Years ago I was invited to speak at a safety conference and to conduct a workshop. I cocked up the workshop and realised that my conference presentation would need considerable reworking. This experience made me shy of speaking engagements for a while but has provided me with a lasting suspicion on conference workshops.
At several conferences recently what was promoted as a presentation by a subject matter expert turned into a workshop where the presenter seeks the wisdom of the audience, the inverse of what should have occurred. Some enjoy the participation of others in this format but I find better networking and brainstorming occurs in a less formal setting. My advice is if you enter an auditorium and there is butcher’s paper anywhere in the room, leave.
However, practical workshops linked to safety conferences seem to be gaining in popularity, perhaps because they are easy to administer and promise little more than a “learning experience” where learning is often optional. The organisers of the October 2011 Safety Conference in Sydney Australia have issued a brief survey that indicates that practical workshops are going to be expanded this year. But looking at the categories of the workshops they offer indicates that the agenda of conference organisers is a little odd. The categories are:
- Standardising Safety Indicators
- Consultation and the HSR
- Risk Management (based on the new COP)
- Due Diligence
- Coordinating OHS Obligations
- PCBU’s and Officers
- Health and Wellness
- OHS Consultants and Trainers now a PCBU
- Role of the Regulator and Inspectors
- Safety Leadership
- Gap Analysis
- Transitional Arrangements
- New Codes of Practice
Many of these categories are, understandably, related to the new national OHS laws due for introduction in January 2011 but there is a notable low priority given to psychosocial hazards. “Health and Wellness” is an unfortunate catch-all phrase that encompasses indoor plants in an office, the colour choice for hospital walls, and feng shui as well as medical health checks, exercise, tackling depression and other issues. The organisers could have made the workshops more topical and attractive if more specific and contemporary issues were listed, such as:
- Initiating cultural change in the construction industry
- Addressing psychosocial issues through a combined HR/OHS strategy
- The importance of safe design in vehicles
- Determining the cost value of safety interventions
- The business traps of OHS consulting
- An analysis of WorkSafe advertising – why it works, why it doesn’t and what it says about community perceptions of OHS
- Safety in project design
Too many of the Sydney conference workshop options are vague or too familiar to the safety professional and practitioners that attend such conferences. Conferences should be a blend of informing new entrants in a profession and progressing the OHS debate. There seems to be little progress in the options provided above.
One could also question the need for conference organisers to ask strangers for input on the structure of a conference or workshops. Interaction with a potential audience is a positive move but it can also indicate an organisation struggling for ideas.