Do You Choose Your Occupation or Does It Choose You?

by Dave Collins · 5 comments

in George Robotham,Safety Jobs,Safety Professional



Do You Choose Your Occupation or Does It Choose You?

by the late George Robotham 

I do not know the answer to the above question but the following may help to answer it.

I completed grade 12 and like a lot of young people had no idea what I was going to do for a career. My parents had no money to send me to university. My school marks were good enough to get a scholarship to teachers training college. This went well until my first practical placement where I discovered me and a classroom of 40 noisy, snotty-nosed kids was not my thing.

Having been in the Army Cadets at school I had some taste of the Army life and joined the Australian Regular Army, where I trained as a topographical surveyor. It has never been clear to me why I chose surveying. It was discovered during my training that my stereoscopic vision is not good and I did not last long as a surveyor. I got out of the Army but looking back on it I enjoyed the Army life and should have explored other career options with the Army. I was asked about going to Officer Cadet School a number of times and refused, looking back on it this was a mistake.

My first safety related job was as a Training Assistant with the National Safety Council of Australia. I would like to impress you by saying I had a strong natural affinity for safety, the reality was the job paid $5 a week more(A fair bit in those days) than others I was considering and my boss said he would take me under his wing and teach me all he knew about safety and training. My bosses were superb trainers and gradually taught me how to train, I found I really enjoyed training.

I spent a number of years in the Army Reserve serving as an infantry soldier and truck driver, my career choice was very clear here.

In Transport you had a truck to get you places and you did not have to rely on your feet, you did not have to carry your house on your back wherever you went, there was always room on the truck for grog and other necessities of life and in wet weather you parked up under the tarpaulin on the back of the truck instead of the individual shelters ( Hootchies) that always leaked. The presence of female type soldiers and the availability of cushy duty driver jobs, where you were looked after well, were other advantages,

My first mainstream safety job was as Assistant Safety Adviser at an open-cut coal mine, really big money for a young bloke. I enjoyed the outdoor life, there was a lot of interaction with the workers through training and safety meetings and I really appreciated this. I got this job more through good luck than good management, N.S.C.A. were doing some consultancy work for my employer who asked N.S.C.A. if they knew of a young bloke they could train.

There were 2 incidents early in my time at the mine that influenced my future career direction.

Lorraine storey

18 year old office girl drove a company car from mine to nearby township to do company business, she was observed driving excessively fast. She was attractive, friendly, vivacious and liked by all. What ended up happening was such a waste. On the return trip she was driving very fast around a curve and lost control of the car, the car rolled several times and she was catapulted out through the windscreen. She was not wearing a seat belt. I comforted her until the ambulance arrived. As she lapsed in and out of consciousness she said “George, please do not let me die” We put her on the aerial ambulance to Rockhampton Base Hospital where she died the next day. Subsequent investigation revealed some sensitivities about the causes. Had the organisation been more responsive to her problems and needs the incident could have been prevented.

I do not mind admitting I hit the grog for awhile after this. Of course this was before the days of critical incident stress de-briefing.

Tom storey

Tom was cleaning inside a dragline and was overcome by solvent fumes. He squatted on the shoe of a dragline to clear his head and was crushed between the shoe and a walking platform when the dragline walked.

Most major bones in his body were broken and he received a punctured lung, he was made a paraplegic and had shortened life expectancy.

It was clearly a design fault in the dragline that was reluctantly recognised by the manufacturer. I would not be surprised if draglines are currently being constructed around the world with the same design fault.

Future career direction

I was involved in managing the aftermath of both incidents, managing relationships with loved ones was particularly challenging.

Up until these 2 incidents I had just drifted along in my safety job but a number of issues were bought into focus for me-

Pain and suffering are very relevant, it is not just the cost of personal damage occurrences

Safety Training is very important

The relationships you build are very important

Business needs dedicated, caring, strong minded OHS personnel

Thorough methods of assessing risks are essential

Both incidents emphasised to me the importance of the safety function and I resolved to be more serious about my work. What I did became a vocation rather than just a job.

From these days I have worked in OHS for a total of some 38 years now, I like to think I have made a bit of a difference.

Do you choose your occupation or does it choose you?

For me I suspect the answer is a bit of both.



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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

George Robotham November 6, 2012 at 11:15 PM

Try going around with the coppers to tell parents their off spring has been killed

William 'Bill' Conway November 6, 2012 at 9:26 AM

I was employed as a cartographer and geological data administrator in the mining industry in WA. In 2002, the democratisation of software plus cancellation of geological drilling programs at the mine where I was employed resulted in me playing ‘Solitaire’ on the computer for much of my 9/5 FIFO roster. An engineer nominated me to become a Safety Rep. The training opened up the vista of OHS for me. About that time, one of our OHS Advisors was leaving site to become a paramedic – an opening existed which, with assistance from the mining manager, I managed to elbow my way into. I subsequently burnt the bridges back to my old cartographic/data administration job by delegating responsibilities to various geologists. Never looked back. The company put me through the university training and Cert IV Workplace Assessor and Trainer. I think what was critical in this pathway is the fact I care about people. If you don’t, in my opinion, safety is just another job. If you do, the overriding passion will see you through the short-term set-backs and consistent foibles of human nature that provide OHS opportunities in the first place.

John P. Leseganich,CPEA November 4, 2012 at 12:24 AM

Interesting subject and some great comments. I can’t tell you how many times, early in my career I would run into friends of mine and they would ask; “Hey, how did you get into that job / position”. I guess I should start by informing the reader that I spent over 30 years working within the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), U.S. Department of Labor. I spent those years both in the enforcement and consultation sector or the Agency. How did it begin? Well after high school graduation (1969) I like many had the choice (area economy); go work in one of the local steel mills that were all along the river or go to our local State (YSU) college and chose a career (degree). Also, as most kids do, I always looked at becoming a Policeman, Fireman or Cowboy….come on now, we all wanted to be a Cowboy. Not being sure which one to choose and realizing that college would require a work/school combination (we weren’t rich), I did the other option. Jumping in a 1966 Triumph TR6 and heading out to California (Ohio to California)….it was 1969 and what better place to be than LA. The “road trip” and the time spent in LA (6 months) is another story and needs to be told over a few brown bottles or your choice of drink. So, after returning from the LA trip and coming home I realized that now the decision must be made. I registered for school (college) and again with the choices floating around in my head (not sure what I wanted to do), knowing my likes, I took both “art” and “engineering” and worked in some criminal justice (the Policeman choice remained) classes. I was good at art (drawing-cartooning) and was somewhat of a “wrench head” and loved working on machinery. The art/engineering combination turned out to be a good “like to do” trait. While going to college and working I had the opportunity to get a job at the local GM (Lordstown, Ohio) car plant. I jumped on that and also got married. Working, school and family proved to be a little difficult and time consuming. The option there was to cut back my class schedule and make the money. While working at the plant I had an opportunity to get involved with the union and became an alternate committeeman. That position allowed me to visit all the operational procedures, equipment and work processes. It truly was a learning and eye opening experience. While in that position I also heard some complaints from the workers, mostly assembly workers. Complaints covered every thing from personality conflicts (labor-management) to valid concerns, mostly associated with work stations design or equipment creating a safety or health concern. You can see the beginning of the “introduction” to my career. Using my art/engineering partial training and interest I found myself figuring out and suggesting changes which would address many of the areas of concern. If and when my suggestions were implemented, I was pleased to see some pretty good changes addressing and rectifying those concerns. While working at the plant (late 1960’s early 1970’s) OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act) was born. The Act and it’s impact spread through the labor and management sector like a wild fire. Everybody was curious and some fearful as to it’s impact. I started to look into the Act, it’s impact, it’s scope and how it was going to be enforced. I found that it would address ALL General Industry operations, address workplace design, equipment, personal activity, accident inspections, proper design….wow, everything I was interested in doing. I looked into the hiring practice of OSHA and began making contacts and sending in my resume. After all this “who to talk to” , “where to send my resume” (it was very time consuming) I eventually received a phone call and had a meeting set up. Well, jumping ahead I was hired out of the Cleveland, Ohio OSHA Area Office as a “Compliance Officer”, that was 1974 and the Act itself was still fairly young. The U. S. Department of Labor was still working out the kinks in the program. I jumped on all the training the Agency offered (OSHA Training Institute – Chicago, IL.) and quickly got assigned to “Fatality – Catastrophe” inspections. I loved it (not the fact that a fatality occurred), inspecting – enforcement – identifying poor design or practices and coming up with a solution so possibly another (fatality) wouldn‘t happen. Everything I loved was combined in this job, police work, one-on-one contact, designing, everything. During that time I found that on fatality inspections it would be required to obtain reports from “first responders” which were either Police, Fire or EMT. That contact lead me to taking the Ohio Police Officer Training (OPATA) and receiving my Deputy Sheriffs commission. I did this so I would understand what is required by local police when responding to a workplace incident. I found myself doing or having a job that I looked forward to everyday. After those 30 plus years I retired (2005) and continued my career as a private EH & S Consultant. So, there is my story. I guess to summarize it, when you see an opportunity, when a door opens, check it out, see what it has to offer. It just may be what you are looking for. Thanks for the opportunity to share my “Hey, how did you get into that job / position”.

Louisa Chesswas November 3, 2012 at 1:34 PM

Great article George. Rosemary, I can relate. While my work choices were different, so many years of my working life were based around jobs that were “child-friendly” since I was a solo parent. I was very lucky to have – mostly – good employers. I have been around transport in some form much of my life, and became more involved in legislation and accreditations as my kids got older and I could take on a bit more. Strange person that I am, I really enjoy working with legislation, making sense out of the weird words they love to use. My present role is then sort of an accumulation of years of piece-meal involvement, but I love the work and feel this was where I was intended to be – I am sure, somewhere in the future, I can make a difference.

Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson November 2, 2012 at 3:24 PM

When I think about all the different jobs I have had everything from running a home based family day care and laundry service to driving road trains to pumping petrol to mixing cocktails to being an out-reach worker to owning a mobile DJ business to being a cleaner to the work that I now do within the workers compensation industry. There are so many jobs that I have done simply to be bring an income into my family home, others I have just been in the right place at the right time. The work that I do now is not really “work” in the true sense because I love what I do to ease the burdens of those stuck within the workers compensation system.

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