OHS solutions promoted but not necessarily delivered

All professions need spokespeople or champions who can provide informative and, hopefully, authoritative commentary on topical matters within and beyond the profession.  Australia’s safety profession has never had such a spokesperson but recently the speakers’ bureau ICMI has packaged a selection of speakers who it thinks could be appropriate. The brief for Work Health Solutions focuses almost entirely on the issues of absenteeism, lost productivity, presenteeism and creating “a more enjoyable, friendly and less threatening environment” but will these speakers provide solutions to illnesses, injuries, amputations and diseases? Can these speakers provide the solutions implied in the program?

From the information on the program’s flyer, several of the speakers seem to be able to present stories about safety-gone-wrong. Theo Venter survived electrocution. Ian Johnson was seriously burned and speaks about the risks of confined spaces. Philip Smallman was a tree surgeon who became a paraplegic after a fall. Helen Fitzroy speaks of the impact of her husband’s workplace fatality.  John Tickell has spoken at several OHS conferences and has at least contributed to a book about OHS but others are tenuous. But ICMI is also promoting speakers who are primarily event hosts or Masters of Ceremonies and at least one of them generated complaints during a WorkSafe Victoria event several years ago for inappropriate comments about women.

The best way of retaining information and information is through stories and the OHS people identified above have important stories to tell but often workplace stories focus on the struggle to regain health and well-being, or to cope with disability, rather than promote the prevention of harm.  It is often hoped that the audience will make the link between the magnitude of a person’s struggle against adversity and the avoidance of harm.  This link is made occasionally but that is usually when there is a an additional link beyond the story, where the speaker’s life lessons, or life stage, mirrors that of the audience member.

To be effective the stories must transcend the circumstance of the incident.  For instance, a story about quadriplegia from not wearing a seatbelt in a truck rollover must be able to resonate with those outside the trucking industry.  Losing an arm in a conveyor belt incident must be seen as significant to those who work outside of manufacturing.  Bullying in a retail situation must be able to be understand by those in a different, regimented workplace or one where sufficient HR support is available. If these stories do not resonate beyond the industry of occurrence, they easily become stories of individual resilience rather than indicate a systemic failure, a cultural failure or a flaw in the system of work.

This is the risk inferred by ICMI’s Work Health Solutions package of speakers.  Many are colourful raconteurs of stories, but only a few can be directly related to workplace hazards and, more importantly, solutions to those hazards.  Those speakers who have been directly affected by workplace death and trauma are more likely to have solutions or at least the ability to contextualise their experiences by telling their stories but, overall, ICMI seems to offer more discussion opportunities than workplace safety solutions.

Clearly ICMI has created this package on the back of the supposed rise in workplace bullying and psychosocial hazards, or the link between wellbeing and productivity, the increased attention to corporate governance and OHS due diligence.  Many of the speakers can talk about these issues, can raise or increase the audience’s awareness of these issues but solutions rarely come from awareness exercises.  Solutions are more likely to originate from research and analysis and the Work Health Solutions package seems light on in this area.

It may be useful to again remember the hierarchy of controls.  Awareness, corporate speakers and training sits at the administrative level of the hierarchy, the second lowest level of control.  There is a hope that awareness may spark a solution but that hope is thin and meanwhile organising a prominent corporate speaker to address one’s workforce implies that the workplace safety issue is important and that the company is taking the matter seriously. However one should ask whether such activity generates change or simply an awareness that things must change.

ICMI should be applauded for providing the safety advocates mentioned specifically above with exposure to a broader audience. But naming the speaker package as Work Health Solutions is largely a misnomer and could provide a false sense of security to some clients.  Caveat emptor applies of course but one cannot help but think that there was a chance to offer genuine solutions by approaching some of the OHS researchers who can provide evidence of programs that work, those that work not so well and those that fail, rather than assessing the existing pool of celebrity speakers to see how they could be made to fit the theme.

Kevin Jones

Categories advertising, bullying, business, OHS, research, safety, Uncategorized, workplaceTags , , ,

3 thoughts on “OHS solutions promoted but not necessarily delivered”

  1. I think the taxi and hire car industry need spokespersons as not enough information is provided in training or follow up. You have written recently on over priced seminars etc and you are correct. I try to keep my staff informed and they must read our OH and S manual before they are accepted asxyet everyone of them will tell you that you don\’t get any training at the taxi courses (even though it is listed). As a basic example have you ever seen a taxi driver changing a tyre with a fluorescent vest on? Never- yet our drivers must have one of these in their vehicles and must use. It is important that the so called professional drivers on our roads 24/7 don\’t even have basic instructions to follow. The only mention recently has been about fatigue and this was only after I mentioned the incident with the CROWN CABS driver who is no in jail.

  2. what is the OHS training for taxi and limo drivers my understanding is very little and what there is is not tested

    surely each business should have a OH and S policy written down and given to drivers to read and sign for understanding it but this doesnt seem to happen

    Take for instance the taxi driver who in 2012 fell asleep at the wheel, ran his taxi into an oncoming car and killed the driver. The taxi driver was in hositpal for a while and is now in jail. Surely the owner of a taxi licence should have been investigated to see how and when the driver was trained in OH and S which includes fatigue. the police have advised me the camera in his car shows him falling asleep so when he did he start his shift, what was he doing before his shift like working another job, what training is on his file re training

    I shall bet NOTHING

    Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2013 21:01:20 +0000 To: maccaslimos@hotmail.com

  3. Tell me where prescriptive inspectorial action in addressing individual employers failings has failed where the blow torch of hip pocket pain is the outcome through fines for transgressions?

    There certainly have been thousands of waffle fests over the years and I suspect the speaker circuit is just another trough for the hangers on to feed from without providing any measurable effect in reducing injuries.

    Responsibility and Accountability are key words that seem to be missing in the mainstream of WHS and particularly in the speaker circuit. This topic should be aimed at both employers and employees.

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