25 Ways to stuff up a Safety Management System

Today is probably the most important national occasion in Australia and NZ. ANZAC Day – 25 April – marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. The day our combined forces landed on the beaches at Gallipoli in 1915 to capture the Gallipoli peninsula in order to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies. Nearly 100 years on it has become a day to commemorate and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in all theaters of war.

I wanted to put something poignant on this blog. I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate than the first ever article that the late Safety Battler, George Robotham, sent in to me on 11th March 2011. George was a true Safety Battler. He and I had both served in the military in our younger years and we shared some awesome liquid lunches at the Greenback RSL, talking about the good old days and spinning “war stories”. I attended a dawn service this morning and later reflected on what George would have done today were he still with us – he’d be drinking XXXX beers, telling lies and playing 2 UP with his mates. Here’s to you mate and the legacy you have left behind – Lest We Forget.

25 Ways to stuff up a Safety Management System

The first article by the  late George Robotham  – more of his work here

Download the Word Version Here:  [Download not found]


1 Lack of management commitment, leadership and drive from the top of the organisation.

2 Lack of understanding and implementation of sensible safety legislation.

3 Lack of understanding and implementation of common law principles.

4 Too much concentration on lag indicators such as the Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate at the expense of leading indicators. Thinking minor personal damage is a good predictor of life-altering personal damage.

5 Not using the continuous improvement philosophy and other facets of Quality Management in your safety approach.

6 Lack of succinct paperwork. There is not much point in having detailed paperwork that is too much like hard work to read.

7 Using theory instead of real world approaches-Whatever you do reality test it with the workforce first.

8 Ignoring “When implementing change-Remember, people support what they create”

9 Not using face to face communications whenever possible. Research by Harvard professor T.J. Larkin suggests when communicating change with the workforce use the supervisor not senior management, use face to face communications and frame communications relevant to the immediate work area and processes.

10 Not using a needs analysis to guide all your actions.

11 Ignoring the simplicity not complexity rule.

12 Not creating an expectation for people at all levels to perform in safety.

13 Not developing goals, objectives, targets etc. for the Safety Management System.

14 Not using Learning Needs Analysis to guide conduct of learning. Not using Adult Learning Principles & Process to guide facilitation. Using lecture style presentations and Death by Power-Point.

15 Not training formal and informal leaders in Safety Leadership.

16 Not having regular audits of the Safety Management System.

17 Not practicing Emergency Response Plans.

18 Not having simple, succinct Safe Working Procedures, aim for 2 pages at the most, use pictures, diagrams, flow-charts etc.

19 Not using team-building principles in your safety approach.

20 Taking yourself too seriously and not celebrating success.

21 Using enterprise “accident” experience to guide action rather than industry taxonomies of permanently life-altering personal damage.

22 Putting too much emphasis on the findings from risk assessments, the reality is that a lot of risk assessment is very subjective.

23 Not having formal approaches to follow up on investigations.

24 Not having formal approaches to follow up on audits.

25 Spending too much time in the office instead of the field where the action is happening.

George Robotham

George Robotham

George was a Legend in the Safety World who passed away in Sept 2013 but left us with a great legacy
George Robotham
I have worked in OHS for most of my working life, many years in the mining industry including over 10 years in a corporate OHS role with BHP. Since leaving the mining industry I have worked in a variety of safety roles with a variety of employers, large & small, in a variety of industries. I was associated with my first workplace fatality at age 21, the girl involved was young, intelligent, vivacious and friendly. Such a waste! I was the first on the scene and tried to comfort her and tend to her injuries. She said to me “George, please do not let me die” We put her on the aerial ambulance to Rockhampton base hospital where she died the next day. I do not mind telling you that knocked me around for awhile. Since then I have helped my employers cope with the aftermath of 12 fatalities and 2 other life-altering events. The section "Why do Occupational Health & Safety" provides further detail but in summary, poor safety is simply very expensive and also has a massive humanitarian cost. My qualifications include a certificate I.V. in Workplace Training and Assessment, a Diploma in Frontline Management, a Diploma in Training & Assessment Systems, a Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) , a Grad. Cert. in Management of Organisational Change and a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Hazard Management. I am currently studying towards a Masters in Business Leadership. Up until recently I had been a Chartered Fellow of the Safety Institute of Australia for 10 years and a member for about 30 years. My interest is in non-traditional methods of driving organisational change in OHS and I have what I believe is a healthy dis-respect for many common approaches to OHS Management and OHS Training. I hold what I believe is a well-founded perception that many of the things safety people and management do in safety are “displacement activities” (Displacement activities are things we do, things we put a lot of energy into, but which when we examine them closely there is no valid reason for doing them). My managerial and leadership roles in OHS have exposed me to a range of management techniques that are relevant to Business Improvement. In particular I am a strong supporter of continuous improvement and quality management approaches to business. I believe leadership is the often forgotten key to excellence in most aspects of life. I hold the Australian Defence Medal and am a J.P.(Qualified). I have many fond memories of my time playing Rugby Union when I was a young bloke.

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