Learning to see the real value of OHS
This was rammed home to me last week, when my firm was one of the sponsors of the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) Awards Dinner at the Melbourne Museum last Thursday. Over 20 awards were handed out, including commendations to students studying Certificate IV through to a doctoral thesis.
After practicing in workplace law for 20 years and regularly lecturing in OHS at VIOSH (Ballarat University), the award ceremony was a real eye opener. Why?
Firstly, the study of OH&S is now widespread. There has been a careful effort to bring together a body of research evidence that permits businesses to predict and avoid risks in the future. The students who are undertaking their studies at VIOSH, RMIT and La Trobe University in Victoria, along with other providers of education throughout Australia, are skilled students, not just in the theory and practice of safety, but also knowledgeable in the results of research that help them to work smarter and safer.
Secondly, the awards went to people not only identifying huge risks but also solving them simply.
For example, an RMIT student received an award in recognition of his outstanding academic achievements and his development of a manual handling procedure and manual handling risk management program. The process itself was enlightening because it demonstrated that the careful risk measurement processes once undertaken carefully and in a consultative framework, draw solutions from the workforce that are simple, cheap and practical.
They also return a significant human and financial dividend. Again it underlined that safety not only protects people, it is a financially sound investment.
Thirdly, the award ceremony made me aware of the clever, practical and capable people now working in safety.
Finally, a proactive and sensible path is being taken by the regulator in supporting education, engaging with those who provide safety advice in raising the bar and aligning the regulator with achievement in safety.
So what are the lessons from the awards for employers?
1. The more resources you pour into educating your safety people, the better the safety and financial dividends for your business.
2. Clever safety people can pick up risks that uneducated people would not be able to see.
3. Safety metrics are core organisational metrics. They help to determine what resources should be allocated to make the environment safe.
4. Safety, unlike many other fields of endeavour, provides a fertile base for business/university partnerships that benefit both.
5. The biggest problems, once discovered, often have the simplest solutions.
6. You do not know what your gaps in knowledge are if you do not look. Looking is everything. But if you have not been trained how to look – you may well be blind.
Perhaps the greatest curiosity of the night was the museum's theme accidentally collided with the SIA's theme for the awards ceremony. The theme of the awards ceremony was the celebration of learning to avoid risks to safety, while the current exhibition at the Museum was the Titanic. Enough said.
Andrew Douglas is the founder, principal lawyer and managing director of Douglas Workplace & Litigation Lawyers. Andrew is an experienced commercial litigation and workplace lawyer, who acts both as a solicitor and advocate.