What is a safety professional and what do they do?

David Provan recently provided access to one of his research papers through LinkedIn while it is open. The paper is a literature review of the factors shaping the role of a safety professional.  It is a difficult and confusing read until one reaches the Conclusion.  This is not Provan’s fault but is an indication of the confusing and conflicting roles, actions, obligations and qualifications of the occupational health and safety (OHS) professional revealed by the research literature.

However, the Conclusion provides a good summary of all the literature with some useful strategies to improve the OHS conversation.

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Safety Culture and/or safetyculture

Kevin Jones speaking a SafetyCulture’s Sydney office

SafetyAtWorkBlog and others have been critical of some of the products and practices of Australia safety company SafetyCulture. However Luke Anear, SafetyCulture’s CEO invited me to speak at a briefing for his staff and this seemed a good opportunity to better understand his company.

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The next step in incident investigations – Learning Teams

The SafeGuard conference in Auckland this week has provided some excellent occupational health and safety (OHS) insights but the standout, on Day 1, was the end of the day panel.  Often these are dull and given to less than half the audience who have either had children to collect or choose to go to the casino next door.

This panel comprised two representatives of Contact Energy,

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OHS and Tim White

The latest in our series of profiles on researchers who are involved with occupational health and safety research is Dr Tim White.  He holds the degrees of Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). His most recent appointment was as Lecturer and Researcher in Mechanical Design at UNSW.

After 10 years of working casually as a consultant while also holding salaried positions, Dr White founded Forensic Mechanical Engineers in 2013 and now works full time as a forensic engineer and expert witness. He is based in Bathurst, NSW but travels extensively for work, often flying himself to regional locations.

What attracted you to looking at workplace health and safety? Did you fall into it or always have an interest?

I feel like I just fell into it, although now that I look back, I suppose that my career progression was reasonably intuitive. A farming background prior to my first engineering degree (and subsequent time in industry) meant that I was never going  to be content doing the same thing as most of my peers. Although it was not a main consideration at the time, the PhD and progression into academia was what ultimately equipped me with the ability to now work flexibly in a role where I feel as though I am – clichés aside – doing something interesting as well as making a difference.

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Free online safety conference – RTW Summit

Recently I recorded my contribution  to an online conference called the RTW Summit.  This conference is first to Australia although other organisations have proposed such a format previously but never eventuated.

The conference has been devised and organised by Mark Stipic, a young Return To Work professional who started a podcast recently.  He is intelligent and one of those people who is not afraid to take risks in the emerging world of social media.

Continue reading “Free online safety conference – RTW Summit”

Webinar audience and performance measurement

In mid-April 2017, Safe Work Australia (SWA) filmed its latest webinar at an inner-city hotel in Sydney on the theme of “Why big business needs to lead work health and safety”. SWA has established a strong place in the online safety media by providing unique information in a professional presentation.

I flew up to Sydney for the event as I had heard that SWA was looking for audience members.  There were a few familiar faces in the SWA team and they were excited about the filming. But it is very hard to determine just how successful this type of webinar is.  Performance statistics should be available but they are rarely shared.

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OHS and Marcus Cattani

Marcus Cattani at the cricket
Marcus Cattani at the cricket

Dr Marcus Cattani, is a Senior Lecturer in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) within the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University and a leading Australian OHS consultant. SafetyAtWorkBlog endeavoured to glimpse the person behind the qualifications by asking Dr Cattani some safety-related questions and he was kind enough to respond.

What attracted you to looking at workplace health and safety?  Did you fall into it or always have an interest?

I was lucky enough to find out about WHS when I was around 20 years old, during my environmental science based college course.  At that time, in the late 1980’s the trend for people finishing my course was to work in asbestos management or in Council environmental teams, neither of which really excited me!

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Teaching OHS in China

Guest post from Col Finnie of fini:ohs :

col-finnie-china-1This year (2016) I had two 2-month stints teaching OHS and risk management in Sichuan China as a casual employee for a Melbourne-based TAFE.  It was quite a learning experience. And I thought to pass on a bit of the stuff I learned for others who might find themselves doing teaching or training in the economic powerhouse that is China. A total of 4 months teaching does not an expert make: so the “musings” here should be treated as intended: random observations from a China “newbie” for other newbies.

Both gigs were at a college in Deyang, a relatively small western region city (4 million pop. or thereabouts).  Keep in mind “the vibe” changes a lot depending on size of the city.  The capital of Sichuan is Chengdu, 80 km or so south-west of Deyang, and the vibe in that city of 14 and a bit million is significantly different to Deyang. Continue reading “Teaching OHS in China”

The challenge of marketing workplace safety

Safe Work Australia (SWA) has formally launched National Safety Month.  National Safety Month has existed for many years and is ostensibly a marketing exercise about workplace safety. As such it is worth looking briefly at the marketing of occupational health and safety (OHS) messages.

Campaigns can work well when there is a trusted and high-profile figure to be a spokesperson for the cause and, ideally, provides a testimonial or relevant back story. OHS in Australia lacks such a person.  Safety messaging almost always comes from the heads of regulatory agencies or business leaders whose public profiles are minimal.  Some prefer low profiles and when coerced to speak in public, often when on video, have a stilted delivery that limits the appeal.

Prominent support

If National Safety Month really wants to cut through into the mainstream media or to the broadest audience, it should have a message from the current Employment Relations Minister or, even better, the Prime Minister, at least.  National politicians guarantee media attention even if the entirety of the message is not used or explained.  State safety authorities have often been successful in gaining the support of their local Minister.

(A conference organiser trick that is regularly played in Australia is that if you want the Minister to open an event, let them know that if they cannot attend, the Opposition Party’s Shadow Minister has expressed an interest. The Minister then reprioritises the event.)

It is difficult to get Ministers’ time and even harder to have them on television or online video.  People understand this inconvenience and struggle, and the effort to get the Ministers seems to add strength and authority to the issues Ministers talk about. If National Safety Month, or the various State-based events, does not have the relevant Minister speaking at an event or in support of the event, or if the month goes by without, at least, a ministerial media statement, the community can justifiably say that the Minister does not care about workplace safety, even when they have responsibility for the portfolio.

Online

Most Australian OHS regulators have an online strategy in support of National Safety Month.  Over a decade ago when these strategies were introduced, the move online was almost always because it was seen as cheaper.  The minuscule size of the audience was rationalised with “if you build it they will come”.  The supposed success of many of these online strategies has not come from the subject matter, OHS is still seen as boring or a nuisance by most.  Online OHS marketing is, like so many others, riding the wave of technological change rather than affecting change itself.

Growth and success has come from the penetration of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other social media that pushes information to the audience bypassing the traditional media controllers who almost always ignored workplace safety unless there was a catastrophic disaster of multiple fatalities.

worksafe-awards-2016Media Disinterest

A minor but recent example of how the longterm media ignorance of OHS has changed media strategies is that WorkSafe Victoria offered no passes to the media for its awards night on October 7*, as it had done for most of the previous awards events.  WorkSafe seems to have become disheartened with the lack of mainstream media attention its awards received so it stopped inviting the media as a whole. The blanket exclusion is an odd decision given that WorkSafe Victoria has a strong online presence which would have been further strengthened by, at least, using the network of social media influencers.

The fact that WorkSafe Victoria has reconfigured its awards event back to an evening event and dinner is a further indication that the current WorkSafe is different from the previous incarnation under a conservative State Government.  However its difference is not new as it is more a return to what occurred in the past and what was seen as successful, just perhaps not in a media sense.  This “return to form” may reflect the expectations of the regulator, its stakeholders, the OHS profession and lobbyists but it has still failed to penetrate the editors’ interests in the next day’s newspapers.  The Herald-Sun newspaper does include a full-page ad (pictured above)about the winners but this would have been paid for.  Even so, it is a greater effort that in previous years where the ad was lucky to be a half-page.

Safety is too hard

The challenge of advertising about workplace safety is that the audience cannot buy safety; they must earn it, they must apply it, they must think about it and they must talk about it.  But largely they don’t.  It is seen as too complex and costly.  This perception has largely come through the politicisation of OHS from both extremes of politics and so OHS marketing has needed to consider the political juggling of its stakeholders, particularly when those stakeholders are embedded in the development of the safety message and the communication of the safety message through the tripartite consultative artefact, as they are in Australia.

So there are few options left available to safety regulators.  Safe Work Australia has chosen to add to the OHS body of knowledge and evidence through continuous release of reference documents and the Virtual Safety Seminars and podcasts which is the SWA’s main National Safety Month activity.  As SWA is not a safety regulatory, it has always had limited marketing opportunities so it is building a contemporary library of thought.

Most State OHS regulators continue to provide, at least, a week of free seminars and suburban and regional events using the internet largely as an administrative tool for event booking rather than a communication medium, but perhaps, SWA simply established its patch early.  And perhaps this is the most sustainable way to market workplace safety – talking face-to-face, showing new products and ideas, telling stories of what went wrong and what went right – reminding everyone that workplace safety is always about people.  After all, Australia’s most successful workplace safety ad, Homecomings, was all about the importance of people.

Kevin Jones

*SafetyAtWorkBlog enquired  with WorkSafe Victoria about media access some time ago but was advised that passes weren’t being issued and then it was too late to buy a ticket.

Knowledge remains power, even in the age of robots

A recent safety convention in Australia had as its theme “Disruption”, a fashionable term that can mean many things to many people.  Perhaps why it is a marketer’s dream word.  The initial session of the convention was unnerving because speakers were saying that the current jobs and activities of safety professionals will be undertaken by artificial intelligence in a decade.  This change is not a coordinated strategy but bits and pieces of this change/threat keep appearing, the latest was in The Guardian on 25 September 2016 in an article called “You’d better listen up“.

That article, ostensibly about headphones included this workplace application:

“Bragi has recently announced a partnership with IBM where it hopes to deliver the massive processing power and cognitive capacity of the Watson AI system via its devices. At the moment, it is exploring how these capabilities could be employed in the workplace. For example, maintenance workers could describe an issue, Watson recognises the problem and talks them through the solution – without their having to refer to manuals or computers, keeping their hands free for the repair. Similarly, doctors could get help with recognising rare conditions and their conversation with a patient would be recorded and saved to the cloud for their records.”

Futuristic Engineer in yellow hardhat holding tablet

The safety benefits of this contraption is obvious – a manual on call  and responsive to vocalised questions.  As anyone with a Glaswegian accent trying to set up voicemail in Australia will know, vocal recognition still has a long way to go unless the world is able to be un-Babelled and speak with one accent. (Please not Australian, as artificial intelligences (AI) would struggle with the constant answering of “Yeah – Nah”)  Voice recognition software has needed long hours of training to be functioning at a basic level.

Thankfully that tech challenge can be left to the technologists.  What is more important, and could provide safety professionals with a future, is the back-end of the application of Watson.  Any AI needs knowledge so that the advice it provides to the user/listener/engager is accurate and relevant to the situation, literally, at hand.  AIs will not create their own knowledge, at least in the short term, and so will rely on safety professionals and others to provide the knowledge to the software.

Safety professionals are unlikely to provide knowledge of a specific process but will likely be called on to add value to the mechanical work activity or discussion.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) is likely to be one of the assessment criteria used by the AI.  For instance, in the response to the work activity quoted above the maintenance worker will want to know how to do something.  The OHS contribution to the AI’s response would be to ensure that the task is undertaken safely, in a safe environment or with the suitable protective equipment or the correct tool.

The convention was shown video of an AI that verified that workers were dressed appropriately for the work conditions before allowing access to site.  This would replace those OHS consultants who like to be safety police but the situation described in the video was understandable.  There are rules for specific PPE prior to entering a workplace with hazards that could be reduced by wearing the PPE.  No PPE, no site access.  The argument in favour of AI applications would be that the safety professional could attend to more important activities.  The sad reality is that some safety professionals rely on this type of activity to give their jobs worth.

The reality of AI in OHS cannot be avoided.  Those who advocate for disruption argue that disruption provides opportunities for the creative, the agile and the clear thinkers but it is also the case that many safety professionals will be left behind like Neanderthals to Hom (OHS) Sapiens.

Kevin Jones