Cabbage Salad and Safety – Episode 5 7

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 1

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 Reply

[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 insight to the ASX100 companies’ safety performance but Citi also undertook several thematic analyses which are curious but not always as helpful as expected. (A blog article on a previous Citi report is HERE)

In support of some of the statements at a recent seminar after the Australasian Reporting Awards, Citi found that shareholders and investors now expect to read about occupational health and safety performance in company reports and that the omission of OHS mentions seems suspicious.  Safety can be an indication of the quality of a company’s management and these findings could be a major boost for the issue of OHS accountability and transparency.

The Spotlight report records fatalities for the ASX100 companies since the 2005 financial year and over that time the annual fatality rate has declined however the report acknowledges that recent issues may indicate past statistical deficiencies when one considers the increased attention on work-related suicides and work-related vehicle incidents.

The benefit of having fatality figures, brief descriptions and trend data for each company in this report shows the amount of attention to detail Citi has applied for this report.  This data  is likely to be useful in deciding about investments but the use for safety professionals is limited, however OHS professionals are not the target audience.

Frequency Rates

It is useful to note that 94 of the 127 companies (Yes, it’s still called the ASX 100) reported LTIFR and/or TRIFR as indicators of safety performance. Citi acknowledges that TRIFR “may be a better measure of harm.”

The need for a consistent metric is shown in the report’s footnotes by the plethora of frequency rates.  A sample includes

  • All Injury Frequency Rate
  • Recordable Case Rate
  • Recordable Injury Frequency Rate
  • Recordable Case Injury Frequency Rate
  • Lost Workday Case Frequency Rate

Some of the titles may be exactly the same metric but even when looking at Annual Reports it is difficult to tell. Frequency rates are, largely, a lag indicator but even consistency in these measures would greatly help the comparison of OHS performance.

Thematic Research

The thematic research report areas for this year included

  • Developing vs Developed Country Injury Statistics,
  • Process Safety and Major Hazard Risk,
  • Safety and Executive Remuneration,
  • Workplace Impacts of Obesity, and
  • Western Australian Inquiry into FIFO (Fly-In, Fly-Out) Mental Health.

Some companies operate globally and safety data varies from country to country. Citi suggests that this may be due to differences in risk perception, the presence of workers compensation schemes, reporting consistency and different workforce demographics and fitness, amongst other factors. This variability affects the interpretation of global OHS performance statistics.

Major Hazards

On the issue of major hazards, Citi found that major companies are increasing their focus on process safety and major hazard risk but wondered whether investors could ask why these companies are acting now rather than years earlier when the risk levels were similar. This type of reaction after major incidents is common and is one of the major frustrations of the OHS profession.  Tragedy motivates change much quicker than leadership.

Recently a colleague mentioned their own frustration with safety professionals and academics who continue to use disasters such as Piper Alpha, Challenger and Three Mile Island, as illustrations of systemic failure.  The theoretical relevance is obvious but to most of the OHS students and graduates such events are of historical interest mainly as these occurred before many were even born.  It is useful to remember that even those children now in their teenage may be unaware of the events of 9/11 even though they may be aware of the consequences of that event.

Citi also makes the point that the measurement of personal safety in this industry sector can provide a false sense of security as it misses the major process disaster risk, a perspective borne out by others in the oil and gas sector.

Someone in Citi has been reading some of the recent work of Andrew Hopkins and others when it writes:

“Executive remuneration schemes may act against management of major hazard risk.”

Executive Remuneration

One section of this report that has generated a lot of attention concerns executive remunerations and how these are linked to safety. Most companies continue to rely on personal safety figures but Citi noted that at least four companies are incorporating safety leadership in this area.

The criteria used with safety as a remuneration factor, as with the safety performance metrics mentioned above, are messy and contradictory.  Some of the criteria used by Australian companies include:

  • injury rates,
  • reportable spills,
  • risk reduction actions on time,
  • personal initiatives and leadership, and
  • occupational health exposures.

Four companies made no mention of safety influencing CEO remuneration!


One of the more curious analytical themes was Workplace Impacts of Obesity.  The Citi report highlights this through references to solid data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian Bureau of Statistics and others but suggest no OHS solutions other than noting the increase in wellness  and healthy lifestyle programs.

This section is an odd inclusion as it is difficult to see how these statistics could affect the decision making on investments.  The issue is more a quality of life issue that has curiosity value rather than any corporate indicator.

Mental Health FIFO

This topic is a more logical fit to the Citi report as many of the resource companies that use FIFO labour are also part of the ASX100.  More specific OHS information is available from the recent Western Australian inquiry report and through watching the current Queensland inquiry but, as Citi notes, the crucial factor in this sector will be the governments’ responses to the inquiries.  One of these is due in mid-September 2015 and will be a good gauge of the Federal Government’s attitude to the prevention of harm from a psychosocial matter.

In Citi’s advice to investors it mentions potential changes in the following areas:

  • Rosters, Construction and Contractors,
  • Reporting of Suicides, and Inclusion of Mental Health in WHS Requirements, and
  • Accommodation Facilities.

The OHS challenge of this labour practice in this industry sector is to apply a core OHS principle – to eliminate harm, at the source – companies may need to restructure their operations, and change fundamental perspectives on the use of labour. Given that many suggest that the recent mining boom in Australia has ended, the issue of FIFO mental health has diminished except that as the mining labour force has entered other industry sectors, the consequences of FIFO may manifest in the new occupations or, at least, affect a worker’s productivity.

The latest Safety Spotlight is a fascinating document, particularly as the data covers a decade from 2005 and is not limited to Australian safety events but includes global incidents under the “control” of Australian companies.

It is hoped that Citi avoids the temptation of rolling this decade across the next Spotlights (if there are any) as anchoring the data in 2005 allows for trend data across a range of economic fluctuations such as booms and the Global Financial Crisis.  This will be doubly important as, as Citi mentions several times during the report, safety may be directly affected by the varying fortunes of the ASX100 companies.

Kevin Jones


Andrew Hopkins supports the abandonment of safety culture 11

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.

hopkins-sia-conf-2016If culture is the characteristic of individuals, culture is transferable or portable outside the workplace but if culture is group-based workers move from social group to social group taken on the cultural characteristic of that group.

Hopkins briefly discussed national cultures where companies seem to struggle to impose their corporate culture on a foreign country but Hopkins says the corporate culture can replace a national culture if the company allows it to. My question would be whether the company should impose a culture or whether their aims could be equally achieved by blending the cultures. Should corporate cultures be allowed to colonies?

Cultural change often has wildly varied time estimates. Hopkins says as soon as a company or the executives decide to change culture the culture starts to change. People often talk about end points yet cultural change has no clear end point as it is a process of continuous improvement and change.

Hopkins concluded his presentation by quoting an SIA publication and concluded that

“The concept of safety culture is so disruptive that we should abandon it”

Kevin Jones

Safety disruption gets context 1

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