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

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