Major safety technical lessons learnt

Article by the late George Robotham. In his words: “I think this is the most potentially useful to other safety people paper that I have ever produced”

Major safety technical lessons learnt

In my 38 years in OHS I have helped my employers cope with the aftermath of 13 fatalities, one case of paraplegia, one major stress case and a very serious burns case. Speaking from personal experience the most devastating thing that can happen to a company and its workers is to have an employee killed or seriously injured. The financial and more importantly humanitarian costs are immense.OHS is a joint responsibility of management and employees. My focus is the prevention of permanently life altering personal damage.

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OHS problems

Major Lessons Learnt

Get your rear end out of the office and in the field


Emergency Response Plans

The Compliance with Common Law (in states where applicable)

Lock out

Zero Harm

Induction training

Tool-box meetings

Moura disaster

Behaviour-based safety

Accident ratio studies misdirect safety


Marketing of OHS


Coaching and mentoring

Commercial Safety Management Systems

Problems with 4801

Education for OHS personnel


Accident investigation

Critical incident recall process



Keep your feet on the ground

Project teams

Internal standards of OHS excellence

Job Safety Analysis

Hazard identification / risk assessment /hazard control training

Safety champion

Safety communications

Safety benchmarking

Safety Committee

Safety as part of performance appraisal

Safety management plans

Class 1 personal damage

Management of Organisational Change


Force-field analysis

Haddon’s 10 countermeasures


Management commitment

Risk assessment

Safety Management System

Displacement activities

Management focus

Set the example





The paper Lessons Learnt From My Safety Jobs talks about the OHS and OHS related things I have learnt from my safety jobs. In this paper I elaborate on the major safety technical lessons learnt.

OHS Problems

Some of the problems I currently see with Occupational Health and Safety in Australia include these-

  • There is only half-hearted leadership from government, unions and many companies with regard to safety. Admitting to being a cynic I suggest the rhetoric is not always accompanied by action. I suppose it is naive to think the tripartite partners can put aside their industrial and political agenda when discussing safety.
  • There is a poor understanding in the community of the reasons why accidents occur. We are quick to make the assumption that the worker was careless, when one examines accidents carefully one identifies a range of work system factors that contributed to the accident as well, most of these work system factors are the responsibility of the employer at both common and statute law. Blaming workers for their careless behaviour is an emotionally appealing approach that is usually not all that productive in the bigger picture of preventing personal damage at work.
  • It is often said about safety that it is just common sense, if this is the case why are we doing such a poor job of managing it in this country? I am reminded of an un-named Chinese philosopher who was reported to have said “The trouble with common sense is that it is never common and rarely sensible”
  • The media emphasises personal fault in news releases about incidents and does not consider design and system issues that contribute to incidents.
  • We do not have a centralised, consistent method of reporting and recording incident and disease statistics. How can we examine the beast and learn from it if we do not record and report it in a consistent manner?
  • In business vast amounts of money can be spent on safety without really defining desired outcomes (I am not doubting peoples motives however, just their effectiveness)
  • Government, unions and many companies treat safety as a second priority and industrial relations issues dominate.
  • The standard of Occupational Health and Safety practitioner may not be as high as it could be
  • The messages of past incidents are not utilised enough in safety decision making. For this to happen past incident information has to be collected,presented and organised in a useable manner.

Major Lessons Learnt

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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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