The need for safety stories

Many companies and organisations take in OHS graduates, often as part of a program of internships, but sometimes because they are “cheap” new starters.  Whatever the process, graduates are hungry to learn but often they believe their profession started when they did.  Increasingly there is an ignorance of history and this puts the graduates at a distinct disadvantage.

Graduates often are strong on theory and poor on the practical.  This is understandable in some ways but graduates can be handicapped by not knowing what their older and more experienced work colleagues know.  On the job training and instruction is often passed down but the stories are not and the history of safety seems passed over.

An example is needed.  Construction sites in Australia still seem to be variable on the control measures used to minimise the chance of falling into piling holes.  WorkSafe Victoria only last year wrote about an innovative collapsible barrier for piling hole operations and even as recent as 2008, guidance on this hazard was released.  Graduates may have noticed this information but what they are unlikely to know is the level of risk associated with piling holes or the degree of tragedy that “falling into a hole” involves.

A 1999 article in the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) graphically described the death of Justin O’Connor from falling backwards into an unprotected piling hole during the construction of the CityLink tollway, and the slow unsuccessful rescue that deeply affected the rescuers and O’Connor’s workmates.

The  situation is worse when one notes that O’Connor’s workmate, Adam Dougherty, who was on the rescue scene, killed himself.  According to WSWS, next to Dougherty’s body were notes about safety problems in the project.

This is just one of the stories that young safety graduates need to know so that they better understand the real consequences of poor safety practices and the motivations of the older supervisors and safety people.  After the theory comes the stories, stories that need sharing and repeating.

Kevin Jones

Categories construction, death, education, evidence, guidance, OHS, safety, suicide, Uncategorized, youngTags , ,

4 thoughts on “The need for safety stories”

  1. That is absolutely true that recent graduates start their work strong in theoretical knowledge but weak in practice, which this is understandable. And the need for great safety stories is indeed crucial. Pure conversational stories told to newcomers by their managers or colleagues is important. But it also would be great to showcase such stories to new workers during training. In today\’s digital age video stories, with real people with real stories talking about their workplace injuries or fatalities they witnessed probably would be the most effective and impactful for young workers.

  2. Totally agree with you Kevin I strike too many snotty nosed safety professionals without the much needed street smarts. I do find the best safety pros are those who have moved into the game after first working in the real world. Many, like me, got into after witnessing way too many tragedies. I guy I have given legendary status to is Alan Newey. He suffered horrific injuries in a work injury and travels around telling his story. He just won an award from NSCA for his efforts: http://www.safetyrisk.com.au/2011/12/20/a-highly-deserving-safety-award-recipient/

    1. Dave, I didn\’t know Alan had received an award but I had the pleasure of sitting next to him at a recent function. Great story and an example of how near miss events, or near fatality in Alan\’s case, can provide the best information.

  3. Stories are a powerful way of getting a message across.
    Corporate memory though is very hard to maintain. A graduate will be influenced by his managers. As a story becomes older and managers are replaced, the orginal emotion of a fatality fades and its being able to relay that emotion which provides the power.

    In the immediate and medium aftermath of a fatality, the sense of risk is extremely sensitive, commitment is strong. Capital flows, arguing safety is much easier. Court proceeding keep it burning.

    Six years later the wave has hit the beach and running back out. Risk sensitivity is dulled and moves back towards the theory and number ratings. You retell the story but some have heard it too many times.

    All is not lost though. Dig out the archives, line up the old stories and present them as a broader historical picture and they can become powerful again, particularly when you can go back 30 plus years and bring back the organisation\’s stories that are much rarer today and ask what is better

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