Do You Choose Your Occupation or Does It Choose You?
by the late George Robotham
I do not know the answer to the above question but the following may help to answer it.
I completed grade 12 and like a lot of young people had no idea what I was going to do for a career. My parents had no money to send me to university. My school marks were good enough to get a scholarship to teachers training college. This went well until my first practical placement where I discovered me and a classroom of 40 noisy, snotty-nosed kids was not my thing.
Having been in the Army Cadets at school I had some taste of the Army life and joined the Australian Regular Army, where I trained as a topographical surveyor. It has never been clear to me why I chose surveying. It was discovered during my training that my stereoscopic vision is not good and I did not last long as a surveyor. I got out of the Army but looking back on it I enjoyed the Army life and should have explored other career options with the Army. I was asked about going to Officer Cadet School a number of times and refused, looking back on it this was a mistake.
My first safety related job was as a Training Assistant with the National Safety Council of Australia. I would like to impress you by saying I had a strong natural affinity for safety, the reality was the job paid $5 a week more(A fair bit in those days) than others I was considering and my boss said he would take me under his wing and teach me all he knew about safety and training. My bosses were superb trainers and gradually taught me how to train, I found I really enjoyed training.
I spent a number of years in the Army Reserve serving as an infantry soldier and truck driver, my career choice was very clear here.
In Transport you had a truck to get you places and you did not have to rely on your feet, you did not have to carry your house on your back wherever you went, there was always room on the truck for grog and other necessities of life and in wet weather you parked up under the tarpaulin on the back of the truck instead of the individual shelters ( Hootchies) that always leaked. The presence of female type soldiers and the availability of cushy duty driver jobs, where you were looked after well, were other advantages,
My first mainstream safety job was as Assistant Safety Adviser at an open-cut coal mine, really big money for a young bloke. I enjoyed the outdoor life, there was a lot of interaction with the workers through training and safety meetings and I really appreciated this. I got this job more through good luck than good management, N.S.C.A. were doing some consultancy work for my employer who asked N.S.C.A. if they knew of a young bloke they could train.
There were 2 incidents early in my time at the mine that influenced my future career direction.
18 year old office girl drove a company car from mine to nearby township to do company business, she was observed driving excessively fast. She was attractive, friendly, vivacious and liked by all. What ended up happening was such a waste. On the return trip she was driving very fast around a curve and lost control of the car, the car rolled several times and she was catapulted out through the windscreen. She was not wearing a seat belt. I comforted her until the ambulance arrived. As she lapsed in and out of consciousness she said “George, please do not let me die” We put her on the aerial ambulance to Rockhampton Base Hospital where she died the next day. Subsequent investigation revealed some sensitivities about the causes. Had the organisation been more responsive to her problems and needs the incident could have been prevented.
I do not mind admitting I hit the grog for awhile after this. Of course this was before the days of critical incident stress de-briefing.
Tom was cleaning inside a dragline and was overcome by solvent fumes. He squatted on the shoe of a dragline to clear his head and was crushed between the shoe and a walking platform when the dragline walked.
Most major bones in his body were broken and he received a punctured lung, he was made a paraplegic and had shortened life expectancy.
It was clearly a design fault in the dragline that was reluctantly recognised by the manufacturer. I would not be surprised if draglines are currently being constructed around the world with the same design fault.
Future career direction
I was involved in managing the aftermath of both incidents, managing relationships with loved ones was particularly challenging.
Up until these 2 incidents I had just drifted along in my safety job but a number of issues were bought into focus for me-
Pain and suffering are very relevant, it is not just the cost of personal damage occurrences
Safety Training is very important
The relationships you build are very important
Business needs dedicated, caring, strong minded OHS personnel
Thorough methods of assessing risks are essential
Both incidents emphasised to me the importance of the safety function and I resolved to be more serious about my work. What I did became a vocation rather than just a job.
From these days I have worked in OHS for a total of some 38 years now, I like to think I have made a bit of a difference.
Do you choose your occupation or does it choose you?
For me I suspect the answer is a bit of both.