WorkSafe Victoria has asked me in the past why I do not report on some of their successful activities and promotional campaigns. Recently WorkSafe Victoria has been running what appears to be a very successful safety campaign focusing on young workers. The campaign is called “if you’re not sure, ask“. The television and online advertisements again feature confronting workplace injuries but the significant difference in this case is that there is a social context about body image. This element of the campaign is very effective however, from the perspective of an old fart of a safety professional, the advertisements miss the role of the supervisor and the importance of a safe working environment.
The pivotal point of the ads is meant to be when the young workers look to their supervisors for assistance but as the supervisors are busy, the young workers chose to take an action that is beyond their workplace knowledge and an amputation and chemical burns result.
What I see is a magazine collating machine that has inadequate guarding and a large container of caustic chemical which has no tap or other safer method of decanting. The workers’ supervisors are running workplaces that do not provide a safe and healthy work environment. The focus is on the actions and choices of the inexperienced workers. This satisfies the ads’ purpose but a second phase of these ads is warranted.
I suggest that the same ads run a second time with a slight change. As the supervisor turns away in the chemical ad, she turns back and says “Hang on. Don’t do it that way. Let me help”. Or in the magazine ad, just as the boy goes to grab the jammed magazines, a supervisor’s hand comes on the boy’s shoulder saying “Stop. Turn the machine of first. Here, like this”. The life-changing context of the incidents would remain a significant part of the ads but now active supervision, the “watchful eye” that all supervisors need to apply to new and young workers, is shown.
In this way, the core message of the advertising campaign remains – “if you not sure, ask” but this is reinforced with “if they’re not sure, supervise”.
It is also important that business owners and supervisors understand that the boy’s amputation would not have happened without suitable machine guarding or light sensors or some form of cut-off switch (no pun intended). The girl’s chemical burns would not have happened if there was suitable PPE or, more importantly, the chemical container was either smaller and easier to handle, or had a tap to access the contents without touching the container. All these design solutions are emphasised elsewhere in WorkSafe Victoria guidances but are not part of this campaign.
The campaign’s website does include a link to advice for supervisors. The advice is good and sensible but makes no mention of the actions one can take beyond supervision and consultation. There is no mention of machine guarding or of the handling of hazardous substances. The inclusion of such information would not have diluted the campaign’s message but could have provided an opportunity to piggyback on the campaign by deconstructing the incident and listing control measures and design changes that could have eliminated the risk; advice in line with OHS obligations and the hierarchy of controls.
I mentioned early in this article that it would be the perspective of an old fart of a safety professional. I have felt old and out of touch when I have chatted with colleagues and others about my thoughts but I feel the perspective is valid. Perhaps it is up to the safety professionals, young and old, to use these campaign materials to add the workplace and safety perspective in our OHS discussions with our colleagues and our workforces. But this would have been much easier if WorkSafe had considered a second and broader phase to this campaign.