Cabbage Salad and Safety podcast – Episode 4

Podcasting is not always as easy as talking to a microphone or interviewing someone across a desk.  Episode 4 of the Cabbage Salad and Safety podcast that is posted online today was the third take.

Part of the challenge with podcasting is trusting that what you are saying is interesting, another part is not to talk shit.  Thankfully (we think) it was the first of these challenges that caused us to re-record.  Very few of us hear our conversations back.  Our threads of thought are usually clear to ourselves but we are unsure of how it sounds to others.  It is the difference between speaking and listening in a conversation.  Listening to what one says can be a confronting experieince.

Episode 4 uses Corr’s Mid-year Review as the launching pad for a discussion on disruption, duty of care, contractor management and my inadequacies.

The next episode will be recorded at the Safety Convention in Sydney, taking in some of the topics being presented but also including a short review of the conference.

As always, please include your comments about the podcast below or email me by clicking on my name.

Kevin Jones

Who are the “Gods of Safety”?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is usually taught around various safety theories that can include pyramids, icebergs, dominoes, cheese and damaging energy.  All of these theories were useful at some point in time to identify a new perspective, to counter an ideology or to explain why people cock-up. But which OHS theory has stood the…

This content is for subscribers of SafetyAtWorkBlog only.

Article locked

Log In Register

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.]

Leaderboard 2

SWMS on hairdressing is not enough

Part of the reason that workplace safety seems complicated to many business owners is that, sometimes, occupational health and safety (OHS) consultants over-complicate safety.  Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) are safety documents designed for high risk work activities that this blog has written about previously. Recently SWMS have begun to be sold through a major office stationery…

This content is for subscribers of SafetyAtWorkBlog only.

Article locked

Log In Register

Research shows the importance of OHS knowledge in achieving change

Recently Safety Science published “Important factors in common among organizations making large improvement in OHS performance: Results of an exploratory multiple case study” by Lynda Robson and a swag of others (available online but not sure for how long) which was noticeable for trying to

“… identify the factors important to large improvement in workplace occupational health and safety (OHS) performance.”

Cover of Robson research changeThis type of “step change” is often expected by business owners but is not often the focus of research. Robson et al. discuss “breakthrough change” or BTC and list twelve elements that initiate, are involved with or are outcomes of BTC:

  • “external influence,
  • organizational motivation to improve OHS,
  • new OHS knowledge,
  • a knowledge transformation leader,
  • responsiveness to OHS concerns,
  • positive social dynamics,
  • continuous improvement pattern,
  • simultaneous operational improvement,
  • supportive internal context.
  • integrated OHS knowledge,
  • decreased OHS risk,
  • decreased injury and illness.”

This list is a good summary of the elements that OHS professionals and safety managers should consider in developing or assessing their own safety management systems and strategies, however there are several that are of particular interest.

The research emphasises the important of OHS knowledge.  A current and effective state of knowledge on OHS and hazard controls is an important part of most occupational health and safety law and yet it seems underdeveloped except in academia and knowledge is so much more that academic teaching. The authors write:

“The transformation of OHS knowledge is at the model’s core: i.e., before BTC, the knowledge is unknown and external to the organization; by the end, it is integrated within the organization.”(page 216)

They depict the whole process of change, emphasising knowledge, in a graphic. This is a useful reminder of knowledge’s centrality to organisational change.

Graphic from Robson research change-2

They write that the traditional way of accessing useful knowledge was from external consultants or through hiring new personnel, but there is so much more knowledge available with the growth of the internet that the researchers talk about a key figure in the initiation of the BTC, the “knowledge transformation leader” or KTL. It is rare to advertise for such a role with that title and KTLs can have many titles but

“In all cases, multiple interviewees pointed toward the KTL, some with strong statements of attribution, such as ‘‘I mean it’s all her – there’s no doubt about it.”  The KTLs shared the characteristics of competence in administration (e.g., ‘‘a very organized person,”  ‘‘good at writing policy”) and strength in people skills (e.g., ‘‘a very, very good communicator.. .very persuasive…”). They were able to gain the cooperation of and collaborate with workers, supervisors and managers……..” (page 219)

This author has had several positions recently as a KTL without realising it.  It is surprising how influential a KTL can be as they draw new insights into what is often a very focused, narrow and insular workplace or project.  The perception of my two employers should also be acknowledged because they knew what they wanted even if they could not name it.  Now there is a name.

The recognition of the need for new or more knowledge or a fresher perspective may be an indication of a level of maturity in organisations.

Research can be a dry process but sometimes it uncovers something unexpected.  These researchers found a

“…. broad concept of positive social (and psychological) dynamics, which encompasses cross-case themes of energizing interactions, rapport, collaboration, worker empowerment and development through OHS, and passion for and commitment to OHS. This element had been unanticipated beforehand, and no a priori codes were developed specifically for it, yet it emerged strongly from the data.” (page 219)

As part of these “energizing interactions”, OHS professionals should not be surprised that the researchers found collaboration as important in building trust and constructive consultation:

“A collaborative approach was also taken with the entire workforce, with workers and supervisors being consulted as changes were planned and implemented. As a result, workers were no longer ‘‘afraid to stand up for safety stuff” and were ‘‘opening up more and more every year.” (page 219)

It is important to realise that breakthrough change is not necessarily from a prominent event or report.  The researchers found that elements of continuous improvement (a concept that seems to have dropped out of fashion) which will be so familiar to readers contributed to BTC:

“Improvement in the organizations with regards to their core operations, found in three of the cases, had some direct effects on OHS hazards and practices. For example, in manufacturing, a housekeeping intervention, implemented in part for operational reasons, also reduced tripping hazards. In Social Agency, lifts were increasingly acquired to address the needs of new clients, but they also reduced biomechanical loads for service providers. Further, when the agency underwent accreditation as a means to improve its operations, it was required to develop further in areas broader than but inclusive of OHS, such as emergency planning, risk management, and organizational performance measurement. Improvement in operations had indirect effects on OHS risks too. In one manufacturing organization, better control over processes meant ‘‘the guys weren’t always running around,” and therefore had more time to think about” safety during work tasks and come up with solutions to safety problems. Similarly, in the other manufacturing facility, new leadership had forced a distinct shift in operational practices, such as improved  adherence to and standardization of operational procedures, enhanced accountability, and better ‘‘closing of loops,” and this discipline benefited safety too.” (page 221)

Importantly, these researchers measured the outcomes of the interventions.  They found that OHS knowledge was integrated in better, and better quality, communication, decreased OHS risk and decreased injury and illness although the data for this was only workers compensation data, a data source the researchers later acknowledge may have emphasises physical injuries over mental and occupational health. Nevertheless the researchers were able to validate this injury reduction.

OHS professionals bang on about the importance of injury and illness prevention and many companies get heartily sick of this pressure but every so often there is research that reinforces the usefulness of this approach.  The researchers identified no magic bullet but…….

“Considering the results at a high level, we note that none of the BTC narratives had a ‘‘magic bullet” remedy for improving OHS performance. Instead, multiple organizational actions were involved, and most were concerned with the primary prevention of injury and illness.” (page 222)

And even though there was no magic bullet:

“An influx of new OHS knowledge and its transformation into new or modified responsibilities, policies, procedures and practices for both managers and workers was found to be at the core of the BTC process.” (page 222)

Researchers seem to rarely include case studies but this report includes the following:

“Our cases illustrate how new OHS knowledge may be identified and assimilated, but not yield performance improvement until it is transformed and exploited. That is, two of the cases went through a mandatory provincial OHS management audit program a few years before the BTC period. They failed a first audit; then, in response, identified new OHS knowledge and assimilated it in the form of new policy and procedure documentation, allowing them to pass on a second audit. However, the more significant changes in organizational routines and thus OHS outcomes came later, during the BTC period, once knowledge had been fully transformed and exploited, as a result of the additional presence of organizational motivation to improve OHS and a knowledge transformation leader (KTL).” (page 222)

The research report also included a lovely description of a typology for policy instruments – “carrots, sermons and sticks” – courtesy of Vedung.

It was curiosity over research into large changes that brought this article to my attention and it was a useful discovery.  Others have written about organisational cultural change but not necessarily with the detail or approach of Robson and her swag of collaborators.  The measurement of change is also a stand out part of this research report.  OHS has got to the point where every change and improvement  proposed should be able to be measured.  Quantitative evaluation may be preferable for measurement for some but there is growing criticism of reducing measurement to numbers only and of the information that is omitted as a result.  These researchers were able to validate change through numbers but the role of the knowledge transformation leader is largely qualitative.

This research report deserves close scrutiny to make sure one misses none of the opportunities for change that it has identified.

Kevin Jones

Leaderboard 2

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

Is it time for on-the-spot fines in Victoria?

The public comment phase of the Victorian Government’s Independent OHS Review into WorkSafe Victoria has concluded and most of the submissions are appearing on the review’s website. Some submissions are extensive, others are simply a whinge.  One topic did not get much of a mention in the 40 submissions currently available – on-the-spot fines. The…

This content is for subscribers of SafetyAtWorkBlog only.

Article locked

Log In Register

Leaderboard 2

Japanese depression contrasts the Western understanding of workplace mental health

frustrated young asian businessman

Australian workplace mental health advocates often seem to shy away from discussions of suicide, perhaps because suicides are not a regular occurrence at work or because work-related suicide remains stigmatised.  To better understand this overlap between suicide and mental health, and the working environment, it may be useful to look at the Japanese experience where work-related suicides, specifically karoshi, seems to have occurred before the appearance or recognition of mental ill-health and depression.

Recently the BBC released a series of broadcasts and podcasts looking at mental health issues.  The first episode discussed “Depression in Japan”.  The whole series Borders of Sanity will be of interest to mental health students and professionals but the Japanese episode reinforces that the recognition and treatment of depression is not the same around the world.  The appearance of depression in Japan is a very recent occurrence and shows the links between mental health and culture, particularly as it relates to the role of work, our place in work and our relationships with our bosses.

Japan has a unique approach to work and the relationships within work.  Some of the practices have been exported to other countries as we have seen in companies like Toyota but the perception of workload, diligence, commitment and loyalty has some echoes in Western workplaces.

Karoshi has been reported on in the West many times before, often as a peculiar quirk of the Orient but the recent BBC podcast is less about suicide and more about depression and mental health.  The West has a long tradition of psychoanalysis where stress, anxiety and depression have been defined, refined and integrated into our cultures.  This is still in its early stages in Japan and the full podcast is a fascinating counterpoint to the Western perception of workplace mental health.

Kevin Jones

Law firm’s report provides important safety contexts

Law firms have been producing newsletters and case summaries for a long time.  Ostensibly these are for marketing purposes but occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals have benefited from these potted histories and examinations, even though the perspectives are often limited to the legal precedents.  Over the last few years though, law firms have been…

This content is for subscribers of SafetyAtWorkBlog only.

Article locked

Log In Register

Podcast tackles Safety Culture

Cabbage Salad BannerThe latest episode of the Cabbage Salad and Safety podcast is now available and includes a discussion on the perennial occupational health and safety (OHS) debate over Safety Culture.

Siobhan Flores-Walsh and I discuss the role of safety culture and its influence on contemporary safety management.  The definition is fluffy and this is part of the challenge in improving a company’s safety culture.  I think the podcast episode is a useful primer on the issue to those who are just making contact with the concept and of interest to those of us who are already dealing with safety culture and people’s expectations for it.

Cabbage Salad and Safety podcasts are changing all the time and we read all the feedback and comments that listeners have emailed in. Please have a listen and email me your thoughts for future episodes or please comment below if you prefer.


Kevin Jones