Safety promotion needs backup

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vwa-billboard-2008-0022

WorkSafe Victoria has had considerable advertising success by focusing on the social impact of workplace injuries and death.  In the newspapers and television over Christmas 2008, WorkSafe ads, like the billboard above, were on high rotation but, after the high number of workplace fatalities in January 2009, the strategy must be needing a review.

In terms of OHS promotion generally, branding and awareness strategies are valid however, when the messages of the strategies continue to be ignored, alternatives need to be developed.  The fatality figures imply that family is “the most important reason for safety” but only for a short time or in limited circumstances.  When you return to work the work environment or your approach to the work tasks are worse than before Christmas.

The reality of advertising is that it is often cheaper to raise awareness than change the behaviour of clients, in terms of OHS, this would be both the workers and the employers.  Raising safety as a business priority requires considerably legwork by regulators on-site and through industry associations.  Few OHS authorities around the world seem to be applying hands-on approaches to the extent required.

Part of the reason is that trade unions used to be the shopfloor safety police, as anticipated by Robens in the early 1970s, but trade union membership is at record low levels.  The deficiency in the safety profile on the shopfloor or at the office watercooler is not being picked up by the employers.

Media campaigns are the public face of safety promotion but they should not be a veneer.  Regulators need to provide more information on the alternative strategies they already employ, or plan to introduce, so that promotion is not seen as an end in itself.  

Direct business and CEO visits have been used in the past but given up because these were short term initiatives.   In Victoria, high level visits by regulators to CEOs, board members and directors had a considerable impact in the 1990s but there was no follow-up strategy to maintain that profile.   Ten years on there are a new set of senior managers who could do with a bit of prodding.

Kevin Jones

Workplace Safety at Board Level

In May 2008, the Safety Institute of Australia held a conference where, for one day, CEOs and senior executives talked about their experiences with workplace safety and how they manage OHS in their workplaces and with their boards of management. The presentations were of variable interest but those that were good were very good.  The…

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Unacceptable levels of death at Australian mines

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In The Australian on 28 August 2008 was an article about the Australian Workers Union wanting to strengthen its industrial presence in the mining communities of the Pilbara region.  Nothing surprising in that but the spur for this latest move was the death on 25 August of a 29-year-old worker in the Yandi mine workshop owned by BHP Billiton. The company acknowledged the fatality a media release.

The company has had several recent deaths in its facilities.  According to a report on 30 July 2008:

“A 52-year-old Port Hedland man was conducting maintenance work on a scissor lift at Port Hedland when it fell on him at 1300 AEST on Tuesday, a police spokeswoman said.”

CEO Marius Klopper admitted on 20 August 2008 that BHP Billiton has had 11 fatalities so far in 2008. He is quoted as saying:

“The fatalities are difficult to talk about without getting emotional. The event that really shook us was that we had a helicopter crash where basically a pilot flew a helicopter into terrain and we had five fatalities. That was a truly tragic event and would be the single biggest event that we’ve had.”

“I think historically, we probably have reduced our fatality rates over time. It varies certainly from year to year but unfortunately we still have multiple fatalities every year in this business, which is something that we’ve got to continue to work on.”

Klopper’s comments received minimal media coverage outside of Western Australia.  Perhaps that was because the CEO made those comments at the same time as announcing his company’s record profit of almost $A18 billion.

Australian CEOs and workplace safety

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One of the tasks I have in my consultancy is assisting the Safety Institute of Australia to promote their Safety In Action conferences.  As part of this I have been able to provide some videos from the May 2008 conference.  The videos are excerpts from the presentations of four of the chief executive officers and company directors who spoke of day one of the conference about their experiences with workplace safety issues at board level.

Dr Ziggy Switkowski
Dr Ziggy Switkowski

One speaker is Dr Ziggy Switkowski, current  chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and former CEO of Telstra Corporation.  Dr Switkowski’s video is the longest and possibly the most interesting.  His manner is relaxed and chatty as he builds on some of the comments of the former speaker, Jerry Ellis.

 

  

Peter McMorrow
Peter McMorrow

Peter McMorrow, managing director of Leighton Contractors, was perhaps the most instructional in terms of safety management. I have written briefly about his full presentation before. In this video, he talks about his early engineering days, how he went clay pigeon shooting with a shotgun and hard hats and how he was too close to an explosive charge.  These tales contrasted well with his presentation of contemporary safety standards.

Glenn Henson of ExxonMobil speaks about accountability and the human role in safety, and Colin Blair, deputy CEO of Standards Australia, discusses how experienced a near miss in his early days as a young engineer.

Each of these speakers were asked about what motivated their interest in workplace safety.  These casual introductions to their main presentations reminded us in the audience that early work experiences, intense or humourous, do provide a structure or shadow to how senior managers in major corporations approach safety.

Until the end of August 2008, the videos will only be accessible at www.siaconference.com.au to those who sign up for a regular conference newsletter.