OHS and Les Henley

Les Henley is an OHS professional with Safety Australia Group and often challenges my article. I appreciate the dialogue.

This is the latest in a series of profiles/articles intended to humanise occupational health and safety people beyond the structures of LinkedIn and other professional profile site. If you want to participate, email your responses to these questions HERE.

How did you get into Health & Safety?

My first intro to H&S was whilst I was still a Fitter back in the mid-1980s. Following the introduction of the 1983 (NSW) OHS Act, I was elected by my peer trades people to represent them on the inaugural OHS Committee. Then I was elected by the committee members as the inaugural Chair. Later, after several promotions, I took responsibility for OHS for my team(s) and worked hard to keep them as safe as possible in a heavy manufacturing industry. 15.5 years in that one company and I was troubled by the number and severity of incidents, some fatal, several permanently disabling. This led me to a mindset that Australia could do it better. Whilst in middle management, I undertook and completed a Bachelor of Commerce degree with a major in Employment Relations (combing Industrial Relations and Human Resources Management).

After graduating, and having learned so much on the job, I eventually took a redundancy from that company and established myself as a business consultant, initially looking at business systems re-engineering. As the market for OHS increased, I found myself focusing more and more on that aspect of business systems. Now 25 years later, I’m still in that field.

What drives you?

As I mentioned above, I have a desire to see Australia ‘do it better’ and stop injuring workers. But that’s not the only driver.

As a Christian, I am driven by Christ’s command to “love my neighbor as myself” and so I strive in WHS to love my workmates by helping them to love (look out for) one another and employers to love (look after) their workers.

What helps you slow down?

Nature photography, watercolor painting, sketching and reading. There is nothing more relaxing and awe-inspiring to rise early and drive to a strategic location to watch the sun rise or set and enjoy the color pallet that God uses to enhance his creation. To catch that in photos for re-watching when I can’t get out there in person is the next best thing. (examples below)

Any OHS Regrets?

That the language of safety is so confused – even among those of us in the field.

As one example – in my mind there is a distinct difference between Risk Management, Risk Analysis and Risk Assessment, but so often these terms seem to be used interchangeably.

And that it took me so long to realize that we don’t manage safety! We manage risk, and safety is an outcome. If only that language had been used from the beginning I think the whole profession would be less confusing to those not part of our field.

Favourite fiction writer?

That would have to be JRR Tolkien. I have read the Lord of the Rings trilogy at least 10 times since year 7 high school. I saw each of the three movies on first day release, thanks to my lovely wife, and I have the boxed set of DVDs which I have binge watched (9+ hours) at least 3 times. 

What is one OHS trend you are watching keenly?

I don’t really watch trends. My focus is on what is currently happening in the organization I’m working in, or for. If statistics show a trend, then I look closely to find a solution to reduce the incidents then move onto the next issue.

Person/s who you watch and take inspiration from in OHS that you think will have an increasing impact in the sector.

I don’t really watch anyone specific for inspiration. I do read widely with a view to my own professional development and broadening my knowledge base. Two writers I probably pay most attention to in that respect are Kevin Jones and Dr Rob Long. I’ve appreciated Rob’s insights into Risk and how we manage it, or fail to, but I’m not convinced he’s offering us many solutions, apart from helping us to think about it differently.

What are you most excited about in our sector?

Nothing really. I actually get dejected by how much focus and resources are poured into ‘flavour of the month’ themes that have come and gone in my 25+ years and yet so little has really changed at the coalface in organizations.

What’s your favourite quote?

From my days in middle management – “CHANGE: Done TO us is threatening; done BY us is exciting”.

This has been a prime thought in all my years of O/WHS driving my desire to collaborate and consult with affected stakeholders where ever I’m working in WHS.

Biggest issue facing the OHS profession?

Credibility. We ask for authority and resources but unless we apply them wisely we don’t seem to bring much improvement.

Personally, I don’t want the authority to ‘command’ compliance. I’d rather front-line supervisors and middle managers use theirs to drive risk management.

And I don’t ask for much in resources. I’d rather the operations people have the resources so that I can encourage them to apply those resources wisely to manage risk in their part of the organization.

What do you wish you had understood about OHS sooner?

That we don’t manage safety! We manage risk, and safety is an outcome.

What would you like to see to improve collaboration in OHS?

All supervisory and middle management to realize and apply “CHANGE: Done TO us is threatening; done BY us is exciting”, to listen to affected workers, and provide adequate resources (knowledge, information and training are resources too) before they direct them in work activities.

What should you have been doing whilst you answered this?

I’m working from home so I’ve been monitoring emails and other information as I’ve been writing.

Kevin Jones

Categories OHS, Uncategorized

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