Zealots – A Cause For Concern?

Zealots – A Cause For Concern? Classic post by the late George Robotham 


After many years involvement in OHS I have found I handle the technical issues fairly well but often fall down on the people issues. Over recent times I have developed the belief people in OHS roles should receive education in psychology so they can better understand and manage themselves and those they interact with. I was lining up for a Graduate Diploma in Psychology but recently have been looking at Dr. Robert Long’s post graduate Risk offerings.

Zealot: An immoderate or zealous adherent to a cause, a fanatical commitment

Examples of zealots : During my time I have been unfortunate enough to have been associated with a number of zealots. These people have popped up in OHS, religion, politics, environment, quality and management. They appear to think they have the God-given right to tell me where I am going wrong and insist that their way of doing things is the only way forward.

I do some adventure based training with at risk youth and one night in the bush a group of adult helpers were sitting around the camp fire after we put the boys to bed. I poured myself a scotch and dry from the esky in the back of my 4wd. One bloke decided to give me a lecture on where I was going wrong by drinking grog, I was not amused.

I did some university study in Environment Management and during introductions told my fellow students I had worked for mining companies for 20 years. It was like a wall of hatred descended on me from my fellow students.

Sometimes one’s reaction to zealots can have adverse effects. I once missed out on an almost certain night of passion because I voted for the wrong political party.

Zero harm approaches to safety sees some zealots, personally zero harm does little for me.

With one manager we used to say it is my way or the highway! Another manager vigorously imposed his way of doing things on his team in an overbearing manner. That only worked when he was around and people found ways to sabotage him when he was not around.

Lessons learnt

Let me say I adopt a continuous improvement philosophy to most things I do and am always on the lookout for ways to improve. I am also a believer in being balanced and flexible and find extreme views unhelpful.

Many of the zealots are quite arrogant but their saving grace is that they are often well intentioned and genuinely trying to help. People are different and what works for one will not necessarily work for another. I have learnt to keep an open mind with zealots, there may be occasions when they have special skills, knowledge and experience to add to the mix that is not readily available elsewhere.


Some of the zealots waft into academic and theoretical approaches. I take the pragmatic approach that what matters if what your people will do a 2am when it is pissing down rain and there is no supervisor around.

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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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