Safety professionals often pay over A$1000 upwards to attend a workplace safety conference. Most of these conferences are overpriced and serious questions should be asked about the knowledge return-on-investment. It seems occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals are always looking for the next big thing, the “edge” but frequently they forget that value of old information, the value of human worth, the reason for joining the OHS profession in the first place.
Recently I attended an Annual Remembrance Service that commemorated those people who have died at work. The theme of the service was the importance of listening, particularly, to the widows and widowers, those who are still experiencing the pain of grief and, often, the injustice of OHS regulators and workers’ compensations schemes. The service was called “Remembering and celebrating the lives of those who have died from work-related causes” and conducted by the Creative Ministries Network and Work-related Grief Support, was small, touching and not half as religious as it could have been.
What I enjoyed about the service was this balance between humanity and religion. I see no problem in acknowledging a higher authority be it a God, Fate or the fragility of luck, when one is seeking an answer to why a loved one has gone as a result of the simple and mundane act of going to work. The service contained some Amens and silent reflections or prayers but it also contained the voices of the bereaved and, in some cases, the angry.
Most importantly the service acknowledged the pain of loss and by conducting a group service that pain was shared. Standing next to me was someone whose world had turned upside down and this turmoil was easy to understand even if you had not lost someone in a workplace incidents.
Curiously, this service was treated with suspicion by some of the OHS establishment. How curious that a small meeting by grieving relatives, a religious organisation and a grief support service could generate discomfort? How fragile must be the security of those organisations? How uncertain of their values and beliefs are these corporate and safety leaders?
This Annual Remembrance Service had nothing to do with the International Workers Memorial Day in April of each year. That day is a very important day but frequently it is politicised beyond what could be considered appropriate. There have been several atrocious examples, in Australia, of political exploitation of that day of remembrance, sadness and healing and I cannot help but think that greater progress could be made on workplace safety if the party politics was omitted or tempered, or that the memorial service was bipartisan.
A commemoration service held in November avoided the politics and provided a sharpened perspective on the personal impacts of each workplace death. The pain of a workplace death is carried in the hearts of widows, widowers and relatives all year round and I think it was important for me, as an OHS professional and a human being (at least last time I looked), to participate and to remember why I am who I am – a man trying to make working lives better. I only wish more of my OHS colleagues were able to participate and reflect. Perhaps next year.