the ambrosia of human wellbeing. Father has come home safe and sound, boy is happy, family is whole, healthy and safe. I can’t remember, does mother peak smilingly from behind the corner as dinner simmers in the kitchen? Your heart swells. Good advert wouldn’t you say?
It’s very hard to change people’s behaviour. It’s hard to get people to effectively achieve sustained improvements in anything. Therefore, haven’t the marketers achieved a lot with this series of advertisements?
Let’s see: first, are there likely to be any OHS improvements at work as a result of any of these ads? I haven’t seen any, have you? Think hard, what exactly has changed?
Secondly, have managers been touched by these ads so that they will now rush out and make dramatic OHS improvements? After all, many of them are also family men and women, they too would be moved by these ads and rush out to fix their workplace.
I conduct workplace inspections on a continuous basis, yet I haven’t seen a single, new and sustainable improvement, let alone an improvement based on these ads. Nothing has changed. Thirdly, how have most workers responded to these ads? As I see it, largely with ridicule, “Yeah, right mate, the most important reason…. bleah bleah bleah!” Fourthly, how has the community at large responded? Have there been marches in the streets demanding improvements to OHS standards? even though there have been horrendous incidents both in Australia and NZ, just to mention a couple of places. Fifthly, have politicians demanded specific and much higher OHS standards from their departments as a result of these ads? In your dreams!
So what precisely has changed? Bugger all that’s what’s changed. Marketers’ view of themselves may have, but that’s all. They’ll argue about increased awareness which is code for nothing at all.
Just consider the horrific recent incidents of workers losing limbs in poorly guarded machinery, (public information), such an old fashioned hazard that doesn’t take a genius to know how to fix, yet it continues to maim and kill (see Kandos, NSW). We’re not talking of EMR/EMF or tricky new issues with nanotechnology. This has to do with the absence of machine guards and proper working procedures in 2010!
So what is the point of these fancy – and very very expensive – advertisement campaigns? Will your family members at work (workers) be safer now as a result? Will – at least – people talk about the issues more effectively so that change will result? Yeah right!
So what really is my problem? Aside from the bullshit that passes for proper research in OHS as to what will really make sustained improvements, and the tangible degree of dishonesty in such adverts, and the harm they do (demeaning the fact that the most important reason to look after OHS standards is the wellbeing of workers), is the fact that regulators, politicians, marketing geniuses and all the hangers- on haven’t yet learnt to respect the real wisdom that resides in workers’ knowledge and experience, and learnt how to talk with workers at their workplace and at their job.
And constantly, daily, various managers stop such harvesting of that information, until a catastrophe happens, then workers are listened to with a deeply exaggerated attention. Why? ‘Because the health and safety of my workers is the most important factor at my workplace”. Heard that before?!
National OHS Co-Ordinator
Australian Workers’ Union