Consensus on Safety – Friend or Foe

Consensus on Safety – Friend or Foe

Latest by George Robotham from

Based on my study of Management of Organisational Change I have adopted the motto “When initiating change, remember, People support what they create” for my OHS work. Generally I think involving the stakeholders in discussions and decisions about OHS is a good idea.

Some of the disadvantages of consensus are that it takes a lot of time to hear and understand everyone’s point of view, there has to be a high level of trust and group demands may be high. Members may block new initiatives and maintain the status quo. People may be reticent to voice their disagreements and some may dominate. Too many yes men who do not argue for their true beliefs is frequently a problem.

Consensus may be difficult if-

  1. Group is new and not used to working with each other
  2. The group is larger than 15
  3. People are upset
  4. Trust levels are low
  5. The organisation has a poor safety culture
  6. People have strongly held views
  7. There are lots of options
  8. There are no good options

For consensus to have any chance of working there must be agreed goals, objectives and process. A Google search will reveal other ways of enhancing consensus decision making.

Consensus is widely used in OHS and Learning. I would suggest however that consensus about OHS and Learning matters results in poor outcomes at times. Having a background in adult & workplace learning I wonder how some of the National training packages got developed the way they are.

Many years ago I had an OHS role with an employer association and used to attend the Confederation of Australian Industry OHS Committee meetings in Melbourne. This was the peak OHS decision making body in Australia. I was the only OHS person on the committee, the rest were industrial relations professionals. All the safety initiatives were viewed for their industrial relations implications and not their OHS accuracy. There appears to be the perception from OHS people that there is too much H.R / I.R. influence on OHS nowadays.

My mentor, Geoff McDonald, says “ Consignorance” is alive and well in OHS in Australia. “ Consignorance” is what you get when you combine consensus with ignorance.

It has been said that if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem. Sometimes those involved in consensus discussions are part of the problem and it is difficult to generate solutions. It is often wise to have someone with broad management and OHS experience in the group who knows little about the particular issues.

George Robotham, Cert. IV T.A.E.,. Dip. Training & Assessment Systems, Diploma in Frontline Management, Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education), (Queensland University of Technology), Graduate Certificate in Management of Organisational Change, (Charles Sturt University), Graduate Diploma of Occupational Hazard Management), (Ballarat University), Accredited Workplace Health & Safety Officer (Queensland),Justice of the Peace (Queensland), Australian Defence Medal, Brisbane, Australia,,,07-38021516, 0421860574, My passion is the reduction of permanently life altering (Class 1 ) personal damage

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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