Managers being closer

The following are some of the processes supposedly used in workplaces to control/eliminate hazards:   hazard identification, risk assessment and risk management.  These should address the implicit questions of: ‘What?’, ‘How bad?’ and ‘What to do?’

The language then turns to words and concepts like ‘OHS culture’, ‘behaviour-based safety’… and all within some over-arching package referred to as an ‘OHS management system’.  These are shown in the diagram below.

But that’s one representation, there are many others.  Now ask some simple questions:  Given that some 80% of workers work in small to medium workplaces, just how much interest will there be from managers in these approaches?

The single most obvious change I’ve seen in OHS in the last 20 years has been the dramatic increase in the amount and volume of talking about it.  It’s clearly not the only change, but the most wide-spread and obvious one. The simple introduction of workload-reducing implements like patient lifting and shifting devices for nursing is one that did make a difference – after years and years of struggling to get that improvement.  There are others, but it’s not the general picture.

Mostly there’s lots of talk and little action.  Most managers are too removed (not helplessly ‘disconnected’ – a lame concept) from what really happens.  What do I mean?  Have a look at the image below –

As a manager (or OHS specialist) test yourself:  what is the H&S standard like at this workplace?  Well, fair go, you might say!  How can you tell at this distance?!  The viewer is too far away to observe important detail.  OK.  So what if he/she was closer, perhaps at the workplace itself?  What would he/she want to know that would get them truly closer to the real H&S problems at that workplace?  Would it be something about the local OHS ‘culture’?  Shared beliefs about OHS?  Safety attitude?   The system?  The gossip? (The bullshit metre)?  OHS mindfulness?

What would you want as good evidence of H&S weaknesses (or strengths), and exactly how would you get it?  What about looking for:  OHS success or failure?   Workers’ expressed scepticism?  Compliance with rules?  Short cuts?  Is this really being closer?

How do you get the manager effectively being closer?  Exactly what does that mean in practical terms?  And how would it help?  Would knowing how workers really feel make a significant difference?

Many important instruments are designed to somehow – in some sense – bring the user closer.  Think of a microscope, a telescope, a stethoscope, think of radars, radio, TV, phones, think of brain EEGs, blood tests…… All are designed to help the user observe, correctly formulate and describe some facts, those that really matter.  What’s the equivalent at work?


But that in itself isn’t enough.  The three steps of the process of being closer – as I see it – can be described as (also see diagram):

  1. Demonstrable Interest (DIN).  The manager must effectively show persistent and intelligent interest in workers’ H&S conditions, and especially daily hazards they  work with;
  2.  Demonstrable Understanding (DUN).  This stage must show the manager is aware of the detail of the hazards and risks, and likely outcome, (“16 hours night work must be hell on the family, mate!  Do you feel heavy and tired a lot of the time? ”)
  3.  Demonstrable Improvement (DIM).  There must be obvious improvements as a direct result of the above.  And the best (progressive) improvement is in relation to evident small daily risks, not the giant canvass nonsense like ‘OHS culture’.  This visible improvement must lead to intolerance of small daily risks.

Walking in workers’ shoes is a start.  But it must result in actual improvements, not more talk.

Dr Yossi Berger
National OHS Co-ordinator
Australian Workers’ Union

3 thoughts on “Managers being closer”

  1. The systems mantra (in the conventional sense) is serious problem. The \”D-D-D\” idea is as close as my small business punters would be able to get. A tiny percentage of my punters have an interest in the conventional systems approach, and few can afford the full box and dice documentation of it. It\’s the reason I\’ve found that focussing on action on the big safety problems seems to work best.

    Sensible solutions for the stuff that can kill, maim or make ya sick quick can demonstrate systematic thinking, but in a way that\’s learning by doing. I reckon being a respectful mentor vs being the solutions-fairy, leaves room for the punter to \”get it\”; i.e. \”get\” how using a systematic approach can work, and most importantly, how to make it work for them.

    Col Finnie

  2. I believe you\’re spot on


    If such a thing as effective and practical workplace culture does exist it can only grow sustainably on the actual – and evident – \’doing\’ of things towards OHS improvement. Just adopting systems or ideas is artificial and useless, though it can provide an aura of \’feelgood\’.

    The latter part of what you say is really the start of quite a discussion. \’Leadership style, not having tools and experts\’ …… I wonder. Do you really think that (say) fixing a machine guard on the drive drum of a large conveyor belt, or stopping the release of dangerous fumes, or not requiring workers to work 16-18 hours on night shift in 7 nights in a row is all that difficult?

  3. I like the sentiment expressed here – rather than promoting \’OHS culture\’ you\’ve described the DIN-DUN-DIM approach.
    If managers were to adopt this approach workplace culture would surely follow.
    One of the major problems I\’ve experienced is that there is a lot of talk about culture but managers don\’t seem to realise that it\’s their leadership/management style that establishes the culture.
    An underpinning problem is that they don\’t have the \’tools\’ to manage the DIN-DUN-DIM approach – they don\’t make the effort to properly understand what OHS management actually means. Many say \”it\’s too complicated that\’s why we employ \’experts\’ – it\’s their job to \’do OHS\’\”.
    But an OHS expert can only influence to the extent that the manager adopts and appplies the \’experts\’ advice.
    Les Henley

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