Starting In A New OHS Role

Starting In A New OHS Role

George-guidance-book-cover_thumbClassic article by the late George Robotham. Get George’s Free Ebook Here

1. Introduction

“When initiating change remember that people support what they create”

2. The above motto was discovered by myself during study into Management of Organisational Change. The motto seems to fit well with introducing OHS change. To be successful in OHS change you must involve all the stakeholders. Ignoring the front line workers is the road to disaster.

3. From time to time inappropriate behaviours occur, it is essential to have a conversation to discover why the behaviour occurred. A Kick In The Rear End approach is usually not productive. Accident victims usually do not set out to get injured, often the inappropriate behaviours occur for what are perceived to be good reasons.

4. 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

5. 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)

Class II and Class 111 personal damage is not a good predictor of Class I damage. We must have consistent means of reporting, recording and analysing Class I personal damage.

Starting out in that new OHS role

Note-Papers referenced are available on request from

The short paper Starting Out In Safety gives some advice on landing that good OHS job. Let us assume you have landed that dream job, what the hell are you going to do?

It is essential to have a robust Safety Management System. The paper What Makes A Safety Management System Fly may assist. You need to think about how you will introduce the various elements

An essential ingredient of an excellent Safety Management System is excellent safety leadership. The paper The Things You Need To know About Safety Leadership may help. Training and procedures for safety leadership are essential.

Need a comprehensive audit of the existing safety management system if one has not been carried out recently.

Get from behind the desk and into the field

Further exploration of the existing safety management system can be achieved through facilitating a series of force field analysis at operational sites ( Similar to S.W.O.T.) With the force field analysis you brainstorm the objectives of the S.M.S. and the promoting / facilitating forces and the constraining / restraining forces. See the paper Force-Field Analysis. Whilst it is good to have managers and supervisors involved in these, consider whether their presence will inhibit the workers, separate worker sessions may be necessary.

This will give insight into the development of a strategic OHS management plan backed up by operational OHS plans. Keep it succinct

Ensuring compliance to safety legislation is the bottom line

Carry out a safety learning needs analysis for workers, supervisors and managers and facilitate learning as appropriate. Supervisors and managers tend to be overlooked in safety learning. Place particular emphasis on development of OHS skills for the frontline supervisor. Refer to the paper Learning Needs Analysis.

Enhance the OHS technical skills of OHS personnel

Enhance the broad management skills of OHS personnel eg. Interpersonal skills, communications skills, management of organisational change, leadership, learning, quality management, project management etc

Introduce teambuilding principles in the OHS team and conduct a teambuilding workshop

Concentrate on face to face communications and succinct written communications

Make is mandatory for everyone, no exceptions, to attend a short course on Hazard identification, Risk assessment, Hazard control

Develop, promote and implement internal standards of OHS excellence. Refer to the paper on this topic

Undertake an industry safety benchmarking exercise(Refer to BHP Minerals Safety Benchmarking report)

Within 100 days of commencement develop a Safety Legacy statement of what you intend to leave behind

Have a plan to coach and mentor all levels of staff in OHS

If possible have an industry taxonomy of permanently life altering, fatal and non-fatal, personal damage. Refer to the paper Taxonomy

When you discover a major OHS issue develop a project team to address it

*Remember-Often it is the relationships you build, not your technical expertise, that determines your success!

No doubt you will have other points to add.

Hearts & minds

Here is some brief advice on winning the hearts and minds of people in relationship to safety.

1 Set the safety example, learn about and place Safety Leadership high in your priority list

2 Be honest and upfront, do not bulldust, you will usually be found out eventually and your credibility will suffer

3 Have a highly visible commitment to safety. Participate in safety meetings, accident investigations, audits, inspections etc. Outline your expectations of people attending safety training

4 Build trust with employees

5 Develop a mission, goals, objectives and a vision for the safety effort

6 Carry out a safety training needs analysis and train accordingly. Use interactive training not lectures. After training devise a plan with the participant on how to implement the lessons from the training. Developing an after training project is a good idea.

7 Hold people accountable for safety performance

8 Celebrate success

9 Do what you say you will do

10 Have high safety expectations

11 Give and encourage receiving regular feedback

12 Follow up on complaints and always report back

13 Praise good work, catch people doing good and make a fuss of them. Do not underestimate the impact of a simple “Thank you”

14 Respect others / Support others. Use humour in your interaction with others

15 Minimise the bureaucracy and bulldust and have succinct paperwork

I am interested in your comments

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.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below