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”

Cabbage Salad and Safety – Episode 5

October is National Safety Month in Australia and episode 5 of the Cabbage Salad and Safety podcast discusses a range of topics to mirror the diversity of National Safety Month.

Siobhan Flores-Walsh and myself talk about:

  • Conferences
  • Culture
  • Gender in Safety
  • Mental Health
  • Simple Safety vs Complex Safety
  • Innovation
  • Marketing and social media

The Gender in Safety conversation is one that I intend to expand upon in the coming weeks and is useful to notion relation to the increasing number of “women in safety”- type events.

KJ SFH HeadshotThis podcast is a mixed bag but I am interested in hearing your thought on the podcast and the topics it contains so post a comment here or email me.

Kevin Jones

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

Citi’s 2015 Safety Spotlight shines light on some OHS areas

[This article from 2015 was previously password-protected and is now available to all] Recently a couple of media outlets referred to a report produced by Citi into workplace safety issues related to the top 100 companies on the Australian stock exchange.  The report, “Safety Spotlight: ASX100 Companies & More” (not available online), provides a useful…

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Andrew Hopkins supports the abandonment of safety culture

Culture and safety culture are misunderstood and abused terms, according to Professor Andrew Hopkins speaking at the SIA Safety Convention in Sydney today. His perspective as a social scientist reinforces many of the speakers on disruption at yesterday’s sessions. If culture is the characteristic of individuals, culture is transferable or portable outside the workplace but…

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Safety disruption gets context

The second session of the SIA National Convention is flatter than the the first, not because it is not interesting but because it is providing us with the social context for occupational health and safety (OHS) rather than challenging the OHS profession.

Bernard Salt is a very high profile demographer whose job is almost entirely about providing social context to whatever we do. He mentioned OHS specifically only four times and then primarily to do with driving trucks but the age data Salt presented shows the need for improvement in the health and wellbeing of the workforce so that quality of life can extend in line with the extended period of our lives.

gahan-sia-conf-2016Peter Gahan (pictured right, speaking)of the Centre of Workplace Leadership is a regular speaker at the Safety Institute of Australia’s conferences. His outline reflects the theme of this conference by disrupting our sense of security and career.

The challenge comes from how we respond to this unease. If we curl up on the couch to binge watch a show, the career is over. We need to look for the opportunities that the disruption offers but this may require us to reassess, if not throw out, the foundations of our profession or the dreams on which we chose our career.

Richard Coleman is well known in the Australian OHS profession through his prominent safety career. His attraction as a conference speaker was on display because he was able to adjust his presentation to accommodate the examples and context that previous speakers addressed. Coleman focused on the digital disruption, particularly as it affects blue collar occupations. He believes that some of these jobs will go within the next five years.

Coleman’s focus on digital disruption provided a great summary of the OHS application of augmented reality and wearable technology. The latter has the best opportunity for safety improvement, particularly in the area of manual handling. Sensor technology can provide better levels of information and in real time that allows immediate interventions at times of great risk.

What these speakers and the panel are all about is to think creatively and think big. Fantasise about your job and the tasks you do now and whether they will exist in ten years and how you can change them now to prepare for the future. If your job leads to a dead-end, change the job. It seems easier to do this now, than ever before

Kevin Jones

OHS conference hears of a bleak future

What do you do when the first speaker at a safety conference makes a strong argument that occupational health and safety (OHS) activities are likely to be automated out of existence within twenty years?  Dr Drew Rae opened the SIA Safety Convention with just such a statement.  This was reinforced by Andrew Harris of Laing O’Rourke who provided video evidence of an artificial intelligence that could identify that a worker was not wearing the required personal protective equipment.

The Convention’s theme is disruption as this is one of the current business buzzwords and safety people think disruption is a positive experience. But it is possible that disruption will erode the OHS profession IF that profession continues handling its knowledge and supporting its members in the same way.

At the Eric Wigglesworth Memorial Lecture on 5 September, Dr David Borys further disrupted the OHS profession by questioning its knowledge base and although an academic himself and a major participant in the Safety Institute of Australia’s Body of Knowledge, advocated a Body of Evidence  rather than a Body of Knowledge.  What this also did was cut across the core structure of the SIA which is wrapped around academic education.  Borys was very disruptive in a polite way.

The first session of this conference confirms the understanding that the best safety thinking comes from outside the safety profession.  The future of the safety profession will come from how the safety profession responds to change and several speakers have mentioned extinction.

It’s a good start to this conference.

Kevin Jones

Don’t kill anyone. Don’t seriously injure anyone.

Tooma 2016Michael Tooma (pictured right) has been a leading writer on occupational health and safety (OHS) law in Australia for some time.  He is one of the few labour lawyers who is not afraid to express an opinion although he has always spoken within the legal context.

Recently Tooma participated in a roadshow with

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Prescient research on OHS, values and sustainability

Cover of Ecos+Corporation+The+Safety+Sustainability+Connect+Paper (1)It has become fashionable to place occupational health and safety (OHS) in the organisational context of business sustainability.  But this is not a new phenomenon in Australia.  In 2001 the Ecos Corporation published a discussion paper called “Safety + Value: Entry Points for Operationalizing Sustainability.”* It states

“A dual focus on safety and value creation provides familiar and readily understandable “entry points” and “drivers” for corporations seeking to operationalize sustainability as a framework for doing business in the 21st Century.”

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