Australia has embraced a bizarre safety concept of “pro-activity” that is confusing our understanding of intention in the next phase of OHS laws, active safety management.
It is essential to have an active safety management system, a safety management system that is not passive. Having a positive duty for safety, as required by the upcoming new Australian OHS laws, means that companies must be active in managing safety and not sitting back, complacent in their (supposed) compliance, waiting to react to the latest hazard and implementing a new policy related to the hazard but not fixing the hazard. It is a little like the difference between active and passive fall protection devices. In which would you place greater trust in saving your life?
Many safety people urge others to be pro-active on safety but “pro” has many meanings. (a brief history of the term is at wiktionary) The definition most relevant to the new terminological context is “before in time, place, order….” It is urging businesses and professionals to anticipate the action on safety, or to bring that action forward in time. Is it any surprise that companies look at safety professionals and wonder what they are on about?
“Pro” may also imply an increased level of support for safety, as in a “pro and con”. It is doubtful that the definition of ‘pro” as being shortened from “prostitute” is relevant in the OHS context but it would only take a prostitution support group to start advocating a “pro-active safety management system” for the sex industry for “pro-active” to die the death it deserves.
Every industry and profession has jargon but every industry and profession must also communicate with society in Plain English. Jargon has no place in broad communication and workplace safety, to succeed and improve, must communicate broadly.
Let’s put “pro-active” with other unhelpful safety terms such as “best practice” and “zero harm”.