Advice for safety representatives and safety committee members

George’s Safety Reflections-Number 5

Another article by late legendary Safety Guru, George Robotham. You can find more of his work at here: SAFETY REFLECTIONS

George’s down to earth advice to safety representatives and safety committee members

I have been working in OHS for nearly 4 decades and in that time have been stuffed around by OHS professionals, employers, employees, unions, government, employer associations and educators. I have developed a fair bit of cynicism about how fair dinkum the various parties are about safety.

At the risk of being crucified, castrated and thrown out of the safety club I have to say I have a philosophical objection to the need for safety representatives and safety committees. I believe if organisations have their involvement and communications mechanisms working properly there is no real need for these safety mechanisms. Of course I realise this ideal situation rarely exists.

From my study in management of organisational change I have adopted the motto “When initiating change-Remember-People support what they create” Widespread communication, involvement and participation is essential for effective health, safety & environment change.

I have to tell you a number of the so-called OHS professionals I have worked with would not have the competency to make the lamingtons for the school fete.

The idea that safety is the number one priority of a company is crap and anyone who tells you this is playing with himself, making money is the prime reason companies exist.

Entering on the OHS battlefield is not for the faint-hearted and is not easy. You have to present well thought out and researched arguments and accept you will often get an unreasonable response. Some of the people you end up dealing with are bloody-minded with little interest in the workers welfare.

Elsewhere I have given some thoughts on how to have an effective safety committee so for the rest of this I will concentrate on the role of the safety representative.

Make sure you are trained in your role and responsibilities.

Have a weekly inspection of your area of responsibility.

Familiarise yourself with company safety policies and procedures.

Try to keep the OHS professional on side, If they are any good they should be a source of assistance.

It is easy in safety matters to take an emotional approach, often a well researched argument with financial justification is required.

Depending on the industrial climate in your organisation will determine how useful getting unions involved in safety disputes is.

If you have a solid argument stick to your guns and show no signs of weakness.

Do not be afraid to tell your fellow workers when they are falling down on safety, by the same token communicate your expectations to management.

If your first attempt to introduce change fails, analyse the situation and work smarter next time

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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