Critical Safety Reflection or thinking about stuff

Critical Safety Reflection or thinking about stuff

By the late George Robotham 

This brief article was prompted by an excellent paper in the Central Alberta Well Services Corporation, Safety Newsletter, Vol2, Issue 6 by Mark Sanborn,  titled “Think like a leader and lead like a thinker”

Action Learning

There is a large body of research literature that suggests that action learning is particularly appropriate for adults.

Learning may be defined (Mezirow 1991,1) as the process of making a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of an experience which guides subsequent understanding, appreciation and action. Critical reflection involves a critique of the pre-suppositions on which our beliefs have been built.

The video “An Introduction to Action Learning” The National Staff Development Committee (1995) outlines the benefits and process of action learning.

The following equation is referred to:

L = P + Q where L = Learning

P = Programmed knowledge balanced with

Q = Questioning insight

Experiential Learning

This has some similarities to action learning and once again is thought to be particularly relevant to adult learners.

Kolb and Fry (1975, 33) have developed an experiential learning model.

Figure 1 : Experiential Learning Model, Kolb and Fry (1975, 33)

The process of experiential learning is shown below. (Johnson 1990, 20) The learner reflects on their concrete experiences and examines their meaning in order to formulate a set of concepts or principles. The sequence is concrete personal experiences followed by:-

Observation and reflection and examination of one’s experiences and this leads to the formulation of abstract concepts and generalisations which leads to hypotheses to be tested in future action.

Figure 2 : Experiential Learning Cycle (Johnson 1990, 20)

You will note the role of critical reflection or thinking about stuff in both action learning and experiential learning.

There are many ways critical reflection or thinking about stuff can be used to enhance learning-

1 Reading-Reading new material helps you learn, it helps to hit key points with a highlighter pen or make your own notes of key points as you read.

2 Facilitation-Being an enlightened facilitator of adult learning I build activities for my learners into the process. Often I ask the learners to reflect on the activity and discuss what went well and what opportunities for improvement were presented, frequently this is where the real learning occurs.

3 Reflective journal-When I did my Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) we had to do a reflective journal of our placements in industry doing practical training work. The requirement was to describe what we did and comment on what went well and what opportunities for improvement were presented (ie the stuff ups) and comment how we would do better next time. It was said reflective journals were an excellent way for adults to learn.

When I completed my assessment to become a Chartered Fellow of the Safety Institute of Australia part of the process was to write a reflective journal of my work experience for 3 months.

I do some work for an organisation that conducts adventure-based lifestyle training for “at risk” youth. The young people have to do a reflective journal on their experiences, amazing what insights are often found in some troubled minds.

I have been maintaining a personal reflective journal for the last 10 years, started out trying to remember the first 40 years of my life and jotted it down, every now and again I recall something extra about this and bung it in. From then on I have just commented on the things that have happened and reflect and comment on them.

For me reflective journals have helped with my learning.

4 Reflective listening-On a counselling subject I was introduced to and practised reflective listening. This is a very powerful technique to get to the core beliefs of those around you. Someone says something, you may say “If I understand you properly you think x” ,this gives the other party the opportunity to think about and expand on their view or “Correct me if I am wrong but I think you are saying y” I suggest everybody reads up on this technique, it can make your life much easier.

5 Time to think-It helps if you regularly set aside some quiet time to think. A beer, wine, tea or coffee is appropriate, you might like to reflect on your day or week and jot down a few notes. Have an appropriate quiet place to think.

6 Writing stuff down-Writing stuff down, whether on the computer or hard copy helps you to clarify your thoughts. Often going back to it after a few days will give you new insights.

7 Give and ask for feedback- There will be times you do not like or agree with what people say they think about you or what you have done, regardless of this it pays to think about what is said and possibly make required adjustments.

8 When communicating with others try to put yourself in the other persons shoes. Try to think about “What’s in it for me” from their perspective.

9 When writing something important write a draft and go back to it the next day, or a couple of days later if you have that luxury. It is amazing how thinking about things for awhile can give improvements.


Johnson, D. W. 1990, Reaching Out, Prentice Hall, New Jersey.

Kolb, D. and Fry, R 1975, Towards an Applied Theory of Experimental Learning

Mezirow, J. 1981, “A Critical Theory of Adult Learning and Education”, Adult Education, 32(1) , 3-24.

The National Staff Development Committee, 1995, An Introduction to Action Learning, Melbourne.

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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