What is OHS?

What is Occupational Health and Safety?

One of the original Articles by the late George Robotham 

Good question that I do not have a good answer to, but have a few observations-

OHS is the science / art / wizardry / bloody hard game of convincing stakeholders at all levels to identify hazards, assess risk and control risk in a responsible manner. It involves technical OHS skills and a broad range of management skills but particularly interpersonal skills, communications skills, learning skills and outstanding leadership skills. Many interventions cannot be economically justified by traditional financial models and rely on the employer’s desire not to injure their employees.OHS is a frustrating occupation, not for the weak willed, the relatively infrequent wins make it worthwhile.

The body of knowledge in OH is probably well developed but the body of knowledge in OS is not, this is partly due to the fact stuff all decent research is carried out in OS in Australia. The lack of a robust OS body of knowledge means learning organisations do not really know what to teach. The lack of a robust OS body of knowledge is a major impediment to meaningful progress in OHS. Development of the body of knowledge must be guided by the permanently life altering personal damage (Accident) phenomenon

The OHS business is characterised by many highly passionate practitioners, in some cases with a low skills base

There is an over concentration on OHS technical skills and not enough recognition of the need for broader management skills

The OHS business has a history of embracing highly emotive quick fixes or fads marketed by smooth salesmen often quoting poor research studies that lack rigour in proof of success

OHS Learning for supervisors and managers is poorly developed

Government at a national, state and local level does an excellent Yes Minister approach to OHS

Much of the standardised approach to OHS is the result of cosinorance (What you get when you combine consensus with ignorance)

There is no national means of effectively collecting and analysing permanently life altering personal damage occurrences (Accidents) This is a National disgrace

There has been a lot of activity in OHS in recent years, how purposeful and effective some of that activity is, is questionable

There is a tendency to base countermeasures on gut feel rather than research into personal damage occurrences (Accidents)

In some organisations there is an over reliance on what can be a highly subjective risk assessment process

Physical injuries predominate in high risk industries, in low risk industries there can be major psychological issues resulting from interpersonal problems

Industry taxonomies of personal damage are more useful than enterprise experience

Written communication often dribbles on to excessive proportions

People persist in using boring lecture style presentations instead of using interactive approaches

Far too many learning interventions are guided by superficial analysis and gut feel instead of by thorough learning needs analysis

Generous amounts of bull dust, rear end covering, management incompetence, excessive paperwork, poor leadership, inflated egos and overly complicated approaches are often a feature

Results are often assessed by reaction which is the most superficial type of assessment rather than by more meaningful measures such as behaviour change and effect on the bottom line

Passive countermeasures (That do not rely on action by the human being) are preferred to Active countermeasures

It is a toss up between management, government, unions, employer organisations, professional associations, training authorities and workers as to who tells the most lies and has the greatest level of incompetence about safety

The use of displacement activities is common in safety. A displacement activity is something we do, something we put a lot of energy into but when we examine it closely there is no valid reason for doing it

An ex-manager of mine, who has a way with words, says the biggest problem in safety is that managers and safety professionals sometimes engage in acts of public masturbation

Despite the limitations above I have worked with some highly competent OHS people who make a significant improvement for their employer, their contribution is often undervalued

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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