Consensus on Safety – Friend or Foe

Consensus on Safety – Friend or Foe

Latest by George Robotham from

Based on my study of Management of Organisational Change I have adopted the motto “When initiating change, remember, People support what they create” for my OHS work. Generally I think involving the stakeholders in discussions and decisions about OHS is a good idea.

Some of the disadvantages of consensus are that it takes a lot of time to hear and understand everyone’s point of view, there has to be a high level of trust and group demands may be high. Members may block new initiatives and maintain the status quo. People may be reticent to voice their disagreements and some may dominate. Too many yes men who do not argue for their true beliefs is frequently a problem.

Consensus may be difficult if-

  1. Group is new and not used to working with each other
  2. The group is larger than 15
  3. People are upset
  4. Trust levels are low
  5. The organisation has a poor safety culture
  6. People have strongly held views
  7. There are lots of options
  8. There are no good options

For consensus to have any chance of working there must be agreed goals, objectives and process. A Google search will reveal other ways of enhancing consensus decision making.

Consensus is widely used in OHS and Learning. I would suggest however that consensus about OHS and Learning matters results in poor outcomes at times. Having a background in adult & workplace learning I wonder how some of the National training packages got developed the way they are.

Many years ago I had an OHS role with an employer association and used to attend the Confederation of Australian Industry OHS Committee meetings in Melbourne. This was the peak OHS decision making body in Australia. I was the only OHS person on the committee, the rest were industrial relations professionals. All the safety initiatives were viewed for their industrial relations implications and not their OHS accuracy. There appears to be the perception from OHS people that there is too much H.R / I.R. influence on OHS nowadays.

My mentor, Geoff McDonald, says “ Consignorance” is alive and well in OHS in Australia. “ Consignorance” is what you get when you combine consensus with ignorance.

It has been said that if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem. Sometimes those involved in consensus discussions are part of the problem and it is difficult to generate solutions. It is often wise to have someone with broad management and OHS experience in the group who knows little about the particular issues.

George Robotham, Cert. IV T.A.E.,. Dip. Training & Assessment Systems, Diploma in Frontline Management, Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education), (Queensland University of Technology), Graduate Certificate in Management of Organisational Change, (Charles Sturt University), Graduate Diploma of Occupational Hazard Management), (Ballarat University), Accredited Workplace Health & Safety Officer (Queensland),Justice of the Peace (Queensland), Australian Defence Medal, Brisbane, Australia,,,07-38021516, 0421860574, My passion is the reduction of permanently life altering (Class 1 ) personal damage

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