What happened to leadership?

SafeSearch has released the latest edition of its Australasian survey of occupational health and safety (OHS) salaries.  A couple of years ago the recruitment company started including some qualitative questions.  The latest survey generated a media release  that says

“…the role of safety within an organisation is being redefined due to out-dated and ineffective strategies.”

And quoted Aaron Neilson, the company’s General Manager, saying

“Currently safety strategies are seen as a potential business burden. They are not always developed in tandem with broader business objectives, and risk being viewed as inhibitive.”

The motivation for these changes is never identified or speculated over.

Traditionally changes in the occupational health and safety (OHS) sector have originated from the existence of a hazard leading to the generation of outrage which results in legislative change.  The presence of research evidence may speed up the change process.  However this does not seem to be what is generating the current change in safety, according to Neilson.

“The overwhelming message from this year’s survey is that safety has to be approached differently by businesses – with 90 per cent of respondents in agreement. What does this mean? As the industry continues to develop, we expect to see more pragmatic, business-enabling strategies become the norm. Smarter safety strategies will reinforce the central business objectives of the organisation.”

What DOES this mean?  Not much, if one cannot access the original question to which the “90 per cent of respondents” replied.  90% is a substantial survey number, particularly as SafeSearch says the remuneration survey included “1,334 individual roles across 168 organisations”. (It is not clear whether “respondents” = “roles”)

What these “pragmatic, business-enabling strategies” may be is also unclear.  There is a risk that such strategies may involve overlaying a new paradigm to OHS that fails to consider the existing state of knowledge and workplace dynamics. The phrase above is a worrying indication of where OHS may be heading in Australia.

It becomes even more confusing when one considers that the

“overwhelming message …. is that safety has to be approached differently by businesses…”

The emphasis for safety change over the last five years or so has been on the improvement of leadership from the executive teams. One could interpret SafeSearch’s comments as implying that leadership as a change measure on OHS has failed, at least in the perception of the survey respondents.

The lack of any mention of leadership in this media release, or its companion that discusses wage growth, is perhaps the most telling element of the available survey information.

It would be impossible to achieve any organisational change on OHS issues without the support of the Chief Executive Officer or executive team.  That type of leadership has been pushed by almost all stakeholders in workplace safety, including government agencies.

The SafeSearch survey data is only ever available to customers for a price that is beyond the capacity of the SafetyAtWorkBlog and we have criticised safety articles that are based on media releases rather than the original data but the presentation and interpretation of the data by SafeSearch though its media releases is odd.

It may be that the safety profession wants safety to be managed differently but who will be the catalyst and how is the aim of safety any different from current aims? It seems that commercial, marketing surveys can only go so far.

Kevin Jones

Update: 8 February 2016 – media release and overview links added

Categories advertising, business, evidence, government, Leadership, OHS, research, safety

3 thoughts on “What happened to leadership?”

  1. Thanks Kevin, I think many sing in unison on the safety differently song but the tune is basically the same. There is rarely change unless one can let go of old paradigms and shibboleths. So, the language is different but the discourse remains as faith in systems, engineering, technology and legislation. I don’t see an either/or or safety1/2 dichotomy/binary choice in this and it has to extend to much more than just less blame. The very binary methodology/mindset is part of the problem. I think many want something different but don’t know what to do, or are afraid to let go to some sacred paradigms. The safety sector simply doesn’t talk about being ‘holistic’ in approach or speak or any sense of reform that is inclusive. There is no talk of reviewing the curriculum for WHS which is where a huge problem resides. Neither the regulator nor associations know how to be holistic and inclusive and so the discourse remains and the language shifts into a different gear of spin.

  2. Thanks Kevin
    In regard to having an effective strategy.
    I can understand the angst or complacency in the strategy arena. The production of a 60 or more page strategy plan has been witnessed in the past. A simple practical strategy is far more effective by drawing in roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders. Provide them through agreement with what their aims are in achieving injury prevention and compliance planning. Making it complex is doomed from the start. Apologies if off at a tangent.

  3. G’day Kevin. As usual you are on the money on the issue here and bland undefined statrement do nothing to advance the whole issue of safety. Of course I have jsut seen a couple of surveys for Safety writen by HR with minimal input from Safety as to the context, rationale or quality of the questions and unfortunately the same issue you hitm on is there too. As A Quilley discussed and wrote “Safety and quality go hand in hand – they are both attributes of the way we do (read should do) our work” to achieve a good outcome for the business. If companies realised this and really adopted it I believe we would see significant improvements in safety generally and in the sort of results outcomes everyone clamours for, such as reduced incidents, reduced LTI’s, reduced costs to business, reduced lost time, improved productivity -without increased stress and improved time to actually carefully consider issues before making snap decisions, as just some of he outcomes.
    having said all that Safety themselves need to think about their objectivity andd raalise that for every year’s company budget the finqance in the budget pie (chart) is finite and everyone wants their slice. If Safety want more of it they need to better enunciate the improvement impacts that the safety initiatives and requirements will have on other parts of theh business to show the real flow on effects. I implemented this in a large regulatory department and was the only division to get budget increases two years in a row, but we actually saved othere groups 5-10 times as much as what our increase was, so I know it works in both theory and practicality. It may not endear you to other divisions at first, but when managemnt see teh results are being achieved and sustained, they have no problem in cosidering your next lot of initiatives. Anothehr off shoot plus from this is that a broader range of people begin to understand where you are actually coming from and this opens up far more productive dialogue and intereactions which can only be a good thing

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