New Perspectives in OHS

Yesterday the Central Safety Group (CSG) invited me to talk at its monthly lunchtime seminar. The topic was New Perspectives on OHS. These perspectives are likely to be familiar to subscribers of this blog but were intended to be provocative and foster reflection and discussion. Below is a substantially edited version.


Thanks for inviting me to be the first speaker in CSG’s 60th anniversary year. The Central Safety Group has been an important part of my OHS journey since the very start in the early 1990s. It is a remarkable achievement for the Group and, as a Life Member, I am very proud of my association with it.

OHS can become very insular. It can become too focussed on issues within a single industry, a single worksite or a discipline. This insularity can lead to OHS reaching seemingly operational dead ends, such as “this is the way it is” or what is “reasonably practicable are”. We may seek continuous improvement, but our employers and clients often see “reasonably practicable” as the endpoint of activity. It can become their comfort point of compliance.

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Steve Bell outlines the challenges for the OHS profession and Regulators

Almost every year, for a couple of decades, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) and the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) have conducted a breakfast seminar to “launch” the year. That schedule has been cocked up by COVID-19, but the events continue.

The August 2021 breakfast featured several of the usual speakers but with the omission of the Minister for Workplace Safety or a senior representative of Worksafe Victoria. As a result, the event dragged a little. Most of the information was useful, but the event lacked the spark it often has. Perhaps this was the online format, perhaps the mix of speakers, perhaps the 90-minute length.

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More workplace bullshit, but in a good way

Bullshit is starting to gain some serious analysis with four researchers recently publishing “Confronting indifference toward truth: Dealing with workplace bullshit” in Business Horizons. One attraction of this research paper is its focus on workplace business communications and conversations, but it is almost impossible to read it without thinking of the recently ousted United States President and how lies and “fake news” have dominated international political discourse.

Another attraction is that it is not just an analysis but one that also suggests pathways to detect and reduce the bullshit. What I was unprepared for was to start to feel sympathy for the bullshitter.

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Integration struggles at workplace mental health conference

The Criterion Conference called “Improving Integrated Approaches to Workplace Mental Health” is a curious one. There is a lot of information about workplace mental health but a lot less about a “integrated approach”.

The audience had a good mix of delegates from Australian States and as well as occupations of Human Resources (HR) and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), as well as some State Safety Regulators. The separate silos of HR and OHS were on display even though it is these very disciplines that must be integrated for Australian businesses to truly grasp how mental ill-health can be prevented. One example of the gap could be seen in relation to resilience training.

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Ethics, safety and fingertips

Last week the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) launched its Body of Knowledge Chapter on Ethics in Melbourne to a small group of occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals. Participants were asked to outline an ethical challenge they had faced as OHS professionals.

In that same week, WorkSafe Victoria issued a media release that showed a poor follow-through by a business on advice from an OHS professional.

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Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones with family in Paris 2012

I thought I might follow Wade Needham’s reflections and thoughts with my own. Indulgent? Maybe.

How did you get into Health & Safety?

My first contact with workplace health and safety was as an Administrative Officer in the Victorian Department of Labour in the late 1980s before moving to the Occupational Health and Safety Authority, the precursor to WorkSafe Victoria, in the early 1990s.  I worked in the Major Hazards Branch and was involved in preparing options for the relocation of the Coode Island chemical storage facility before it exploded.

What drives you?

The Health and Safety profession has been notoriously shy in expressing opinions for many reasons including timidity, insecurity and laziness.  This reluctance has contributed to the dominant perspective of H&S as a business nuisance rather than a profitable aid to business.  My frustration with this caused me to write and speak about H&S as an unavoidable and legitimate element of business.

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OHS and Wade Needham

It’s been a while since SafetyAtWorkBlog offered a profile on one of its subscribers. Wade Needham was generous enough to answer some questions about himself. His responses are intriguing and he provides excellents links to other resources.

Wade Needham on the far right in 2018 with, from the left, Tim Allred, Andrew Barrett and Naomi Kemp

If you are a SafetyAtWorkBlog subscriber and would like to follow Wade’s lead, email your responses to the following questions:

  • How did you get into Health & Safety?
  • What drives you?
  • What helps you slow down?
  • Regrets?
  • Favourite fiction writer?
  • What is one trend you are watching keenly?
  • Person/s who you watch and take inspiration from in H&S that you think will have an increasing impact in the sector:
  • What are you most excited about in our sector?
  • What’s your favourite quote?
  • Biggest issue facing the H&S profession?
  • What do you wish you had understood sooner?
  • What would you like to see to improve collaboration in our sector?
  • What should you have been doing whilst you answered this?
Continue reading “OHS and Wade Needham”
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