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.