What I admire in OHS professionals.

What I admire in OHS professionals.

Guest Post by George Robotham 

Over the years I have worked with many so-called OHS professionals. Some of them have been pretty ordinary operators. I do not generally refer to people who work in OHS as professionals as I believe being a professional implies application of an unique body of knowledge, I do not believe a unique body of knowledge exists in OHS.

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These are the characteristics of the better OHS people I have worked with that have impressed me-

  1. An ability to question the validity and reliability of the smoothly marketed safety fads
  2. Passion and a fire in the belly
  3. An excellent sense of humour, integrating humour into your approach will pay dividends
  4. An ability to bounce back from the inevitable pressures of the role
  5. A robust personality and an ability to argue ones case under pressure.
  6. Life skills
  7. An empathetic approach
  8. Do what you say you will do
  9. Be honest and ethical in everything you do, if you are not you will be found out eventually and your credibility will suffer.
  10. Be positive
  11. Be a good listener
  12. A good dose of humble
  13. Being a lifelong learner. Recognise that broader management skills are needed as well as OHS technical skills
  14. Committed to personal development of those they interact with.
  15. An enquiring mind
  16. Admit your mistakes and when you cannot give a good response
  17. Keep in touch with the stakeholders regularly and adhere to promises made
  18. Good interpersonal and communications skills
  19. Leadership skills
  20. Get your priorities right-Recognise safety will never be the number one priority, safety must be fully integrated into other business functions
  21. Broad thinking- Think outside the square and challenge the status-quo
  22. Pareto Principle-Remember the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule, identify the 20% of things you do that give you 80% of your results and concentrate on them
  23. A commitment to a continuous improvement philosophy and ability to implement Quality Management.
  24. Change management-OHS management is all about change management and generic skills can be learnt.
  25. Project management-OHS lends itself very well to a project management approach for major change.
  26. Team-building skills-These essential skills can be learnt
  27. Time management skills-Relatively easy to learn this
  28. Sharing-“People support what they create” Not involving the workforce in decisions about OHS change is the road to disaster.
  29. Well developed bull-dust detector, by the hell you will need it.
  30. Try to avoid engaging in the many acts of public masturbation that surround the safety world.

Impressive OHS professionals

The OHS professionals I have worked with who have impressed me were-

Tim Wilson – Early in my OHS career I made an error of judgement while working for a safety consultancy organisation. The General Manager attempted to discipline me in a team meeting. My manager, Tim, intervened and took full responsibility for my mistake. I later thanked Tim who explained he did what he did to send a message, “I am in charge of this outfit and no-one else interferes with my team. Making mistakes that we learn from is perfectly acceptable” I would have followed Tim anywhere after this.

It has taken me thirty years and reading extensively about leadership to realise the significance of what Tim did that day.“Leaders send out messages, often subtly, about what they value and expect.”

Laurie Mason – Laurie was the corporate Safety Coordinator for Utah Development Company when I was a field safety adviser. Looking back on it now I never appreciated how advanced for his time Laurie was and his questioning of the status quo.

Geoff Miller – I was Geoff’s assistant in a field safety role. Geoff was an enthusiast about safety, put me under his wing personally and professionally and I owe a lot to Geoff.

Bruce Treasure – I worked with Bruce in Utah and BHP Coal and I can think of no greater example of what an OHS professional should look like. Bruce has advanced OHS technical skills and broader management skills; he is a really funny bastard and a great bloke. Bruce is the Safety & Human Resources Manager at Mossman Mill.

Rod Taylor – Rod’s 2 outstanding skills are his interpersonal and communications skills. He is the sort of bloke people want to develop a relationship with. Rod is the Health & Safety Adviser at Inergen, Millmerran Power Station.

Terry Condon – Terry had a very strong sense of what was fair, decent and right in interactions with others. He also used humour exceptionally well in his interactions with others

John Grubb-For about a year I worked with a General Manager Operations, John, who could best be described as a humble but focused leader who had an overriding commitment to safety. John accepted the role of Safety Champion. John would turn up at operating sites in the middle of the night to see how safety was being managed. He used to give the workers his mobile number and tell them to call him anytime if a safety issue was not solved to their satisfaction. This did not happen often but there was some big action when it did. John let his subordinates know he expected nothing less than 100% commitment to safety, those who did not comply were encouraged to lift their game. Word quickly got around about his safety expectations, single handed he raised the profile of safety in the organisation.

Less than impressive manager

Looking back on it I have worked for quite a number of less than impressive managers, one bloke deserves a special mention.

Then there was my manager, Greg. I organised an outside training organisation to conduct training for health and safety representatives. Early in the course the instructor asked me to come over and talk to the participants who raised a number of quite reasonable safety issues with me. Some were within my power to fix so we discussed how to fix them. Some required management action so I asked Greg to attend. Well what a circus! We lost count of the number of times he told us how committed to safety he was, we also lost count of the even greater number of times he refused to commit to positive action to address the issues. In the end the group lost patience with Greg and told him to leave and stop wasting their time. The course instructor, a highly qualified OHS professional, was dumbfounded by the performance Greg put on and asked me where I had got him from. It was not long after this that I resigned, I figured I was wasting my time with a manager like Greg.


You do not have to be Super Man or Super Woman but it will help.

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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