In Honour of George Robotham and Geoff McDonald

       Geoff McDonald

George Robotham passed away suddenly in September 2013 ( He was a  pioneering Author on this blog, mate and mentor to many.

George’s mentor, throughout most of his career, was Geoff McDonald whom he mentions and credits in many of his articles. George prepared “Geoff McDonald Important Concepts” a few weeks before his death as a joint effort with Geoff, who then completed it as George would have liked to publish it.

I am confident that George would be delighted to share these important Concepts of Safety with as many people as possible, especially the hundreds who paid him tribute.

George mentions in the paper that Geoff McDonald is writing his book (epitaph) about safety that will be ground breaking. The title of Geoff’s book is:  INFORMATION ORGANISERS – “SAFE  FROM”. I don’t think the book was ever published as Geoff passed away in July 2016 ( )

Thanks to Cip Corva for encouraging Geoff to complete and publish this incredible piece of work and for passing it onto me.




Dear Reader

I gather a considerable number of you have followed George Robotham’s writings and came to appreciate his writings and the person George.

George was in an assistant safety role at a Central Queensland Coal Mine when we first met in the second half of the 1970s. He soon moved to a lead safety role at a related UTAH mine as Safety Advisor. The Mine Manager subsequently told me George was the best Safety Advisor he had seen.

George would have attended at least two of the three day Accident Data Collection courses I ran for UTAH and we worked together on a number of projects. If my memory serves me correctly, he was in the second intake of students at the Ballarat College of Advanced Education. (I lectured the first two intakes in the Post Graduate Course.)

George kept in contact regularly and became increasingly frustrated that his employers did not wish to move in the direction George wanted, but required him to stick with their essentially ‘traditional’ safety programmes.

He also became increasingly impatient with me for not having published at least one book – a view I share. (I have presented over 100 papers between 1974 and 2009.)

To relieve his frustrations and to urge me on, George prepared ‘Geoff McDonald Important Concepts’ a few weeks before his death. Our schedules did not enable us to get together and work through the document.

As a tribute to George and to honour George, I have worked through the document to make it somewhere near what George and I would have agreed on.

Following, to the best of my ability, is what George wanted to give you.


6 Replies to “In Honour of George Robotham and Geoff McDonald”

  1. As much as I respect both George and Geoff and their representations of safety through an engineering and regulatory lens whilst valid, is not the only way to understand safety.

    1. As a young engineer tasked with managing safety I was a huge proponent of Geoff McDonald and his work along with the likes of Deming. However, I always felt that something was missing. That something was SPoR which I discovered many years later. When I met George he had the same angst and we worked together on getting our heads around it all and tried to make sense of it. At the time of his passing, George was about to take the leap and enrol in further SPoR studies, despite being in what he called the “twilight of his safety career”. I will never forget him saying “Ive never heard of most of the words but I think this Rob Long bloke is onto something”!
      Max Geyer’s story is very similar and he took to SPoR like the proverbial duck to water as it filled so many of the big gaps for him as well.

  2. Zero harm ideology can hardly be classified as a potentially damaging energy source although it has destroyed any remaining skerrick of integrity in workplace health and safety and it remains endorsed by our peak safety body and regulatory authorities.

  3. Amazing that Safety Engineering could go so long looking at the object without any consideration of the interface between humans and objects.

  4. The interface between the object and subject being the existential dialectic, which features predominantly in the SPoR and work of Jacques Ellul, Soren Kierkgaard, Jean-Paul Sartre and Basarab Nicolescu’s transdisciplinarity.

    Haddon’s energy damage theory was a major component at Ballarat with an emphasis on operational or material risk. However, along came zero harm in the early 2000s, which generated a preoccupation with objects, pettifogging and an inordinate focus on individual responsibility.

    It created a resurgence of putative accident theory, cause-effect ideology and cognitive behaviourism with BBS witchcraft, which disregarded the inherent subjective nature of risk. This took OHS back into the early 1800s with the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act under Sir Robert Peel and the It was augmented via the holy trinity of common employment, volenti non fit injuria (voluntary assumption of risk) and contributory negligence with a prescribe, police and punish regime.

    This coincided with the long march of rampant unfettered neoliberalism, which disparaged corporate social responsibility and Carl Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious.

    Workplaces, especially throughout the resources sector have since become inundated with semi-literate paramilitary Tonton Macoutes patrolling construction sites festooned with meaningless warning signs and carrying a gunny sack containing checklists and a digital camera or Smartphone.

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