Safety Lessons From Animals

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Safety Lessons From Animals

A classic by the late George Robotham 

Introduction

Dealing with animals has a lot of lessons for dealing with people. A lot of the things that are asked of people in safety are simply hard work; you should not be surprised when it does not happen! Horses and dogs react to simple commands; I think sometimes we tend to over complicate safety.

I have had Australian Cattle dogs for many years and used to ride horses a lot. I reckon I have learnt a lot about safety and people from animals.

You can go on forever about the positive role animals play in our lives. Rescue dogs, seeing-eye dogs, customs dogs, guard dogs, canaries that used to sense gases in mines and the elephants that tried to warn us when they went bush before the tsunami hit.

From an animal lover

Some of my cattle dogs

Sally was a red cattle dog we got as a mature dog from the pound in Mackay, she had a lovely nature, and she must have had a bad experience as she would never go on the back of a ute. Towards the end as she got sicker she got ill-tempered.

Kim, blue and black cattle dog, got as a pup, was a cattle dog when we had the cattle at the Prickle Farm, I let my neighbours run their horses on the Prickle Farm, Kim bit a horse on the hindquarters, next thing I see is Kim flying through the air after a horse kicked her. I woke to a strange noise about 4am one morning, went outside and here was Kim having her litter of pups outside the bedroom window, died about12

Bruiser, blue with a bit of red cattle dog, my oldest son named her Bruiser because of the black patch over her eye, in recent times as I have been doing work on the computer Bruiser was content to sit by my side and have the occasional pat and talk. Bruiser died about 3 months ago, I think Bruiser was 13.

Dogs are not dumb! In the days when I used to take my current red cattle dog Rusty in the car with me she used to get off her chair and stand by the back door of the car when she saw me pick up the car keys.

Have not been taking her for the last couple of weeks and she has figured out me saying “Rusty stays” means she is not coming.

She has resigned herself to the fact that she is not going to go in the car and no longer bothers to get off her chair when she sees me pick up the car keys, I no longer need to tell her she is not coming.

When I am on the computer Rusty sits on her chair and helps me with my work, I have to keep the pats up to her.

Many years ago friends in Rockhampton had an ex-polo horse, Copper, big, strong, intelligent bastard, a real man’s horse, I used to ride him hard and he loved it. When on the farm at Brookstead as a kid the old man had a horse, Bigger, that would only let the old man ride him. My uncle Bob and the old man got on the grog one day and Bob decided he was going to ride Bigger, got unloaded several times before he stopped trying, like the old man Bob was an old bushie and a good horseman.

Never been a cat person. When I was in one job my female offsider, had 30 cats, can you imagine, 30 of the bloody little mongrels! She was raving on about her cats one day and focusing on her cats instead of her work and asked me if I liked cats, in frustration I said they were great in a curry. She was not amused and I got in a fair bit of trouble. A bloke I know suggested cats also make great crab bait.

George’s philosophy

Cattle dogs and horses have been the source of much satisfaction and fun for me. I have also learnt from them. They have been more loyal than some of my so-called friends that have 2 legs. Most horses I have been associated with and cattle dogs I have had have been smarter than a lot of people I know!

You can have an intelligent conversation with an Australian stock horse and a cattle dog; sometimes people should be more like cattle dogs & horses!

Lessons for safety

Many horses and dogs have unconditional love. Treat them with respect and affection and you will have a loyal friend for life who will look after your interests. It has been said it is rare to find a really bad dog or horse and this is often a reflection on the owner. In my youth I used to go to the Broken Wheel riding school in Brisbane, what a mongrel mob of horses, no wonder when you saw how they were treated. One time I was offered a horse with saddle sores all over its back and I refused to take because it was obviously in pain. I saw the horse saddled up and given to someone else.

I heard a storey about how a young sheep dog was mistreated by its owners and was having behaviour problems. The new owners were building trust with the dog and it was gradually improving. Having worked in some industrially volatile environments I have experienced how the world turns to crap when trust goes out the door. Building trust is an essential element of leadership and vital in safety.

In my role as a rehabilitation coordinator I case managed a severe stress case that was the result of bullying. The central problem was that the person concerned had lost all faith and trust in the employer. I got her away from the people that were causing the problem and mismanaging it and into a caring environment and she returned to happy and productive employment.

Sometimes I think that in these days of industrial disputation, aggressive management, long, ponderous safety paperwork, complicated safety management systems and rigid safe working procedures we end up treating the employees like crap. Horses buck, dogs bite and so do people when you do not treat them properly.

The bushies say a female dog will be more loyal than a male dog (The male wants to fight and screw everything) particularly if you let her have a litter of pups before having her fixed. Young dogs and horses are pretty silly; sometimes having a mature outlook is a good idea.

Like people animals like to know who is in charge and that person to be decisive. Animals and people often react well to good training. Like animals you have to get the right people, a number of my relations have Jack Russell’s, definitely not the right dog for me. I have come across some people in OHS roles who were simply the wrong person for the job.

A characteristic of the few good leaders in safety I have seen is that they are fiercely loyal to and develop their people. Most people and animals will react positively to such an approach. A little bit of praise does not cost much but goes a long way with people and animals.

Practical psychology for animals and people

Dave Collins from Riskex recently spoke about the top 10 management lessons he learnt as a young engineer running a concrete plant. (Get Out of Their Way) I thought it was a very good example of practical psychology principles in use.

  1. Treat everyone with respect, despite their differences in background or appearance
  2. Talk to them and find out what makes them tick, don’t rely on what others tell you
  3. Realise that everybody wants to do a good job – if they can
  4. Think about and meet peoples basic needs before stressing about the big stuff
  5. Despite what you think, “workers” are smart and resourceful, treat them like crap and they will find a way to bring down you and your plans – provided they can get away with it!
  6. Find out what other hidden talents and ideas they have and let them use them
  7. Realise that if you are a Manager then you work for those in your team – NOT the traditional arrogant arrangement
  8. Give people goals and objectives, give them what they need and break down any barriers.
  9. THEN GET OUT OF THE BLOODY WAY

It seems to me that most of the above will also work with animals. In the complexity of the modern world we tend to forget about the fact that the focus should be on the people.

“What is the difference between dogs and people? If a dog has not seen you for a day, he will still treat you as if he has not seen you for a year!”

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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