A Couple of recent articles by Kevin Jones that are well worth a read
by Kevin Jones
Michael Tooma (pictured right) has been a leading writer on occupational health and safety (OHS) law in Australia for some time. He is one of the few labour lawyers who is not afraid to express an opinion although he has always spoken within the legal context.
Recently Tooma participated in a roadshow with John Green for a safety consultancy, Art of Work. SafetyAtWorkBlog attended the Melbourne seminar where Tooma was more forthright and opinionated than ever, making many of the safety professionals in the audience squirm.
Tooma says that the number one question he is asked as a lawyer is how to minimise occupational health and safety liability or “how do I stay out of jail?” In some ways this is not surprising. We would also ask real estate agents, who much they think our house is worth. But we never ask a safety professional, socially, how do I stay safe at work. In my experience, when people find out I am a safety professional, there is a deafening silence as, either, people don’t know that safety has a profession or my skills just seem irrelevant. Not so with a lawyer.
Tooma responds to the questions above by stating:
“Don’t kill anyone. Don’t seriously injure anyone”.
Tooma expresses an opinion shared by the OHS profession – if you want to avoid the OHS regulator and its inspectors, work safely. But coming from a lawyer the statement’s simplicity has more authority. He says that over time the intention of the OHS laws – to encourage everyone to work safely – has been lost.
To counter this divergence, Tooma encourages business to apply a broader investigative base. He is critical of narrow, targeted investigations that produce “doctored” reports that stroke the egos of the business owners and OHS professionals. According to Tooma, such reports often contain bullshit written to placate the regulator instead of progressing safety.
Investigations should not only reveal what happened but could have happened but “for a group of fortunate events”. Tooma says many reports are sent to management to close out an issue rather than encouraging improvement. I would say that OHS audits generate a similar response.
by Kevin Jones
In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe Douglas Adams has a character telling a story of a ship of middle managers being sent from a supposedly doomed plant to colonise a new world. The ‘B’ Ark contains millions of
“Hairdressers, tired TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, public relations executives, management consultants,….”
I think occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals are lucky they were not included in the list because many people consider OHS professionals to be little more than a nuisance. In a recent safety literature review David Borys asked the question – “Do occupational safety and health professionals improve the occupational safety and health performance of an organisation?“. He found
“Two themes that emerged from the literature and which warrant further research are the importance of the line of report and the personal attributes of the occupational safety and health professional. It is suggested that knowledge without power and the ability to influence senior decision makers may negatively impact the occupational safety and health professional’s ability to add value.”
There are several points in this abstract that warrant discussion. Borys’ “line of report” has always been a struggle for OHS professionals. How to get the attention of the company’s decision-maker? How do you win this race for attention against your organisational equals – Human Resources, Risk Managers and others? Perhaps the latter would be considered as the unmentioned members on the ‘B’ Ark.
Firstly, I think, it is important to realise that safety professionals are in a race for attention. Some have realised that senior decision-makers like numbers so they present safety data in numbers, charts and graphs. The trap is they often start seeing only the numbers and not what the numbers represent.
It is also useful to think about your strategy. Why do you want to speak with the CEO? or the Chairman of the Board. Michael Tooma would say that, to use Australian slang, safety professionals are “up themselves” and recommends speaking to the person who can most affect change in an organisation and who is unlikely to be the CEO or the Chair.