Commercial Safety Management Systems

Commercial Safety Management Systems

by the late George Robotham

No doubt there are commercial safety managements systems that add value to organisation’s safety effort but I experienced one that was a disaster.

The introduction of the overseas S.M.S. was led aggressively by senior management despite a workshop of safety staff rejecting the concept. The first step was a consultant conducting a series of briefings for management, supervisors and workers. The consultant started talking about the thousands of people killed in industry in his country and a union rep asked him what made him think he could teach us anything about safety when fatalities in Australian industry were much less. It went downhill from there. At smoko the 4 senior managers came to me to ask that the consultant wrap the show up quickly because he was doing more harm than good. I wrote a report on the training session which was not warmly received by those leading the charge. The manager leading the charge got a significant touch up about the training at the next senior managers meeting.

The safety staff requested detail about the system but it only became apparent when the auditors came to Australia and showed us their auditor’s books. The detail was kept close to the chest prior to that and when it was revealed I did not think it was anything earth shattering. There were a few things that were probably pretty silly in an Australian context. One of my jobs was to accompany the auditors on their audits, a task I did not relish. The auditor’s book was their bible with little interest in other things. The auditors were definitely no stars and would have not lasted long working for me.

Somewhere along the way we had a 2 week auditor’s course that was woeful. Early in the piece a meeting of participants was called to give the presenter guidance on how to do it better. I was in the middle of my Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) and it was obvious the presenter was making a number of fundamental mistakes.

The system had a number of training courses we were required to do as part of the audit process but there was significant concern about the standard so we flew the training manager over from overseas so we could discuss a process for Australianising their courses. This was done with considerable cost and effort.

The system ran a few years in the company but died a natural death.

Even if the system had been technically good it was socially and culturally difficult for Australia. The psychological process of group think was evident in the consultants and those leading the charge in the company. Many commented on the arrogance of the auditors. The difficulty of using a standardised approach without identifying the unique needs of organisations was emphasised.

Since my association with this system I have had dealings with a number of Australian commercial S.M.S All suffer from the deficiency of lacking a focus on the Class 1 personal damage occurrence phenomenon.

The following are my observations on the above systems-

  • They usually lock you into having audits with their auditors at considerable cost
  • Some lock you into specified training with their trainers at considerable cost
  • All adopt a standardised approach where it is difficult to accommodate the unique identified needs of organisations
  • Lag indicators of safety performance rather than lead indicators tend to be used.
  • My experience is that some have had poor quality auditors
  • Generally costs are high


Various papers on OHS and OHS related topics can be seen under articles on

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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