How much attention should we give to gender in OHS?

I once had to stop a potential fight on a construction site between a works supervisor and a safety professional.  The verbal abuse and niggling occurred for several minutes before the men’s chest were inflated like roosters and it was at this point I stepped in to diffuse the situation by asking some questions as…

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Bullying, evidence, ethics and solutions

Safety people love evidence, particularly evidence of hazards because evidence can validate what we thought we saw. Perhaps of more importance is evidence about what types of interventions work. A recent study  into the prevention of workplace bullying (abstract only) held the promise of solutions, even though it was a literature review and of some…

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Dummies can equal clarity

ohs-dummies-coverIt took a long time but Wiley has published a Dummies guide on Health and Safety At Work. The lack of an occupational health and safety (OHS) book in this series has always been a mystery particularly when the Dummies” market seems to be, primarily, small- to medium-sized businesses.  This edition is written for the UK market but the vast majority of the book is applicable to any jurisdiction that is based on the original UK OHS laws. But is it any good?

SafetyAtWorkBlog dipped into several chapters of the book to see if it was on the right path.

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More books on the Christmas list

There were three books that I left off my Christmas/Summer reading list.  Each of them important for my occupational health and safety (OHS) professional development and personal curiosity.

cover-of-rethink001The first is Rethink – The Surprising History of New Ideas by Steven Poole. This books looks at what we think are new ideas and sees the precursors or the ideas’ previous appearances.  I was attracted to this perspective because I am seeing a lot of new ideas in OHS that are familiar and similar to what has come before.   Continue reading “More books on the Christmas list”

SafetyAtWorkBlog’s Christmas reading list

wss-book-pix004The media is full of lists of Christmas reading, usually in order to sell books.  Below is a selection of the safety-related books that are in my Summer reading pile. (No, I am not going to list the Batman comics or Star Trek books.  That would be embarrassing.)

Social Sensemaking

I first met Robert Sams at a book launch of one of the Rob Long’s books.  Sams’ approach to risk has some similarity to Long’s, which is acknowledged in the Forewards, but those who develop or apply a theory are often more interesting than those who created the theory. The the format of the book is a “reflective journal” also makes this nook more intriguing.  It is part diary, part blog, part journal but above all it is a journey of learning with the occasional epiphany. Continue reading “SafetyAtWorkBlog’s Christmas reading list”

Editing is an essential element of safety communication

In a comment to a recent blog article Gregor McGhee asked:

“Just out of curiosity can you recommend any books for comparison with respect to presentation, footnotes, references and endnotes?”

Most books related to occupational health and safety (OHS) are written by academics for an academic audience so there are clear referencing protocols and styles with which that readership will be familiar and comfortable.  The challenge comes when academics are asked to write for a lay audience for whom concepts must be explained and backgrounds and context provided.

But there is a similar challenge to OHS regulators who provide guidance material that often derives from academic research but also for the legalities of safety legislation.  SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to talk with Jackie McAdam, a freelance editor, designer and writer who has worked for the UK’s OHS regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Format and Language

In Carsten Busch’s book, he chooses to use endnotes for references but an ABC system for footnotes. This non-conformity is part of the reason the book is a challenging read.Dust jacket 3.3 13.12.01

NIOSH has a program of Research to Practice (R2P) where research grants are given, or work commissioned, on the understanding that the research will also be “translated” into a format and language that allows for the research findings to be applied in the real world.  NIOSH says it:

“…..collaborates with partners and stakeholders to:

  • Identify needs
  • Design, plan, and conduct studies or evaluate technologies into workplace policy, procedure, technology, and/or practice
  • Communicate and transfer NIOSH policy, procedure, or practices to relevant users for implementation in the workplace
  • Evaluate or demonstrate the impact of these efforts on improving worker safety and health.”

Focussing on the communication element of the program fits with the OHS principle of consultation (although the whole R2P program is really consultation) with particular attention to the reader and audience.  NIOSH has provided an excellent roadmap guidebook to assist writing research in this “new” way.

For more practical advice on the style of writing, governments often publish style guides or manuals.  Australia has published such a book for fifty years and the recent 2002 edition remains a mandatory read for most government policy writers.  The American Chemical Society publishes a guide of its own.

The UK Experience – Jackie McAdam

210a64fJackie, can you provide readers with a bit of background of your work with the HSE?

I have worked with HSE on and off since 2005 as both an editor and a designer. It’s important to clarify that these are my thoughts as an individual, but I do have a lot of experience and knowledge of how HSE operates and what the organization deems as important.

Early projects I worked on (which are still available online) include COSHH essentialsAsbestos Essentials and leaflets such as  Working with substances hazardous to health: A brief guide to COSHH.

Who does HSE believe its audience to be? Business owners? OHS Professionals? Consultants? Or All of these?

HSE is well aware that OHS professionals use our guidance and information as a valuable resource, but our editorial style guide emphasises the need to use plain English to make publications accessible to workers and management too.

COSHH essentials, for example, has an initial sheet in each series aimed at managers, but the remaining sheets are intended to be used by everyone. A lot of guidance includes safety checklists for workers to make sure they are protecting themselves.

Despite the view of the UK in some respects as a nanny state, it’s important the workers take responsibility for actions that could put themselves and their workmates in danger. As an organisation, HSE does a lot of work with stakeholders to establish what happens in practice in the workplace. It’s all very well providing a perfect scenario, but that doesn’t happen in real life, and it’s about taking measures that are reasonably practicable and not coming up with a solution that’s disproportionate to the level of risk. I think that’s why our recent strategy events [#HelpGBWorkWell] were so successful at getting feedback from so many stakeholders. [link added]

How important is it to refer to previous editions of OHS documents or should each edition be considered brand new?

We try to discourage links directly to PDF documents in our publications, as the landing page gives vital information on what has changed since the previous version. It could be a change to the law, but sometimes we have just updated some of the references. Even if that information isn’t on the landing page, it should be on the first page of the document so read that first, it isn’t just sales blurb.

What are the most common criticisms of safety guidances from readers?

I don’t always get that feedback directly but I know that it’s crucial that we work with industry experts to get our facts and our language right. HSE’s long-term belief that plain English is crucial to making guidance easy to access has recently become the mantra of www.GOV.UK in marketing  its ‘digital-by-default’ approach. You mentioned Australia’s style manual, I haven’t read it yet, but if you want to compare notes you could check out Gov.UK’s style guide at:

There has been evidence that peer pressure prevents workers even reading guidance, so making sure it’s relevant to the target audience is top of the list. That’s about the way it reads, the way it looks and how it’s marketed.

How much “translation” is required and has this amount lessened over your experience?

As an editor with no specialist knowledge in health and safety, or the type of hazards we deal with, I have to check with my authors that I’ve understood the gist of what they are trying to convey before I edit their text. They get to approve every change to make sure I haven’t changed the meaning. My job is essentially to translate the technical jargon into something the person on the street can understand. Occasionally HSE has to use some technical language, but technical doesn’t mean academic; academic styles of writing can put people off. They simply don’t think it’s aimed at them.

I’ve also been asked to ‘translate’ the findings of research reports. For example, RR558 – Taking risks with asbestos: What influences the behaviour of maintenance workers? by the Institute for Employment Studies discusses worksite culture and the reasons that workers don’t recognize themselves as being at risk from asbestos.  The report mentioned a greater concern for others than themselves, so I used language to remind them that the risks they took could affect their workmates or family to try and bring about behaviour change.

Did the HSE MythBusters program affect the writing style or strategy?

To be honest, no! When you work at HSE, you quickly realise how crazy some of these myths are. HSE’s line hasn’t changed, but Myth Busters was one way to get the public, and companies, to recognize when HSE was being used as a scapegoat for someone else’s over-cautious approach.

You mention in your review of Carsten Busch’s Safety Myth 101 that Carsten describes a Safety Culture that has been so misused that it has become a meaningless buzzword in many circumstances. There can be no doubt that this is the case, HSE’s press office is quick to rebut any over-the-top reporting of ‘elf ‘n’ safety gone mad’. Most of this in the UK tends to be in the tabloid press whereas I’ve noticed a change over the years towards more accurate reporting by agencies like the BBC.

Does HSE still produce hard copy editions of publications and guidances?

Not as many as we used to, but yes we do sometimes still print publications if there is enough demand for a printed version.

What about the future of OHS communications?

The future is digital – mostly. Yes, we will still print some publications, but like all things these days, it’s now about the immediacy of social media, responsive communications that can be read on the go on your smartphone rather than opening a book. Everyone expects the answer to any question to be readily available, and OHS is no exception. Essentially, we all want an app that can do that – and there is, for some things. Check out HSE’s asbestos app

When I’m asked what an editor does, which is a surprisingly common question, I do sometimes have to remind myself of how important our role is. We don’t write the stuff, necessarily, but we do make it readable by the right audience.

What about language that just doesn’t really tell you anything, but is just bluster and padding? Politicspeak, jargon, gobbledegook.*

One of the main jobs of an editor is to get rid of all that. Yes, we also make the text consistent, it doesn’t just read better, but it’s easier to follow; you set a precedent at the beginning of the text and you follow it through. We correct the grammar, obviously, but we also make the text make sense! OHS guidance could probably never be called a good read, but it doesn’t have to be a complicated one.

I am not sure that this answers Gregor McGhee’s question as the books mentioned above are not straight comparisons with Busch’s Safety Myths book.  In some ways any safety book from a reputable and established publisher should illustrate the structure and protocols required.  One of my points and why I contacted Jackie McAdam was to emphasise the importance of an editor in any work.

It is useful that Jackie is a graphic designer as well as an editor as this allows her to picture the end result as well as the information contained.  Also she points out the crucial importance of communicating with the writers or source content providers to ensure you don’t misrepresent ideas in the translation from the technical to the readable.

Recently I spoke with Dr Rob Long when he was working through the proofs to his latest book , “Risky Conversations” and he was frustrated with the editing process required but also impressed by the complexity of editing.  Editing is a skill and a trade and one that is becoming less common as more and more of the text production tools become readily available.  But in most circumstances editing will still be a requirement even if it is to provide that final polish to a product or book.

Of course, like workplace safety, the best results come from having this role as early in the creativity and production processes as possible. Engaging an editor early in a project educates that editor on the text’s context, aim and point and builds a collaboration which avoids, mostly, a deadline panic, which can be an occupational hazard for all writers.

Kevin Jones

*[gobbledygook ˈɡɒb(ə)ldɪˌɡuːk,-ˌɡʊk/

noun, informal

noun: gobbledegook

language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of technical terms.]

Risky Conversations – enlightening and confusing

Recently SafetyAtWorkBlog reviewed a safety book of terrific content but poor presentation.  Last week  received an Australian book which presented different issues.  “Risky Conversations – The Law, Social Psychology and Risk” has been written by Dr Robert Long, lawyer Greg Smith and consultant Craig Ashhurst and is the fifth in a series of books about risk. The title is accurate as the book is essentially a transcript of conversations between the authors but reading is complicated by videos of these conversations also being available on-line through a password available to purchasers of the book.  The authors seem to have tried to do too much with the information they have.

Format and Marketing

Freelance writers in this new world of computer technology and social media are advised to maximise their media opportunities when attending a conference or interviewing someone.  An interview can be recorded for its video and its audio.  The interview could be photographed and the audio could be transcribed.  All of these formats can come from a single interview.  It seems that Long, Smith and Ashhurst have followed these opportunities by writing a book and producing videos of a three-way conversation recorded over several days but why offer both media formats to the book’s purchasers, when the information is the same?  Why incur the cost of videoing a conversation that could have been conducted over a teleconference?

One reason may be that Long is much in demand as a speaker at conferences and an adviser to companies that are looking for a fresh way to look at safety management, and he cannot be everywhere.  Andrew Hopkins undertook a similar option when he partnered with FutureMedia in the wake of his successful book on the Longford disaster.

The package of information may be confusing but is the content of the book any good?  Reading transcripts can be difficult, even edited and cleaned transcripts as are found in this book.  Interview transcripts are usually easy because there are only two voices, including the interviewer, the thread of the conversation is clear and the format is familiar.  This book’s transcripts are more difficult to follow even though there is a good amount of facilitation and the conversation diversions are minimised.  The book hopes to get its own tone after a while but never seems to establish its own personality.

The information in the videos is a little easier to follow as the three voices are represented visually.  The viewer hears the three personalities and accepts the three perspectives.  The book tries to unify or harmonise the voices, or perhaps it is the mind of the readers that does this, but reading the book requires a great deal of attention.

The previous safety book referenced above, written by Carsten Busch, had an enormous amount of footnotes and references.  The level of detail was appreciated but the book format did not seem to suit it.  Long, Smith & Ashhurst prefer annotations to footnotes and this book reads better for it. The annotations sometimes explain a concept where an explanation in the conversations would have interrupted the flow.  Sometimes they include hyperlinks for more information.  These are not quite text boxes but they are reminiscent of the boxes used so successfully in the Dummies series, though without the bomb symbols and thumbs-up.  Annotations allow for the reader to leave reading these until chapter ends or the whole book.

Another advantage is the format required for annotations also leaves plenty of space for the reader to include their own annotations.


Sometimes the book sounds like a panel discussion of three academics who are very enthusiastic about the topic.  And it is easy to have this wash over the reader.  But annotations help pull this back to attention.  For instance, Long encourages Ashhurst to talk about “Wicked Problems”, the apparent topic of Ashhurst’s PhD.  The annotation provides a brief explanation:

“The idea of ‘wickedity’ and ’emergence’ are critical concepts for understanding dialectic and paradox in tackling risk.

The very act of seeking certainty and control by fallible people for things that are uncertain sets the scene for fascinating interacts between the known and the unknown.” (page 14)

Wickedity may be a new and useful concept but the outline is not helped by creating doubt in the reader’s capability by using a verb – interact – as a noun.  This forces the reader to reread the sentence to interpret something that should have been pretty clear on the first read through.

One paper that mentions wickedity reports that

“Rittel and Webber (1973) introduced the notion of wicked problems in the context of urban planning where such issues as safety, aesthetics and ease of movement within a given space represent just a few of the more intractable and unique daily challenges facing urban planners.”

The application of concepts from one discipline to another is a major tool of the occupational health and safety consultant and can provide new understandings but wickedity, even as it is expanded upon later in the book, seems to be short hand for multifactorial considerations.  The concept is not new but the shortcut is.

Is it any good?

This article has not discussed the content of the book as much as was intended.  Partly this is because the book covers so many interesting topics.  Partly it is because so many of the conversations seem to require a good knowledge of the books that have come before.

One of the options for purchasing this book is as part of a package of five books and this is an attractive option for those coming to Long’s work for the first time.  In some ways this book is like a favourite trilogy. You read each book wanting the next and when the next one comes, you want the pleasure of reading the first book again.  Risky Conversations took me back to the first book which still holds the revelations about risk that the current book discusses.

Sometimes articles based on books reveal a great deal of content and identify the dominant themes.  I have struggled with this article because while reading the book I felt like I was intruding on a discussion of peers or a study group.  The discussion is intriguing but I was from listening from outside the circle or even listening in at the window.   Perhaps it has been too long since I studied and immersed myself in the academic rather than working in the real world of applying safety, selling safety and being as creative as I can within the organisational structures I work within.

Rob Long, especially, needs to keep communicating his ideas and this book is a great addition to anyone’s safety library.  By including other voices in this book, he is showing that others have embraced his thoughts and are pushing them in new directions, sometimes bizarre ones.  His books deserve careful consideration or, even better, to generate discussions.  It seems his thoughts demand explanation, refinement, expansion and challenge.  In a way this is reflected in Risky Conversations.

Kevin Jones

Great safety book let down by the format

Carsten Busch Book Cover002Carsten Busch has self-published “Safety Myth 101” – a book that is one of the most comprehensive discussions on contemporary approaches to occupational health and safety (OHS).  But it is also riddled with the problems of many self-published books – the lack of a strong and tough editor, an unattractive presentation and a mess of footnotes, references and endnotes. The content is very good which makes reading this book a frustrating experience.

I can’t help thinking that the book would have been more effective in a more modern online format that would have allowed for word searches, hyperlinks and  interaction with readers.  In fact, a wiki may have been the best option for Busch’s very valuable content.  But what of this valuable content? Continue reading “Great safety book let down by the format”

Quiet Outrage inspires

Last year Professor Andrew Hopkins‘ contribution to occupational health and safety (OHS) was celebrated in Australia.  At the event, a publisher was promoting Hopkins’ upcoming autobiography.  The book is not an autobiography, it is better.

The book is called “Quiet Outrage – The Way of a Sociologist” and was released in March 2016.  Don’t be surprised if you have not heard of this new release.  The publisher, Wolters Kluwer, seems to have done next to nothing to promote this book even though Hopkins’ works have been a major seller for the company.  Hopkins writes that 90,000 copies of his books have been sold around the world – an extraordinary achievement for an Australian sociologist. Continue reading “Quiet Outrage inspires”

Safety and The Three Little Pigs – WTF?

One of the benefits of the Internet is that people are able to distribute their thoughts in a variety of formats. (I am surely not the first to see some parallels with pamphleteering in the 1700s.) In November 2015, Australian safety professional Faith Eeson published Safety & The Three Little Pigs as an e-book.

The book is not a manual or a deep analysis of a particular safety topic.  It is a rumination on various safety-related issues with each chapter being no more than a couple of pages each.  Eeson peppers the e-book with references to fresh contemporary incidents in Australia, such as the Lindt Cafe siege last year in Sydney or the community prevalence of methamphetamine.  It may just the type of e-book that some small business owners made need for reassurance and guidance Continue reading “Safety and The Three Little Pigs – WTF?”