Remembering why you do what you do

iStock_000017872280XSmallSafety 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.

Kevin Jones

Categories community, death, ethics, grief, justice, OHS, politics, safety, UncategorizedTags ,

6 thoughts on “Remembering why you do what you do”

  1. Phil and Kevin,

    If we are measuring conferences on the basis of knowledge return-on-investment, we would find many lacking as you put Kevin and you would be better off with a journal club.

    That said, the benefit of networking and the opportunity to build knowledge connections within these environments has been extremely beneficial to my practice.

    In response to your comments Phil, I work within the health and community services sector and I\’ve found the research surrounding work ability instructive in managing complex and dynamic systems. .

    Grief and post trauma symptoms are such a deeply personal and individual experience. The merit of such events is should be based on the personal and community return for those who need it. The political football match should refrain from interference and allow the community determine its relevance. – Thanks for covering it Kevin.

  2. I stopped going to safety conferences a long time ago, until this year when I was sent an invitation about a safety conference titled “Safety on the Edge” organised by IFAP.

    It focussed on human behaviour and we were challenged by comments such as.
    Worker’s don’t cause failures; worker’s work in complex systems in which risk and creativity constantly change; workers are fallible, even the best of us make mistakes; and a quote from Edward de Bono “Mistakes arise directly from the way the mind handles information, not through stupidity or carelessness.”; workers are masters of complex adaptive behaviour … operators will operate whatever shit we give them and they get good at it.

    If our system relies on people doing the right thing every time, it will fail, we need to shift our focus to people; they, their family, friends and community are the ones that suffer when something goes wrong.

    This become apparent when I was looking at manual handling injuries within an organisation and most were caused by the inadequate, or lack of equipment supplied, but they still trained people in manual handling.

    1. Phil, I tend to categorise such behaviourist statements through the Hierarchy of Controls where such statements would be administrative controls, in my opinion. If we accept such strategies as that category, their potential effectiveness is clearer.

  3. Great post, in my opinion this issue leads to the heart of what is wrong with the safety profession. People have forgotten that it\’s about people. So much focus on becoming amature lawyers. Leave the legal advice to the experts, focus on people\’s safety, if your hearts not in it for them get out and be a lawyer. ( nothing against lawyers by the way, gulp!)

  4. this is music to my ears, you are absolutely right.I have stopped going to these seminars years ago, as I found them to be like family get together s (you know everyone there, and talk the same old stories). I agree, go back to why you became a safety professional in the 1st place.

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