A “Fortean” Approach to Safety Management

[This article was originally published in 2008 and it shows. I sound “up myself” and apologise. But the point about open-mindedness in workplace health and safety is as valid as it was 12 years ago]

I established my occupational health and safety (OHS) consultancy on the principal that I am not an expert but a General OHS Practitioner. My skill was to identify workplace hazards that businesses didn’t recognize or didn’t understand. I could also present recommendations in plain English and reports that were stripped of unnecessary technicalities. Occasionally, usually on issues of chemicals, I would contract a colleague of mine who had the required expertise, but my aim was to be a general jack of all trades and expert of none.

This position has probably developed into a business philosophy. One that seems to be supported by the way business and OHS is evolving. Today there is less of a delineation between workplace safety, human resources, industrial relations, organisational behaviour, environment, quality management and social or psychological issues than ever before. Business advisers are trying to break down the silo structure of management but the silo structure of intellectual disciplines continues. This may be because we are all so busy that we have no time to spend talking with other disciplines. It may be that our revenues come from our own specific turfs and we don’t want to let our clients know that there may be other approaches to problem solving that we can’t provide. It may be that we are happy in our intellectual comfort zones.

If I have learnt anything from my experience is that the world is a web of social connections. Some strands of the web are thicker than others. Some connections are further from the central core than others but there is a pathway to everywhere from everywhere else. That is why I get frustrated when people disparage what they don’t understand.

It is time for me to make a confession. I will come out as a reader of FORTEAN TIMES. When you next go to a large newsagency, look for Fortean Times. It will be located with the nerdy flying saucer expose magazines. If you are lucky, it may be located next to Scientific American or Nature. The magazine reports on bizarre occurrences from raining frogs, alien big cats, bigfoot, conspiracy theories, parapsychology and many other fringe concepts. Thankfully UFO matters are minimised. I have read this magazine for over 20 years. (You can start sending the sympathy cards now.)

Continue reading “A “Fortean” Approach to Safety Management”

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…

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OHS cost research needs to stretch itself

Cover of 2016 WSI (1)The annual workplace safety report Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety always gets a good deal of mainstream media attention.  It deserves some of this attention as it has provided sound information on work-related injuries and injury costs for many years but it is now looking dated as it is not keeping up with current research in to the business case for safety, the move to leading indicators and the incorporation of psychosocial injuries (which are also covered by workers compensation). Continue reading “OHS cost research needs to stretch itself”

Talking about safety – old skills in new ways

Australia’s latest Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has a strong background in technology investment and is urging the country to embrace innovation.  This has generated a focus on information technology start-ups but it may also create opportunities for occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals, if they are willing to change.

There has been a quick growth in

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GlencoreXstrata’s annual report shows more than 26 deaths

Last week the Australian Financial Review (AFR) brought some focus on occupational health and safety (OHS) by reporting on the most recent annual report from GlencoreXstrata in its article “Mining’s not war, why 26 deaths?” (subscription required). The article is enlightening but as important is that a business newspaper has analysed an annual report in a workplace safety context.  Curiously, although OHS is often mentioned as part of its sustainability and risk management program, safety is not seen as a financial key performance indicator, and it should be.

AFR’s Matthew Stevens wrote:

“Everybody in mining talks about ‘zero harm’ being the ultimate ambition of their health and safety programs. But talking safe and living safe are two very different things.”

GlencoreXstrata’s 2013 annual report is worth a look to both verify the AFR’s quotes but also to see the corporate context in which fatality statements are stated.  The crux of the AFR article is this statement from the Chairman’s introduction:

“It is with deep sadness that I must report the loss of 26 lives at our combined operations during 2013. Any fatality is totally unacceptable and one of the Board’s main objectives is to bring about lasting improvements to our safety culture.” (page 76)

(A curious sidenote is that the interim Chairman is Dr Anthony Howard, formally of BP and brought to prominence by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.) Continue reading “GlencoreXstrata’s annual report shows more than 26 deaths”

OHS solutions promoted but not necessarily delivered

All professions need spokespeople or champions who can provide informative and, hopefully, authoritative commentary on topical matters within and beyond the profession.  Australia’s safety profession has never had such a spokesperson but recently the speakers’ bureau ICMI has packaged a selection of speakers who it thinks could be appropriate. The brief for Work Health Solutions focuses almost entirely on the issues of absenteeism, lost productivity, presenteeism and creating “a more enjoyable, friendly and less threatening environment” but will these speakers provide solutions to illnesses, injuries, amputations and diseases? Can these speakers provide the solutions implied in the program?

From the information on the program’s flyer, several of the speakers seem to be able to present stories about safety-gone-wrong. Theo Venter survived electrocution. Ian Johnson was seriously burned and speaks about the risks of confined spaces. Philip Smallman was a tree surgeon who became a paraplegic after a fall. Helen Fitzroy speaks of the impact of her husband’s workplace fatality.  John Tickell has spoken at several OHS conferences and has at least contributed to a book about OHS but others are tenuous. But ICMI is also promoting speakers who are primarily event hosts or Masters of Ceremonies and at least one of them generated complaints during a WorkSafe Victoria event several years ago for inappropriate comments about women. Continue reading “OHS solutions promoted but not necessarily delivered”

Safety leadership and the red tape drag

Red Tape scribbleDuring a recent seminar I produced the doodle on the right, which depicts what I think the speaker was talking about.  Safety is a goal that can be best achieved through improving a company’s leadership qualities.  However all companies seem to be restricted by red tape, however one defines that. Can this journey be improved?

Decrease the baggage

It may be possible to reduce or minimise the red tape baggage.  Most Western governments are attempting this through inquiries and reviews but this is assuming that it is government bureaucracy that has created this baggage.  In Australia over the last fifty years Governments have allowed business great flexibility in how it achieves OHS compliance and safe workplaces (definitely not the same thing) by reducing the prescriptive basis of OHS laws.  It may have been reasonable to expect that the loss of prescriptive safety would decrease paperwork but over the same time there has been increasing calls for less red tape from government.   Continue reading “Safety leadership and the red tape drag”