[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”
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”
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”
It is rare for workplace safety to gain a half-page in the daily press in Australia but this occurred recently in The Australian. The newspaper’s industrial editor, Ewin Hannan, built an article, “Tunnel Vision on Safety“, around the following quote from a leaked memo from 2010 then head of human resources, industrial relations and safety for John Holland, Stephen Sasse, in relation to the management of the Airport Link project:
“‘‘In my seven years with John Holland, I have never seen any project or management team that was so cavalier about the company’s OHS (occupational health and safety) system, principles and values and I have grave doubts about the management’s team’s capability in safety.’”
This is a remarkable statement but Sasse has been outspoken on safety issues in the general construction sector before. In 2011 a change in the senior management of Leighton Holdings, the parent company of John Holland, created doubt about Sasse’s future and Sasse left the organisation in October 2011. The latter articles also indicate Sasse’s relationship with the union movement which may be part of the reason the unions are repeating their calls for an inquiry into John Holland and its licence with Comcare. SafetyAtWorkBlog has several articles about these industrial relations tensions from 2009. Continue reading “Safety in the C Suite doesn’t always run smoothly”
They both nodded in agreement when she said, “I’m half bored to death in this job, nearly had it”. Both women were freezing, sitting outside in the covered area. Their fingers blue.
The short morning break. You hurry, you panic, get a quick hot drink, a cigarette, quickly back into it. Hour after hour after hour “for the last 20 years” she said. From 5 am when she gets up to do things before rushing to work to start at 7 am. Rush back home at 3 pm to pick up ‘the youngan-whydidIdoit’ as she said of her late in life baby. She looked about 40.
Of course workplace fatalities and injuries are heart breaking tragedies. People work to earn a living, this is not a war zone. But the more common issues at work, those that grind people hour by hour for decades of their one single life are not to do with that.
They are to do with what in polite text will spawn dots. It’s to do with the daily tiredness, humiliation and wall-to-wall disrespect experienced by so many workers on a daily basis. It’s to do with that exhausting sense of, ‘I’ve just about had enough’. It’s to do with what I call F..kwit Fatigue. Continue reading “Half bored and tired to death”