Safety and Continuous Improvement

‘George’s Safety Reflections

Safety and Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement is a long-term business strategy to improve your business in terms of customer value and satisfaction, quality, speed to market, flexibility and reduced cost. One of the principal objectives of continuous improvement is to increase the skills and capacities of all the organisation’s employees so they can effectively engage in problem solving.

Author’s experience with Continuous Improvement / Quality Management

While the author was employed in a senior OHS role with a major Australian organisation he was involved in implementation of a robust approach to Continuous Improvement / Quality Management.

Some of the initiatives were-

  • Customers were spoken to in order to define what the customers wanted from the organisation.
  • The work necessary to ensure success in meeting customer needs was identified.
  • How to carry out the work necessary for success was defined.
  • Detailed work instructions and working procedures were developed for core tasks necessary for success.
  • A document control system was introduced.
  • All employees received training in Continuous Improvement / Quality Management.
  • Continuous Improvement / Quality Management champions were appointed in major departments.
  • A senior manager was appointed to lead the Continuous Improvement / Quality Management effort.
  • There were regular audits of the Continuous Improvement / Quality Management system.
  • All employees were actively encouraged to question the efficiency of the work they did and suggest continuous improvement initiatives.
  • There were regular meetings and other communications about the Continuous Improvement / Quality Management.
  • An extremely aggressive approach to upgrading employee skills in all areas was embarked upon after an exhaustive learning needs analysis.
  • Since leaving this organisation the author has worked in organisations that have had no Continuous Improvement / Quality Management systems or systems, that while they have had their systems pass certification audits, do not really have a continuous improvement philosophy.
  • Some of the things he has noticed in these organisation are-
  • Customers, both internal and external, complain that their needs are not being met.
  • Work processes are dependent on the knowledge of individuals rather than defined procedures. When Fred goes on long service leave for 3 months the organisation struggles because how to do some of the things Fred does are only known by Fred.
  • The bureaucracy and bull-shit swamps the organisation and impedes efficient operation.
  • Communication is confused and inefficient.
  • Responsibilities are unclear.
  • Employees mutter about how ineffective some of the work they do is and their efforts to improve things with their supervisors fall on deaf ears.
  • Politics rather than efficiency shape practice.
  • Those who question procedure and practice quickly learn this is not an approach received favourably by management.
  • Employees talk to others who do similar work and realise there are better ways of doing things.
  • Some of the workforce are un-empowered and dissatisfied with their lot.
  • Management is perceived as being remote from the real needs of the business and not interested in the thoughts of the employees.
  • The learning function is under-developed and attendance at learning is guided by un-structured approaches rather than thorough learning needs analysis.

The author’s observation is that many organisations have Continuous Improvement / Quality Management systems that are only partially enacted and do not reap all the benefits to be gained from these systems .


In these economic times can your business survive without a continuous improvement philosophy?

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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