Weasel Words in Safety

Weasel Words in Safety – Words that promise much but deliver little

One of my favourites by the late George Robotham 

imageThose of you who read my posts will know I am a big critic of the long, ponderous written communications, that seems to infect the safety world. Given a choice many people take a least time / least effort approach to life, if your written communications is too much like hard work, a lot of people are simply not going to put in the work to read it. Busy people do not have the time to read tomes and busy people do not have the time to write the

Many readers of safety information are relatively unsophisticated and material is often pitched at too high a level.

I used to work for a manager who had a focus on clear, succinct and uncomplicated written communications. Terry used to hate the use of what he referred to as weasel words in safety communications. Weasel words promise the earth but deliver little in the real world!

‘In 1916 Theodore Roosevelt declared that the ‘tendency to use what have been called weasel words was “one of the defects of our nation”.’ ‘You can have universal training or you can have voluntary training, but when you use the word “voluntary” to qualify the word “universal”, you are using a weasel word,’ he said: ‘it has sucked all the meaning out of “universal”.’

Be aware of weasel words!

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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