Pro-active safety means nothing

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”.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories business, communication, consultation, OHS, safety, UncategorizedTags ,

4 thoughts on “Pro-active safety means nothing”

  1. Proactive would have come from reporting. If investigating an incident and putting controls in place is re-active, then we want to do inspections/audits before an incident and put controls in place, which is pro-active. In that context it is not bad, but it is misunderstood and has become a catch cry marketing word.

    It is where \”positive performance indicators\” or \”lead indicators\” may be in 2 years time if someone doesn\’t do something to reign it in and define it and then educate the herd.

  2. Get the sense these sort of phrases emerge from the mire as convenient \”flip-off\” phrases, particularly good for annual reports. \”We implement pro-active safety.\” Job done, the punters will believe we roooly troooly care about OHS…next!

  3. Maybe the term should be \”preventive\”, like in preventive medicine.

    Though all safety measures by definition are preventive.

    So back to \”proactive\” safety. I think the term was let loose in America a few years ago – but without much impact.

    Should it mean going beyond ticking the boxes on standard OHS stuff? Or identifying safety risks on your site which are not covered by existing practices or procedures?

    PS Good on you for calling out \”best practice\” and \”zero harm\”, both shopworn and starting to look dated.

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