Conference videos provide optimism and nerves

Several years ago I assisted the Safety Institute of Australia in providing introductory video profiles for many of their conference speakers.  The intention was to provide a teaser for the content of conference presentations and to introduce more obscure speakers.  The strategy is continuing with several pre-conference videos being made available on-line.

Conference teasers in 2011 include Professor Niki Ellis and Australian lawyer, Andrew Douglas.

Andrew Douglas

Andrew Douglas says that safety professionals need to be careful of jargon as it can create an impenetrable elitism that may run counter to the aim of the profession.  Part of the risk of professional jargon is that it may support an inaccuracy that creates considerable damage.

Douglas identifies “zero harm” as an example of a phrase or concept that con become popular, perhaps dominant, even though it may  be unsupported by OHS laws.  Because the laws and the reality of workplace safety is that there will always be people who are hurt or injured at work, “zero harm” is unattainable and those who utter the “mantra of zero harm”, as Andrew Douglas describes it, lose any OHS credibility.

Those who promote Zero Harm, like those who use “world’s best practice”, raise a red flag of spin and show a lack of credibility.  Some cautiously use Zero Harm but come across as fence-sitters.

Andrew Douglas says Zero Harm can perpetuate a lie and disengage the workforce from safety management.  Douglas’ presentation at the Safety In Action Conference was already marked as a must-see.

Niki Ellis

Professor Niki Ellis is one of the few Australian safety professionals who are passionate advocates of the management of psychosocial hazards, illustrated most stridently by Dame Carol Black in the UK several years ago.  If it was physically possible, in this promotional video, Ellis is able to slap the OHS profession in the face and kick it up the arse at the same time.

Ellis, as Black did, clearly places OHS in the broader social context.

Safety professionals need to absorb Ellis’ presentation for the purposes of increasing their knowledge, but perhaps more importantly, the professionals and their associations need realise that, as Ellis says, they have not kept up with the reality of safety in the workplace.  Safety used to analyse workers as (almost) freethinking machines that had a role in production.  The workplace has changed remarkably over the last few decades leading to a reality of the humanity of the workforce, and that humanity is the social context of work.

Niki Ellis was the stand out speaker at a Comcare national conference a year or so ago and is likely to repeat that prominence in this safety conference.

Sidney Dekker

Sidney Dekker is one of those conference speakers who need a video introduction, at least to an Australian audience.  Several videos are online of Dekker speaking passionately about culture.  Sadly one of the videos (embedded below) have him out of frame, the camera is rarely still and he has airplanes regularly flying into his ears in the background – all detracting from his points, one of which is, according to a blurb from his Just Culture book:

“Without reporting of failures and problems, without openness and information sharing, a safety culture cannot flourish”

The video gives the impression that there is a risk, in the upcoming Dr Eric Wigglesworth Memorial Lecture where Dekker is speaking, that the Australian audience will lose the important pieces of information in a presentation laden with vague concepts of resilience and culture.  Several years ago, E Scott Geller bombed with at least one Australian audience and there is a risk of a recurrence.

Dekker needs to undertake considerable research into the knowledge reality of the Australian safety professional so that he is not mistaken for an evangelical book seller.  He has visited Australia before so there is a strong chance that he knows the limitations of the OHS audience but such a lecture needs to be tailored to the Australian audience.

What Australian OHS professionals need from Dekker are definitions for the vague concepts mentioned above.  Hard examples of the application of these concepts in Australia should also be provided.  In this way the audience will be confident that Dekker’s knowledge can be applied locally and has been in reality.

Dekker also needs to specify the cost of implementing his ideas.  Often the ideas seem great but are too draining on resources to be accepted.  It would be interesting to hear Dekker’s take on the, some say, low-costs change management of William Bratton at the New York Police Department in the 1990’s which has gained considerable credence since his management style, based on “tipping points”, was written up in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) in 2003.  A summary of the HBR article says

“The theory of tipping points, which has its roots in epidemiology, hinges on the insight that in any organization, fundamental changes can occur quickly when the beliefs and energies of a critical mass of people create an epidemic movement toward an idea.  Bratton begins by overcoming the cognitive hurdles that block companies from recognizing the need for radical change.  He puts managers face-to-face with operational problems.  Next, he manages around limitations on funds, manpower, or equipment by concentrating resources on the areas that are most in need of change and that have the biggest possible payoffs.  He meanwhile solves the motivation problem by singling out key influencers–people with disproportionate power due to their connections or persuasive abilities…”

Does anyone see similarities to culture, resilience and emotional intelligence?

Kevin Jones

Categories business, culture, health, lawyers, OHS, psychiatric, research, risk, safety, Uncategorized, workplaceTags , , ,

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