Ethical Behaviour for Safety Professionals

Ethical Behaviour for Safety Professionals

Guest post by the late George Robotham 

See also: Safety Professionals Behaving Badly


During my time in business I have had to face ethical issues. I have to say sometimes my behaviour has not been as squeaky clean as it could have been.

Ethical behaviour

Appropriate behaviour. It is based on morals; it is choosing the right and the good. Generally you should act in a manner that would not cause embarrassment if the behaviour was revealed on TV News.

Ethics and leadership

Honest and ethical behaviour is the centre piece of leadership, we constantly hear about otherwise highly competent leaders who fail because of ethical issues. When highly ethical leaders do not take up the leadership challenge less ethical people will fill the void. This appears to happen commonly in politics, business and the sporting world.

I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation on leadership by the late General Norman Schwarzkopf, he kept coming back to “Failures in leadership are invariably failures in character not competence” He gave many examples of high profile, highly competent leaders who fell on their sword because of ethical issues.

Leaders who indulge in unethical behaviour will be found out eventually and lose all credibility.

One job I had the paymaster was siphoning off funds to pay his gambling debts. The company found out about it, offered him the opportunity to pay back the money without legal action or loss of job. He took a pistol into the toilets and shot himself.

Sometimes it is the little things that matter

Ever had the opportunity to fill up a jerry can of fuel for your private use when refuelling the company car?

Ever had the opportunity to put private expenses on the company credit card?

With one group I knew people used to all climb in a cab, grab cab receipts and write cab receipts out for each other, this used to pay for the grog for the trip

One job I had the company warehouse was referred to as Mitre 11. No one bought hardware items from the hardware shop in town preferring to pinch them from the onsite warehouse.

Ever had a consultant / supplier offer you a kick back if their proposal receives favourable consideration?

The situation now

I try to be highly ethical in my behaviour now, that way there are no nasty surprises. Being in an occupation about values your credibility as an OHS person will suffer through ethical issues.

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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