All conference delegates want to hear cutting-edge, radical or step-change solutions or strategies but what happens when the conference speakers are reinforcing what you already know? That is the situation facing the delegates of the Safety Institute of Australia’s (SIA) National Convention.
On the first day of the conference, local and international speakers have suggested the delegates, almost all occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals, do what they are already doing – talk about safety, build relationships, report on the positives and the lead indicators.
This is not the fault of the SIA. The SIA is rebuilding its conference processes and early indications are that they have learnt many of the lessons from previous near-disasters.
The fault (perhaps I should be listing contributory factors rather than looking for root causes) seems to be that OHS thinking seems moribund. Hollnagel’s safety categories and approaches are well-established although still not widely applied, for lots of cultural regulatory and corporate reasons. Reason’s swiss cheese model is nowhere near as radical as it once was and is now the equivalent of Safety 101. Hudson’s maturity model remains relevant but has struggled to be applied, primarily it can be argued, because companies almost always think they are more mature than they are. (Companies should not be ashamed of being stuck in safety puberty as long as they keep trying to get to drinking age and have their driver’s licence.)
“There is very little evidence that anything done in relation to safety, works.”
Culvenor’s response was that safety has been integral to establishing the facilities in which the conference was occurring. This illustrates how safety is often unseen in a finished product and provides a useful reminder to the audience to keep pointing out the activity and relevance of OHS, whenever possible and relevant.
Building or resurrecting an OHS is a difficult task and not one entered into lightly. Thankfully the SIA is not looking at an immediate turnround so has the luxury of time. However, it cannot take too long to polish the service and to prove its importance, as it has the National Safety Council of Australia (NSCAre-entering the OHS conference sector, through its NSCA Foundation, and private conference providers who continue to exist, although not necessarily growing. In some ways, the SIA is also competing against safety webinars of the type provided by Safe Work Australia during October 2015, in particular.
Certainly the OHS profession in Australia needs enlivening. The SIA is rebuilding its base through conferences, and other initiatives, to achieve this. The NSCA will help also. In the mean time, OHS professionals need to extract what useful information they can.