Education for OHS people

Education for OHS people

A Safety Reflection by the late George Robotham

One of the features that distinguishes adult education from the education of young people is the fact adults have a rich data bank of experience to draw from, they tend to discount any education input that conflicts with this experience.

A major way adults learn is through critical reflection on experience. This can be facilitated through discussion with others and maintenance of a reflective journal. Sometimes it can be as simple as asking “What went well?” and “What opportunities for improvement were presented ?” Reflective journals are becoming more popular as their benefits are realised. The journals can be useful for later reference and the mere act of writing things down can help to clarify thoughts, particularly in times of difficulty and uncertainty.

There are a number of senior, pragmatic and experienced OHS people who question the effectiveness of OHS tertiary education in Australia. I was interviewed for a special on the OHS profession in Australia the Industrial Foundation for Accident Prevention is doing. Below is part of what I had to say-

Core body of OHS knowledge

The author does not generally refer to people who work in OHS as professionals as being a professional implies application of a unique body of knowledge, he does not believe that unique body of knowledge yet exists in occupational safety in Australia (It probably does exist in occupational health) Thorough research needs to be undertaken to define the OHS body of knowledge in Australia.’

It is axiomatic that having a well developed core body of OHS knowledge is fundamental to success in OHS. Knowing what to teach OHS personnel and others is a basic requirement.

Whilst I recognise there were good aspects to the process, good intentions and dedicated personnel I have a high level of concern that the Safety Institute of Australia’s recent project was too limited in scope to provide a real basis for future meaningful OHS education. With due respect to S.I.A. I have to say I understand others may have influenced the scope of the project.

Specific comments on the S.I.A. project

1 Involvement and input of all stakeholders is required. Stakeholders would include State & Federal Government, business, unions, S.I.A. members, OHS people in Australia who are not S.I.A. members, by far the majority, other relevant professional organisations and universities and other OHS education providers. One is left with the impression that with the S.I.A. project universities were the major stakeholders consulted.

2 The body of knowledge must be informed by the permanently life altering personal damage occurrence (“Accident “ ) phenomenon. This appears not to have been done with the S.I.A. project.

3 My tertiary learning in Adult & Workplace Education has a strong emphasis on the importance of learning needs analysis, a learning needs analysis to help define the body of knowledge must be part of the process.

4 An analysis of the skill requirements of an effective OHS practitioner must be part of the process

My belief is that without 1-4 above the process is fundamentally flawed.

The real danger is that the S.I.A. recommendations, with limited consultation and technical flaws, will become the de facto standard and thus misdirected effort.

The way forward

The essence of the way forward lies in OHS education and research

The essence of the way forward in OHS education is in the development of a detailed, accurate body of OHS knowledge

The essence of the way forward in development of a body of OHS knowledge lies in an examination of the class 1 personal damage occurrence phenomenon

I also have a concern universities are focusing only on technical skills, to be effective OHS people need as a minimum communications and interpersonal skills and competency in change management,leadership and learning.

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.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below