Beware the Tossers from the Office
Guest post by Rob Sams – some real feedback from the coalface – ignore it at your own peril!
I was on a plane home this week. It had been a long week, a lot of meetings, writing reports and, I was looking forward to getting home. Unfortunately, the plane was running three hours late, it was pouring rain and everyone was drenched walking across the tarmac to the plane. When we did get on board it was another forty-five minutes before we were up in the air, it was shaping up to be an ordinary end to the week. I was tired and just wanted to get home.
As we were waiting on the tarmac, I got chatting to the guy sitting beside me. He had finished work for the week and was heading home too. The conversation turned what could have been a very frustrating forty five minutes into a great opportunity to learn a bit about how safety should really be done.
Peter worked in construction, working for a company that was building a rail system for a new mine about to open. He was a Construction Manager who in his words, ‘was the bloke that had to make sure everything gets done for the tossers in the office’. I was impressed by his honest style, his openness and down to earth demeanour.
Peter asked me what I did. I told him that I worked for myself, helping organisations and people with health and safety. I could see what he was thinking just by his response and the look in his eyes. I suspect it was something like ’mmmmm, I bet he’s another one of his tossers from the office…’. (BTW, when we complain about office people, I believe that it usually means we don’t know what they do, rather than they do nothing)
He asked me about the kind of things I did. I told him the thing I enjoyed the most was working with people to help them understand how people make decisions and how people make judgements. I asked, ‘you know that usual risk assessment stuff that most safety people talk about?’ he said ‘Yep’ (again with another look in his eyes….), and I said; ‘you know how those same people go around with clip boards and point out everything that they think is wrong?’ (I heard him mutter under his breath – ‘seagulls!’), again he said ‘Yep’. I said, ‘well I don’t do that!’. He seemed relieved.
I then asked him about his experiences with safety people on the construction site he was working on. He told me that basically there were two type of safety people – 1) those who sat on their bums in the office filling out paperwork all day or 2) those that came out and spoke with people doing the job.
I asked what he thought a good safety person was. He was pretty quick to answer, he said anyone who gets off their backside, gets out amongst it and talked to the blokes doing the job, not telling them what to do, but actually discussing with them, they’re the guys that do well in safety he said.
The other blokes, what he called, ‘the paperwork knobs’. well, they don’t seem to give a damn about the safety of the blokes, they don’t live in the real world, they don’t know things, because they don’t ask us how things are done, they just tell us what they think we need to do. When they do come out of the office, they actually make us feel stupid with some of the Toolbox Talks they do. Do we really need to be told that it’s important for our safety to wear sunnies during the day? It’s bloody summer here in the tropics! So much of what they are interested in seems to be quite petty.
He went on to tell me about one of the safety guys who spends most of his day out with the blokes. He told me that this bloke ‘gets in there with em, he knows what the guys actually have to do and the things they are up against’. He is not interested in whether they are following the paperwork or not, (no-one reads it anyway he says because it’s usually not relevant for the job they are doing), he’s actually interested in what is really going on.
This bloke he said, ‘talks with the fella’s, he tells em stuff if they ask him, but most of all, he’s just helping work out how they can get the job done, and get it done safely’. He went on to say, ‘don’t get me wrong, if this guy sees someone doing something really dangerous, he’ll say something, he’ll talk to the bloke, but there is usually a reason why they guy is doing something dangerous and old mate, he just helps em realise it, he’s not interested in filing out warning letters, he’s interested in making sure the guys are safe’.
Finally he said, you know the blokes that sit in the office all day, I don’t really understand what they are doing. All this paperwork comes out, the JSAs, the Inspections, the Audits, and nothing different ever happens. They come out to find something that they think is wrong and say ‘you can’t do it like that’. Then, the ‘big boss fella’ comes and says, ‘look, I know the safety blokes have got a job to do and they’re probably right about this and that, but we just need to get this thing done. Get on and do the job and I’ll organise a meeting with the safety bloke and we’ll do it differently next time’.
What an insightful conversation I thought. This was a guy who was at the coal-face, he didn’t need to impress me with jargon and spin, he was just telling me how he saw it. If only I could bottle up what he said and hand it around.
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