Knowledge and Curriculum for Risk and Safety People

Knowledge and Curriculum for Risk and Safety People

architecture education graduation tasselEvery time I am engaged by an organisation I conduct a survey (gap analysis and MiProfile), asking executives, safety people and managers to nominate the knowledge and skills they would like to develop. I have conducted this survey with more than 30,000 people over 10 years and the results demonstrate what the industry wants in knowledge, curriculum and skill development. Included in the list of survey statements are opportunities to learning about systems, standards, the Act, Regulation and Codes of Practice. I also include in the questionnaire a range of people, psychological, sociological, cultural, leadership and management skills. Over the past 10 years it has been consistent that everyone wants to develop people skills not legal or systems skills.

On many occasions my company and associates are invited in to organisations on the basis of safety improvement but it pretty quickly turns out that the issues to do with safety are more deeply rooted in culture, communication and people management. The findings of my research also concur with recent research by WHS specialist Dr Marcus Cattani. The Safe To Work Newsletter 19 June 2014 recently states:

Clichés and stereotypes are some of the biggest safety risks in Australian industry, according to leading occupational health and safety specialist Dr Marcus Cattani.


“Technical industries have traditionally dismissed good people skills as the “warm and fuzzy” side of business but the latest government guidelines show these jokes are dangerous.


“It is not surprising that organisations with this attitude are still struggling with injuries and typically say ‘where the hell did that come from?’ whenever someone gets hurt.”


Dr Cattani said draft safety guidelines released by the WA Department of Mines and Petroleum in May 2014 showed poor supervision, communication and worker engagement were major contributors to accidents and fatalities in Australia.


While the new guidelines were a step in the right direction, they didn’t go far enough, he said.


“The guidelines give companies a head start but those without a strong safety culture and consistent leadership training will struggle to comply.


“You can’t just give a tradie a few extra dollars, change their job title and expect them to be a great leader the next day. New leaders have to be trained in the same way they were trained from apprentice to tradesman.”


The Guidelines were released on the back of a WA Government report earlier this year which said that workers in their first two years on a job were at highest risk of injury, particularly when their supervisor had less than three years’ experience.


Dr Cattani, whose 8-step Journey Program has become a model in safety leadership training since it was first released in 2012, said the new guidelines would help focus industry attention on its leaders and supervisors but did little to show organisations how to change.


“Almost 3000 Australians have died at work in the past decade. Nine people have lost their lives in the mining industry in the past six months. That is triple the number at the same time last year. Transport industry deaths were also up 40% in the same period.


“This means workers need structured leadership training and industry has to be prepared to support new employees for the first 2 to 3 years, not just the usual half a day induction.


“Traditionally industry has depended on regimented work procedures and engineering to eliminate safety hazards but those days are gone.


“Despite decades of legislation demanding better supervision we are notoriously poor at ensuring our leaders are good communicators.


“We have all heard the jokes, but here we have governmental guidance calling for a series of “warm and fuzzy” actions. As with all guidance, there is an expectation that organisations equal or exceed this standard. So, I suggest that organisations get to know what it means to them, as the inspectors will expect them to have put these things in place.”

Cattani made the comments in relation to the Draft for Feedback document Effective safety and health supervision in Western Australian mining operations issued by the Department of Mines and Petroleum. The draft can be found here:

It is quite clear from the research that the industry desires greater capabilities in people skills (I prefer not to use the term ‘soft skills’). People want to improve in building relationships, how to engage others, understanding human decision making, improved listening and communication skills, supervision skills and a host of capabilities that can be delivered through expertise in psychology, sociology, education, learning, leadership, management and social psychology. This doesn’t mean that people must become expert in such things but rather ‘building expertise’ in such things. What is even more important Cattani’s research shows that ignorance of such capabilities is a major contributor to accidents and fatalities. This has certainly been the confirmed in my research in Building and Construction ( ). What is also clear in recent findings from coronial enquiries (eg. Pike River) is that expertise in culture as well as practice in influencing culture through effective leadership is critical in maintaining a safe workplace.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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