Operational versus strategic safety roles

Operational versus strategic safety roles

Guest Post by George Robotham – see more of his work here

Operational planning is the day by day and month by month planning for what your organisation is doing. Strategic planning determines the entire direction of your organisation. Operational and strategic plans can tend to be massive documents that no one will ever read or follow. Succinct is the way to go. Strategic plans should focus on values.

I started my safety career with 10 years in operational, field, safety roles at open-cut coal mines. From there I moved to a corporate, more strategic role in the coal mining industry. I learnt that operational and strategic roles sometimes need a different focus. In an operational role you are sometimes so busy putting out bushfires that you have little time for fire prevention and long term planning. In a corporate role you can become so immersed in the big picture that you lose the day to day reality of how the organisation is managed.

People in strategic roles are often not well received and perceived by those in operational roles. Whilst in a corporate role those of us in Brisbane office were referred to as “Seagulls” by the site people (We would fly up to the mines, crap all over them and then fly away)

I tried to spend a lot of time on site and kept in constant contact with the mine safety people in an attempt to ensure any strategic initiatives I developed were grounded in reality. I must say I noticed others in the corporate office did not put in a similar effort and some recommendations were divorced from reality.

Junior safety personnel sometimes do not rate highly their supervisor or manager. Sometimes the reason why a particular initiative being pushed by a junior safety person may not go ahead is because of strategic reasons. Of course the senior safety person should explain this.

People in strategic roles must be interested in and be seen to be interested in the opinions of field based staff. Effective solutions to many problems often lie with front line staff.

Many organisations analyse their “Accident” experience in the hope of gaining insight into how to prevent their problems. Most organisations will not have sufficient serious “Accident” experience to make statistically significant determinations.

1. Damage to people at work has a number of adverse outcomes:-

§ Financial loss to employer, worker and community

§ Pain and suffering

§ Dislocation of lives

§ Permanence of death

2. Damage to people from work falls naturally into one of three Classes.

– Class I damage permanently alters the person’s life and subdivides into

– fatal

– non fatal

– Class II damage temporarily alters the person’s life

– Class III damage temporarily inconveniences the person’s life (Geoff McDonald & Associates)

Strategic approaches to safety must be focused on reducing Class 1 personal damage.

From my study of management of organisational change I have adopted the motto “ When initiating change, remember, people support what they create”

From my leadership training in the Australian Army I believe the following is important “The most important thing in leadership is to look after your private soldiers, because you are stuffed without them”

George can be contacted on fgrobotham@gmail.com, he welcomes debate on the above (it would be indeed a boring world if everybody agreed with George)

George Robotham, Cert. IV T.A.E.,. Dip. Training & Assessment Systems, Diploma in Frontline Management, Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education), (Queensland University of Technology), Graduate Certificate in Management of Organisational Change, (Charles Sturt University), Graduate Diploma of Occupational Hazard Management), (Ballarat University), Accredited Workplace Health & Safety Officer (Queensland),Justice of the Peace (Queensland), Australian Defence Medal, Brisbane, Australia, fgrobotham@gmail.com, www.ohschange.com.au,07-38021516, 0421860574, My passion is the reduction of permanently life altering (Class 1 ) personal damage

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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