Read the sequel to this article: I’m Still Not That Into Safety

image.pngA sequel to: I’m just not that into safety anymore Our most popular article this year! Why do you think that is? Rob’s courage and honesty has certainly touched some nerves! I’m just not that into safety anymore I have spoken with a number of Managers over the past few months who …… Enjoy the rest of the article >>>>>


Our most popular article this year! Why do you think that is?

Rob’s courage and honesty has certainly touched some nerves!

I’m just not that into safety anymore

IMG_0857I have spoken with a number of Managers over the past few months who have argued with me that ‘safety’ in our workplaces means that we must do everything we can to control people so that they do not hurt themselves at work. These people have said to me, “we can’t let dangerous things go untouched”; “we can’t let people make choices that may lead to them being injured” and “doing everything that is reasonably practical means that we have to have systems, and people have to follow them”.

These conversations typically end with something like “the law says that we need to provide a safe workplace, I’m not going to jail and risking my house just because someone doesn’t follow a rule. All your fluffy stuff about motivation and decision making sounds fine, but I’ve got to follow the law, so I’ll stick with implementing procedures, thanks anyway.”

If this is what ‘safety’ is all about, I’m just not that into it anymore.

If being ‘safe’ is all about controlling people in our workplaces, we need to be aware of the trade offs for controlling people’s behaviour and actions. We need to be aware that this stifles learning, and is demotivating for people who no longer have control over the decisions they make.

The need to control and fix people also creates relationships that are rigid, yet we want flexibility and mature judgment. The more we seek to control others the less we create ownership, and the more we create co-dependence and as we know co-dependence is a mental health disorder. The truth is that as we become rule focused, we shift away from empathy and become focused on compliance. Those who are attracted to compliance, rigidity and control tend not to be able to create wholesome relationships based on mutual respect and understanding. Instead, controllers ‘command’ others, ‘dictate’ to others and rarely listen. Anyone who treats another as an object will only use and abuse others and will never be respected in a mutual way.

So why is it that ‘safety’ has turned into an industry that is about control, rules, and process and less about people?

When I started in ‘safety’ in 1993, my motivation was pretty clear, I wanted to work in an industry that was all about people. But ‘safety’ seems to have changed over the years. Being in ‘safety’ now is often seen as being the ‘fun police’. So often people in safety are forced into policing and inspection roles, asked to report to management on violations and non-conformances. They are often asked to report on ‘safety numbers’ and trends. Then, when they provide this information, there is usually much debate and discussion about definitions of things like incidents and frequency rates. I know that these things frustrate many of my friends and colleagues in ‘safety’.

So many of the people I know that work in ‘safety’ got into it because they care about people, they are nurturing and kind people, they are engaging and passionate. Yet, the realities of their role mean that they rarely get to work with people and share this passion and kindness. They become known in their organisations as internal regulators, and people take a different view of them. For example, a friend wrote to me recently and shared this story:

When I introduce myself to people they usually ask the standard question; “so what do you do?” When I tell them I’m a Safety Advisor, it’s really not often that I get a positive response. Most of the time people’s faces change, and not in a good way. Their eyes scan me as though I am a different breed of a person. Sometimes they even step back slightly as if I’ve got some sort of highly communicable disease. Often they’ll say something like “oh, you’re one of those people”. Or “and you seriously enjoy that?” Or “that has got to be one of the worst jobs in the world” or “how do you enjoy all of that paperwork?”

Safety Advisor from an International Organisation, 2014

I find this sad and disappointing, but I’m not surprised. It is hard when you are in a traditional ‘safety’ role to get away from the rigour of systems, process and control. It is expected of you, and even when you second-guess the value of this approach, it’s often easier to continue, than to try to break the nexus and change thinking. So how do people in ‘safety’ deal with these frustrations and concerns?

My friend who wrote to me, enjoys our regular catch up’s every few months where we share ideas, experiences and feelings. When they express frustrations and concerns, I don’t feel the urge or need to ‘fix them’, I don’t have to provide solutions. I just listen and ask questions that help them think through options , they need to decide what works best. For me, this is what being a friend is about, I demonstrate that I care without having to solve their problem. So sharing your thoughts with a friend who will listen, rather then solve, can be a great way to work through frustrations and concerns.

Another thing I have found to help is that, along with a number of other friends and colleagues, we’ve formed what we call a ‘Thinking Group’. A small group of us get together every 6-8 weeks and allow ourselves time to ‘think’. During these catch up’s we don’t solve problems, we don’t develop new procedures and we don’t review trends. We just pick a topic or two, and without any specific agenda, we share our thinking. This is a great way to step outside the busyness of everyday life, and away from the constant control and process of our ‘day jobs’, and use our imaginations.

I find that these are two great ways that help with deal with frustrations and concerns.

So if you can ways to work through your frustrations, what might you be able to do differently to change the way that your organisation sees ‘safety’ and limit your frustrations and concerns?

For a start, one of the methods that I have adopted is that I no longer tell people that I work in ‘safety’. I don’t want people to think that I’m interested in controlling people, policing people and reporting violations. I don’t want people to conjure up an image that I like to walk around with a checklist telling people what they are doing wrong. I don’t believe this is how you improve safety.

Instead, I tell people that I enjoy learning about how people make decisions & judgments. My work is to share this learning and help people to discern risk themselves, not for me to do it for them. My work is to coach people and ask questions, not to control them, so that they can realise themselves that they may be in danger. My job is to motivate people by providing good information in a way that helps them learn, not just nod and understand, which is typical of how ‘safety’ training is often done. My job is to value people, their views and opinions. This often involves me helping them to think clearly. Sure there are procedures, risk assessments, investigations, however all this is done thinking first about the people who are going to be involved, not just what the law says.

My jobs is let to people have control of their own decisions.

I wonder, if you are one of those people like my friend, who are frustrated with how ‘safety’ is viewed, whether you might be able to change the way that you go about your job? If you switched controlling to supporting, would people view you differently? I’d love it if the next time my friend goes to a party that people would appreciate what they do and, even thank them, rather then alienate them.

For me though, I’m just not that into safety anymore.

Editors note: Plenty of us feel the same way as Rob, we welcome your thoughts below………

Rob Sams
Rob Sams
Rob is an experienced safety and people professional, having worked in a broad range of industries and work environments, including manufacturing, professional services (building and facilities maintenance), healthcare, transport, automotive, sales and marketing. He is a passionate leader who enjoys supporting people and organizations through periods of change. Rob specializes in making the challenges of risk and safety more understandable in the workplace. He uses his substantial skills and formal training in leadership, social psychology of risk and coaching to help organizations understand how to better manage people, risk and performance. Rob builds relationships and "scaffolds" people development and change so that organizations can achieve the meaningful goals they set for themselves. While Rob has specialist knowledge in systems, his passion is in making systems useable for people and organizations. In many ways, Rob is a translator; he interprets the complex language of processes, regulations and legislation into meaningful and practical tasks. Rob uses his knowledge of social psychology to help people and organizations filter the many pressures they are made anxious about by regulators and various media. He is able to bring the many complexities of systems demands down to earth to a relevant and practical level.
  • JC

    Thank you for a great article with an attention getting headline. Besides how we are viewed from the “outside” I’m interested in how we are viewed within our profession and if others are observing what I observe. for example, a representative body that seem to be heavily influenced by administrative based safety people, academics, etc. with the on the ground, front line professionals sidelined and looked down on by this self determined “superior” click. A group of people more comfortable in a suit that a HV vest.
    I also observe a large body of people who are inward looking and more concerned in self interest and consumed by climbing the corporate ladder at almost any cost rather than directing a majority of attention to the personnel on the ground doing the grind or even supporting other safety professionals/practitioners.
    I observe that Safety and Health has become a fall back profession for those that can’t make it in there first chosen field for one reason of another.
    So, besides how we may be perceived by those outside the safety/health profession I’m even more concerned with how certain people/organisations within our profession perceive the greater safety/heath constituency.

    • Welcome JC – you are definitely onto something. Within any profession that will happen, but safety can hardly call itself a profession whilst what you say is true. Anybody can hang a shingle and suddenly become an expert on absolutely everything to do with health and safety. Then there are others, dare I call them psychopaths, who are into safety for the status, power and control it provides them. If you dig around in this blog you will find a healthy disrespect for purple circle safety institutions who do little but serve themselves. Most of the authors on this blog have pretty much given up on traditional safety. Have read of Phil LaDukes most recent article which is very relevant:

      • JC

        thank you Dave. I was reluctant to use profession considering how free and easy one of the representative bodies is at using it however for practical reasons I went with it. Yes, there are the psychopaths, but unfortunately I see too many who have chosen Safety and Health as a means of climbing the corporate/social ladder and focused on individual gain rather than as a profession that could be considered as having a more collective interest, a more sharing and caring priority.

        • Yeah they push zero but it will never happen for them without the genuine care that is missing from their agenda. Just saw a comment on another forum that was pushing for safety to be a bigger part of the MBA program – can you imagine the curriculum? I cant see the point of that – they should be educating people focused leaders in cultural improvement – safety stems from that

  • the rigidity of the “compliance” model of safety is the reason that injury and fatality rates have plateaued. They will not decrease any more until we can take a new approach. if compliance means “following the rules”, then we best remember that the rules are minimum requirements. if we are going to achieve maximum “safety”, we will have to develop new models for risk management.

    • I agree Ron – we continue to develop more and more rules to counter breaches, misinterpretation or inadequacy of the previous ones or as things happen that we weren’t expecting then we still need courts to interpret them. The rules will always lag behind the reality, not consider the possible by-products and be mostly irrelevant as soon as they are made. Meanwhile………..

    • Rob Sams

      Thanks for your thoughts Ron. The temptation and seduction to fix, solve and regulate is strong (and in some cases appropriate).

      It seems like the easy approach to ‘throw more rules at things’ and expect that this will create greater ‘safety’. Of course that might work if we don’t understand and appreciate the paradox of ‘safety’, the paradox of ‘helping’ and the paradox of ‘living’. There are so many contradictions that we are faced with every day, in ‘safety’ there feels like a constant tension between free will, free thinking and control.

      I hear and see some desire and appetite for change in risk and safety and then you jump onto the, at times ridiculous, forums like LinkedIn and out come the ‘crusaders’ determined to rule, control and focus on obedience.

      Great to have you on the forum sharing your thoughts, I look forward to hearing more of them. Cheers, Rob

  • Miles

    Great article thanks Rob.
    I often wonder at how accepting industry has become of workers negative views of safety, it seems to be treated as perfectly normal that the vast majority of the workforce should roll their eyes whenever the word “safety” is uttered. I think if the safety industry really looked at why this is we would learn a lot about where we’ve gone wrong, but alas, it seems easier to continue with type of “saving people from themselves” management that patronises and controls. I have one safety colleague who delights in telling anyone who will listen that we run a childcare centre for adults (we work in construction) and it’s our responsibility to keep the idiots safe. When challenged on this type of thinking he always reverts to legislation.
    ” He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts…for support rather than illumination”
    (Scottish poet – Andrew Lang)
    I’ve been lying about my profession for years . A surveyor usually raises the least questions, you’re welcome to borrow it.

    • Welcome to our little community MIles – love that quote and will steal it 🙂 Safety would say that everybody just has a bad attitude and are lazy, stupid and complacent. I wonder why some get into safety when they have so much disdain for people “below” them – I know a safety person who says that he has no chance whilst ever there are people out there with mullets, tatts and missing teeth! That colleague of yours – is his name Barry Spud by any chance – we have written about him a few times. I call myself a risk engineer – sick of the reaction when you say safety. I’d like to send your one of Dr Rob Long’s books which you might enjoy – email me your postal address to

      • Miles

        Thanks Dave, I’ll do that now and have a read up on Mr Spud.

  • Flexibility and mature judgment is expected in every work place, and adding signs for the safety of the employees does not restrict or control their freedom, it merely promotes a safer and hazard free work place. Even with proper safety signs and warnings, mutual respect and understanding is promoted. Employees are able to understand that signs are in place for their own safety, and their compliance fosters mutual understanding and trust, rather than a feeling of rebellion due to being controlled. If an employee feels the urge to do something that will not comply with a safety guideline, he/she will do so irrespective of it being there in place or not.

    • Thanks Geoffrey I really appreciate you taking part in the discussion 🙂 I have a few questions and would love to hear your thoughts – or anyone else’s. (you have raised such a good topic that I think I will write an article about it)

      – Do you put signs and slogans up around your home? Why or why not?
      – Are most signs put in place to transfer liability or to protect people?
      – How do signs and slogans effectively replace other forms of communication?
      – How long are safety signs effective for?
      – How do “warnings” and compliance threats promote mutual respect and positive culture?
      – If recalcitrants will ignore them anyway then why risk offending the people, who do the right thing, with such messages?
      – What are signs saying unconsciously about the people who erect them and the people they are for?
      – I have read studies which suggest that signs which tell us what we can do rather than what we cant are more effective?
      – How many people who design and erect signs know much about the unconscious power of semiotics?

  • Rob Sams

    Hi goddess1012 – thanks for your comments, thoughts and questions.

    I think the questions you are asking are the same that a lot in risk and safety are asking. Why is it that people don’t seem to be attentive to safety information being provided to them, sounds counter intuitive doesn’t it? I mean why wouldn’t we want to know about stuff that can keep us safe?

    I suspect that the answer is not a simple one. Could it be that what motivates people is more than just carrot and stick and that we like to be in control of our own decisions, thoughts and judgments? To this end, I wonder if we wanted people to have information about ‘safety’ stuff whether we need to think about how we go about it on some occasions? There are some good articles on this site that you can find by searching ‘humble inquiry’ that might provide some good insight into this.

    Having said that, my experience has been that there is a constant tension that we face all the time in relation to how much information we provide verse how much people discover for themselves.

    My main argument in this paper is that when safety errs to side of ‘telling’ rather than ‘asking’ (and by the way, I don’t think the world is as simple as ‘telling’ and ‘asking’ either 🙂 and when safety is only about rules, process and hence obedience, that this ‘does things to people’. What it does it what I wanted to encourage people to think about.

    I wonder if that provides any further clarity, or prompts any further questions or discussions for you?

    It’s great to have you on here sharing your thoughts and comments, ‘thank you’.

    PS: you will also see a lot of other articles on this site about the unconscious and semiotics and how important these are in decision making. With this in mind, I’m interested in your name ‘goddess2012’ and would be interested to know why you chose this if you’d be happy to share?

    Cheers, Rob Sams

  • goddess1012

    Sadly, I am glad to hear of safety people with the same issues I experience. People hear “safety”, and cringe. “Oh, more rules for us, more regulations?”… “Why are you such a safety nazzi?” I used to feel the same. I worked at aplace that was very safety oriented. One recordable incident in the 6 years I worked there. I guess somewhere in that 6 years somethign clicked. I truly believe injury and accident are preventable.
    I don’t see it as controlling people, it is keeping people informed and asking them to keep themselves and other safe at work and at home. I do a safety/informational page on facebook. I include reminders, work place safety talks, at home safety talks, safety how to’s, keeping your children safe, posts about new illegal drugs and their effects, and even posted an update this morning on googles policy on listening in to our home through your microphone. I get very little feedback and no participation what so ever on that page. It’s like people see the word safety and immediately, something in their brain triggers and shuts down. it really makes no sense to me. Why wouldn’t people want to know how to keep their families and co-workers and selves safer?

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences goddess1012 – would you mind sharing your facebook page? I would be very interested in seeing that. Dont be dismayed at the lack of feedback – we get over 20,000 views on this site everyday and only a few comments. People are just so overloaded these days with information (type “flooding” into our search box) – they filter out what is important to them at the time – perhaps they unconsciously store away the information you provide and use it when necessary or they are reminded. Whether we like it or not, people dont like to be told what to do, they want to and need to learn and discover things for themselves. It is hard at work and at home to step back and let them do that – but it is sometimes the best thing to do – I agree with rob – rather than telling we should be doing a lot more asking – people can then articulate and develop their own thoughts – if done right you can get them to do things and think it was their idea 🙂

    • I think a lot of people ‘shut down’ when they hear the word safety because of conditioning from negative / unhelpful past experiences. All that conditioning becomes yet another obstacle to work through to reach people, because they don’t even see or hear what is right in front of them in the moment – they view everything through the lens of that past experience. At least if we are aware of this, we have an opportunity to make the choice to work with people and facilitate becoming aware of wider perspectives and available choices.

  • Rob Sams

    Some great and detailed feedback there Mandy, thanks for sharing your thoughts, ideas and experiences. The story you share of your grandson is a great one, but one that I also expect is not an easy one for us to always take.

    Please don’t get me wrong, I think it is important and essential to support and ‘scaffold’ learning (a term I have learnt in my recent studies), and I suspect there will be times where letting your grandson (or any others) explore at their own free will is not going to be easy. I think we have become a society of ‘protectors’ (or worse ‘crusaders’!) and while this can seen as admirable, the more we think of others, of community and of a ‘minimum unit of two’, and less only about ourselves, the more this (supporting and scaffolding) will become natural to us all I suspect.

    Anyhow, great that there is a bunch of us on here keen to continue an adventure toward this end. Cheers, Rob Sams

  • mandy hamer

    My grandson god bless him at 17mths is a real boy and loves to play and discover often putting himself in a position where he could be hurt But do I stop him from playing discovering learning and developing by wrapping him in cotton wool? Recently while we were visiting a friend Bodie my grandson had wandered out the back yard to play with the dogs And much to my surprise climb the ladder leaning up against the side of the house 😉
    When my girlfriend and I saw what he was doing (He hadn’t seen us) My friend started to run towards Bodie and no doubt was about to call out BODIE NO I grabbed my mate quickly and told her to shhhhh and I calmly on the outside whilst being a wreck inside stood and watched this determined little monkey climb the ladder almost 3quarters of the way up, At this point Bodie stopped and looked about and saw me standing there watching him It was at this point when he had become aware I was there I calmly said
    “Bodie come down to Nana now please” and he scaled down the ladder to Nana without a care in the world The ladder was then removed and a discussion was had about not climbing ladders without asking Nana.
    My friend was abit dismayed and a little judgemental in my handling thinking it was reckless and irresponsible of me to not have rushed in and stopped him as soon as we saw him and I guess I could understand her thinking so I explained to her why I had not reacted instantly and here is why I did not.
    Bodie had already assessed his environment given thought to what he was going to do and how he was going to do it
    He was also confidant within himself he could do it and was in perfect control as he navigated that ladder concentrating hard on what he was doing fully focused completely determined and without a doubt capable of climbing the ladder his motor-skills and analytical mind being very advanced
    I did not doubt he could do it for one second he could do this as I knew Bodie was very aware and had it all worked out.
    Had I yelled in a panic stricken voice I not only would have taken Bodies focus of his task and diverted his concentration to myself and my panic but I would have also been creating obstacles that Bodie did not have before and possibly my tone of voice being panic would have changed Bodies confidence in his ability to do this safely into doubt insecurity and possibly fear
    .So Now in my mind if I had done the above I would have become the most real hazard to his safety
    Bodie is confidant and yes does a lot that makes my heart stop temporarily but I believe that children are born with self belief they can do and achieve anything that is until adults tell them they can’t
    So instead of saying he could not climb ladders Because he can he just proved that I installed a you are not to do it without permission.
    Safety is part of our lives every day in so many different ways And now days in the workforce it can seem to many of us as though we are adults being given less credit for being aware than I give my Grandson
    There is an us and them culture happening and it is hardly surprising when we are not being given any credit for our hands on time in the industry and RESPECT is not shown nor given to the men and women who have been working in their professions competently and safely for in some cases generations
    There is little acknowledgement of their skills and experience A lot infact most of the more experienced seasoned Trades people I know out there got where they are by doing
    work based apprenticeships laboring for many years working 6 sometimes 7 days a week long days hard physical days there was little time spent writing about how to do the task the task was being done obstacles were worked out and people just got in and did it they did not feel there was a role that was beneath them understanding the best way to understand whats going on is to be part of whats going on
    So there are many tradesmen who do not have a degree or can not reference an act against a regulation within three minutes Their referencing abilities are limited compared to an office worker But I bet they can tell me why it is necessary that a safety procedure is implemented and how we can put in place other personal safety measures and what it is we are actually doing
    But these smart committed skilled workers are being made to feel inferior even some have said they feel they are viewed as stupid they are angry and bitter at being disrespected
    Safety Officers are at times making them feel like they are treated like children and in many cases having their skills and knowledge down played and deemed insignificant by people who have no right to think their title makes them superior or the fact they have a degree uni qualification etc gives them more credence in the work place than others without their academic initials .
    So many times I see cut price courses more often than not online ones such as OHS, Diploma OHS, Project Management even white cards
    So anyone can go buy a career now too easy ahy
    Its like a person wakes up one morning and goes Hell I’m sick of selling jeans at jeans west I hear they make a shit load of cash in OHS in the construction and mining industry once I do the courses I will be set because my uncle knows a bloke or my boyfriend works on a site and so on and so on
    Is this approach ensuring we have the right people to create a healthy safety culture and the right people doing the job

    This Brings to mind a Project Manager we were sub-contracting to He came onto site one day and saw the crane there with its stabilizers out and said to me …………………………… NOW I shit you not people this was his exact words
    “How cool the crane even has it’s own barricades”

    Once upon a time people had to put in the hard yards
    Earn their positions understand their roles through having actually done the role
    Leaders were made leaders through actively being leaders taking situations and owning them helping others to be the best they could be Leaders lead by example never asking anyone to do a task they themselves were not prepared to do they Gained respect through demonstrating they deserved it They shared knowledge and wisdom through a true understanding of what they were sharing instead of dictating from a text book of acts regs legislations policies procedures etc capable of actions not just assessing actions
    People were flexible in their approaches Not restrained by policies Open to seeking new ideas and solutions
    Communication was something all were capable of engaging in through having freedom of speech Not being gagged more often than not by political correctness fear of incurring consequence for speaking ones thoughts or being made to file our thoughts and have it make its way or not to the right people to address the thoughts.

    Its abit like boxing a fighter wanting a title fight It used to be hard to get a title fight you truly had to fight for it and earn it They would fight many bouts all over the country for shit money in crappy areas under even worse conditions to earn a shot at a title fight Now it’s a couple of well promoted crowd pleasers and you are in for a shot at a title fight
    We have lost the belief that we should earn what we seek not buy it or have it handed to us because we are entitled through association etc.

    • Brilliant! I have watched my daughter quietly coach her baby daughter as she worked out how to climb up onto the sofa and down again and how to navigate the stairs. We are both in awe of how the little one worked out how to feel with her foot to know whether or not it was safe to transfer her weight, and she is amazingly agile AND safe around the place.
      In some ways, my daughter was inspired by my own approach of supporting and enabling learning rather than putting more obstacles in place (for example, we had a cupboard stocked with treats that was freely accessible by her; the only rule was that she had to ask me first. If I had to say no, I told her why, but often I gave her permission. So she never needed to gorge herself on chocolates or snacks, internalising her locus of control). My daughter also saw first-hand how her stepson had always been held and caught when playing at a playground, so he had no sense about falling off the end. He walked straight off a beam at a playground and fell to the ground because it never occurred to him that someone might not be there to catch him!
      In the end, sometimes our urge to control and limit rather than teach, and not having thought about what was the right message to install in them (e.g., ask nana first, rather than you are not allowed) causes more problems than it solves.

      • Thanks Sheri – sooooo true! my 16yo was telling me just the other day about some of his friends from homes where certain things are strictly taboo and the inquisitiveness and potential harm it creates – one of his mates talks about nothing but turning 18 so he can have a drink, another gorges himself on lollies and soft drink whenever they are available (this was me as a kid as well), some of the girls can’t wait to get married just so they can……..

  • mandy hamer

    Rob I also became involved in safety as a rep around 1993 what a different time that was Safety committees met once a week in this committee there was the project manager principal contractors safety officer/advisor and a representative for each individual subcontracting crew on site We would all sit around a table as equals and as representatives we would have prior to the meeting asked our co-workers the ones we were speaking for if they had any relevant safety concerns they would like addressed and amongst ourselves at that table the concerns of the people would be raised openly and freely for discussion resolutions to these matters were an open ideas policy with the final outcome being agreed upon noted for action and then followed up by all to be either closed off at the next meeting or re-addressed and again openly the group would further seek a resolution Head safety officer/advisor for contractor would advise of legalities where necessary and also offer his wisdom if he felt we needed guidance. After meetings we would report back to co-workers at toolbox what the conclusions were what was being implemented and then we would discuss if they felt this was acceptable outcome if not how could they suggest we improved on this.

    Simple and Authentic Safety about people for the people and with the people.

    Sometimes I shake my head at how different it is now

    I attended another safety reps meeting on a remote site awhile back what a different meeting that was But I did not follow the flock of No nothing to say You guys with the Big desks and offices tell us what we need to know about doing our job and we will bite our tounges for fear of being singled out and labeled a trouble maker for having the nerve to question your decisions Well when asked if I had any concerns I replied with” Well how much time do we have?” After addressing key issues affecting my co-workers for awhile other reps began to speak up and there was some major issues with our living arrangements that were acknowledged and strategies put into place that benefited the people Because as I so often state safety in my mind starts with a healthy frame of mind and a good attitude

    • Hey Mandy – yeah reflecting back on those days is interesting, I’m not sure that the safety committee set up was all that perfect, it did seem a tad simplistic as probably the main way that safety was managed back then. Having said that, there certainly wasn’t as much safety noise going on and we probably did a lot of good risk management stuff without even being conscious of it?

      • mandy hamer

        I have to respectfully disagree Dave in 2yrs on that project we had one LTI and zero fatalities so if we to work off the stats I am inclined to believe the safety committe did an effective job more so I believe because the members were passionate and practical motivated to participate by personal desire to protect people Not profits
        Subject: Re: Comment on I’m just not that into safety anymore

        • Rob Sams

          Hi Mandy – thanks for your comments, feedback and sharing your experiences. Sounds like your involvement with the safety committee was pretty special. I know you talk about it being good because you only had one LTI and no fatalities, but do you think this is the best was to define ‘safety success’?

          I know we all want people to go home safely, not to suffer an injury and live a life as normal as possible but at the same time, the challenge is to make sure people are free to make choices, make mistakes and learn along the way. I’m not sure that the two always go together.

          Is an injury or incident free site a good a measure of ‘safety’? I understand why people believe it is, although I reckon a site or organisation who engages in good conversations, are open to sharing, and aren’t afraid to admit mistakes is a better measure. It’s just that those things are hard to put in a graph 🙂

          Sounds like you’ve got a real care for people and engaging them in their work. I’d love to hear your thoughts on my comments above. Should we measure safety by counting the absence of something (incidents) or the presence of something else (conversations and a feeling that people look out for each other). In fact, should we think about what ‘measuring’ safety does to us, and think about whether we should do this at all? Some challenging things for us working in risk and safety to work through. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Cheers, Rob Sams

          • mandy hamer

            Hi Rob Thank you for your insights and feedback also for the good work in drawing attention to the fact so many are disheartened in Safety now days.
            I love these discussions because they are full of people who have the ability to speak honestly and candidly and that is so rare I find amongst our workforces societies’ etc.
            I have been thinking about what you asked me and I can absolutely say yes to being free to make choices
            I do not think safety is best measured through stats although I believe they are a handy tool that can be used for referencing to outline some of the proven risks associated with specific tasks enviroments etc but they should not be used as a definitive overall deciding factor as every project situation has it’s own new set of variables .. I will come back to you on incident reporting and a few other things But for now may I say I would rather feel safe than rate how safe I feel.
            And much of what people such as Dave Collins yourself and others are discussing Gives me hope
            That Safety will become again about People
            That People will come together once again become involved speak out united to create change.
            That is how change happens people unite with a common goal
            So hard to have happen in todays society 🙁
            Conceive Believe Achieve

        • Dave Collins

          I was just generalizing Mandy – I used to be the Safety Manager for a company that had 5000 employees across several 100 sites. I used to train all of those committees and, rightly or wrongly, it was the main safety initiative for us. Some worked as you describe and others weren’t quite so successful for many, many reasons, most of which I didn’t understand back then but have slowly started to get in the last couple of years. It may sound counter intuitive but one of the initial signs of success was actually an increase in incident stats – as people became more aware of the importance of reporting and knowing that we would not punish them for doing so but rather assist them properly and learn from it – we had a lot of walking wounded with no paper work to show for it prior to that. The main positive is that we had a lot of “safety champions” (not crusaders) come out of the wood work when we created a positive environment and some really good things got done, physically and culturally. Sadly, we still had quite a few fatalities, in fact back then we budgeted for them! I don’t believe that a committee could have prevented any of them but we learned a hell of a lot the hard way.

  • Andrew Lane

    Hi Rob, really enjoyed the post and found it to be a little bit of affirmation. Not three days ago I sent an email to a colleague who is doing the same role as myself but in another location which reads, “As to injuries and incidents, you need to keep on top of these. Not from a point of wrapping people in cotton wool but from a store culture perspective. In a store where there is a real sense of belonging and clear lines of communication incident and accident levels are low and even more importantly genuine. The relationship the “Risk Manager” has with the team is so important. You need to be a leader but also a friend, a manager and also a great listener, a co-worker and a confidant”. I tell people I’m a coach.

    • Rob Sams

      Hi Andrew, thanks for the feedback and sorry for the delay in replying. Yep, a friend, and good listener sound like a good start to me. So many people believe you need to be the complete opposite (see for example Gab’s comment below about ‘Slammer’ – oh dear!).

      I’m not sure about the comment about incident and accident levels belong low and this being a result of belong and clear lines of comms though. When we measure/evaluate/assess how well we manage risk and safety by using accident rates (or any lagging indicators), I worry about how that impacts how we think in the non-conscious (which is where we do a lot of our thinking). What do you think about this?

      Cheers, Rob Sams

  • Gabrielle Carlton

    Hey Rob this post has evoked some great feedback and thinking about what is it all about. I loved this article as I have stated earlier I just wanted to add more based on some of the comments I’ve read. It’s so good to hear that people understand that the policing mentality just doesn’t work. Interestingly there are still people who believe that it is all about just that. I had a conversation with a colleague and a friend the other day who is a WHS Manager. She was telling me about a new WHS ‘facilitator’ that was engaged. This person felt that facilitation was all about ‘slamming’ people. This new person was actually quoted saying ‘good ’cause I love slamming contractors’!!! WOW I was astounded that someone would think this is good safety. When I hear this I definitely feel the same…’I’m just not that into safety anymore’! I’m into people and understanding them.

    • Rob Sams

      Hey Gab, I how can someone who enjoys slamming also claim that they work in a field that cares about people’s wellbeing. Tosser!

      I’m with you mate, I’m sooooo into people and understanding them, and it’s so good to be part of this great community that Dave has established with so many other like minded people. Cheers, Rob

  • Deanne Boules

    Hi Rob, Great Article!! and so true…I have been working in safety for a number of years now having started my safety career as an Inspector with WorkCover NSW before transitioning into private industry in Senior Safety Leadership roles and now into my current role where I spend a lot of time working with safety professionals (and senior leaders in organisations) trying to help them understand that a safety professionals role should not be about being the ‘safety police’ and that there is so much more to safety then just ‘catching people out’. Gone are the days when safety was about the big stick, catching people out and punishing them when they have ‘done something wrong’ it just doesn’t work anymore. All it does is give safety people a reputation for being the ‘fun police’ as you highlighted in your article. For me I see the safety professionals role as being a ‘leadership role’ regardless of what level they are in the organisation. If safety professionals can communicate effectively (and I don’t mean just quoting legislation and standards to people, to me that’s one of the first mistakes a safety professional can make because people just turn off), engage and influence all levels of the workforce, drive and lead change, etc. they don’t even need to talk specifically about safety to get buy in from people. Hence why my focus has changed in recent years, I started studying Psychology (1 year to go) and have studied Neuroleadership and brain based coaching…when I look at the philosophy behind these methodologies I believe that this is the future of safety engagement and how we can shift the perception that safety professionals are ‘compliance officers’, ‘fun police’ etc. to highly valued and respected professionals within organisations and we proudly say that we are ‘safety professional’ without cringing for fear of what people will say.

    • Rob Sams

      Hi Deanne, thanks for the feedback, appreciated.

      It’s interesting that I now look at what I call ‘traditional safety’ and the various degrees, courses and training offered is focused on legislation and objects (hazards, science and the like). Very few focus at all on understand people and how we make decisions and judgments. Like you, I’ve started studying psychology, although my focus is on social psychology and how that impacts on risk. Fascinating stuff isn’t it?

      Sorry for the delay in replying to your comments, it’s great to see you contributing on the Blog and being part of this great community which encourages sharing, learning and most importantly making mistakes and taking risks as an important part of learning.

      Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts and comments on the forum, and if you are keen, maybe even writing an article one day. Cheers, Rob Sams

  • Gaynor Renz

    Hey Rob Sams!!! An excellent article. Love Mr Safety Potato Head having a hissy fit in the graphic as well. It’s true that it is often expected of safety people to be the compliance officers – as you’ve put it, the “fun police”. I believe that some people thrive in that role. I know that many of us show empathy and really care for the people we work with but I have to say that I have met some safety advisors that I would NOT describe as being terribly caring or nurturing. I think the safety profession unfortunately attracts some to the role of “Safety Officer” because they enjoy the opportunity of being a cop on the beat. Not ALL safety people by any means, but probably some of those who have just unsubscribed might be in that category.
    One of these particular advisors I can even remember giving a big “BOO YAH!!!” when she was able to catch someone out for not having the right PPE (safety glasses). She even did a “dance of joy” (once she got around the corner of course). She truly believed she was doing her job well if she could catch someone out doing the wrong thing. I am not making this up but once, when walking on a mine site, I was pulled up by my safety colleague for crossing the road at an angle (“jay walking”) and said that I needed to set a good example to the troops.
    At every opportunity I have said to workers “I am not a cop” and meant it. Like you and others who have contributed here, I say I am there to work with them to keep them safe. At every opportunity I tell the people I work with that I will do what I can to take their safety concerns seriously and have them addressed.
    Who was the author in education who coined the phrase that we need to catch the children “doing good” in the classroom? (Dr Rob Long will definitely know! Please help out Rob). Same applies out in the field if we want people to respect the work that we do in the safety realm.

    • Welcome Gaynor! I have worked with plenty of auditors who delight in catching people doing the wrong thing – I wrote about it a while ago:
      Whenever I was being audited we would just leave stuff for them to find, meanwhile leading them away from important stuff whilst they reveled in the euphoria of their success! How they sleep at night I do not know!

      • Rob Sams

        Hey Dave, I just read your Blog on auditing, how damn true for some. I love the approach you take. I’m sure they sleep because they feel they have done their bit to control people, that’s what they live for

        • Thanks mate – forgot about that one – reckon I’ll dust it off and polish it a little and republish it 🙂

    • Rob Sams

      Hey Gaynor, nice to hear from you and thanks for the feedback. Yep, I believe that there are a lot of good people out there in safety, I just hope that we can move beyond having to feel like we need to ‘fix’ people and ‘keep them safe’, and instead continue to focus our attention on helping people to discern risk themselves.

      I’m sorry, I don’t know of the education author, but I’m sure Rob Long will know. Hoping to see you at Uni in the morning to discuss further. Hope you are well.

      Note: Hey Dave, Gaynor is one of the gang doing the post-grad in social psychology and risk, I agree great to have her join in the discussion

      • Rob Long

        Actually not sure who said this but it came out of the child-centred movement most associated with the educators of the 1970s, John Holt etc (How Children Fail) in the tradition of Dewey and R S Peters. Being child-centred is about not being system-centred or outcome-centred or process-centred. All common to the freeschooling and de-schooling movements. safety could learn a lot from this stuff.

    • mandy hamer

      In the real world Gaynor those sorts of people would be slapped with restraining orders and called stalkers lol

  • Rob Schroder

    I had a conversation today with my site team on a falling safety culture on site. Their answer was to more stringently police the wearing of safety glasses. Well that upset me….a lot…. and I objected but could not articulate my reasons very well.
    If only I had read this blog earlier. Rob you have put it so succinctly and in a manner that I was not able to during my discussions today. Time to reschedule the safety culture conversation I think. Thanks!

    • Thanks for your positive feed back Rob – I’m really interested in how you reckon you might address the issue now? Cheers

      • Rob Sams

        Thanks for the feedback Rob, this wasn’t a hard one to write, it is based on the many dissuasions I’ve had with ‘safety’ people who are fed up with being looked at like aliens on site. I, like Dave, would love to hear how you will address this with the gang at work. Great that we are having conversations about this, Dave has created such a good forum for us to build a community to share our thoughts and ideas in a ‘safe’ environment

  • Len Collie

    How succinctly has Rob put the thoughts of many safety people. Quite a long time ago the safety game was about safety and at least seemed to be about helping people decide what was best from them. It would seem to me that others, seeing that safety was finally making some in roads, albeit slowly, that their hobby horses could gain momentum from jumping onto the band wagon. Suddenly, Quality Management started to direct that “the written system was the answer” Formatting, wording and process took precedence over the things that really mattered. “Risk Managers” from the Insurance/ Governance industries then wanted to steal some of the limelight using “you’ll go to jail or lose everything financially” as a tactic. And let us not forget the “Best Practice” theorists. By the way, who actually sets ‘best practice’. Is there a Worlds Best Practice regulatory group that we can send our systems to for some sort of grading? Anyway I digress a little. In my humble opinion, even Human Resources, unable to manage the growing bullying and harassment issues, following years of no support to manage some of these bullies and harassers out of the business, threw their hands up and covertly threw management of the issue it into the Safety arena.

    Soon Company executives were so inculcated with this risk adverse waffle, that they not only demanded this from within their own organisation, but even today use their systems to gauge whether or not someone else’s systems (contractors) were acceptable or not. More demanding, more controlling.

    Where is the trust, that those who know how best how to perform a job should be able to express it in their own words, rather than have some safety person who has little or no real experience in the various jobs that they are reviewing tell them that they are wrong.

    We as a profession, if you can call us that, have let this happen to us and our industries. Blame the academics, blame the risk adverse insurance industry, blame whoever, but blame yourself first.

    It is time to stand up and be counted. Say no to some of this tripe that is being pushed down our throats. Stand up and be morally counted. Their is nothing wrong with our industry – it is about people – real humans with dreams and hopes for their future. It is not about controlling them, it is about assisting them make the right decisions because they want to, not because some clown in a glass castle who rarely if ever visits real workplaces with a piece of paper says “I’m an expert and this is the only way to do it or else”. Remember expert is Latin – Ex meaning ‘has been’; Spurt meaning ‘Drip under pressure’.

    I’m not an expert, I’m just a normal guy trying to coach and mentor people to achieve.

    • Great thoughts Len – I think you nailed it re the demise of safety being about people and more about systems beginning around the time of QM. Even though the outcomes of a great culture are safety, quality and all the other KPIs. Yeah we can whinge all we like about management and their lack of commitment but they have their own issues to deal with. For things to change then we much change, take advantage of their fears and use it against them if need be to show the the risk of pursuing an autocratic approach to safety. I think you know one of the large private email networks of safety we are part of, there is lots of whinging there about management and “shingle hangers” etc people yet 75% of the chat is about the latest std, regulation or sharing convoluted procedures!

      • Rob Sams

        Good point Dave. When we make things about ‘us’ (safety) vs. ‘them’ (management) it is just not useful. So many times I hear people in ‘safety’ say they just don’t get it, they aren’t serious, they don’t care, yet when they go about their job, they do more controlling, blaming and fault finding. We need to work together, and realise that ‘safety’ is not about ‘safety’ – I love Rob Long’s recent post for great description of this.

    • Len Collie

      Couldn’t agree more Dave. Although, having said that, everything has its purpose. I guess the standards and other info may help us to understand what may or may not fit and this is then used to assist others come to the right conclusions if we mentor them correctly rather than using the authoritarian approach.

    • Rob Sams

      Thanks for the feedback and thoughts Len, yes I think there is a bit of work to do for those of us in ‘safety’. Wouldn’t it be great if ‘safety’ was about helping people to discern risk themselves rather than trying to ‘fix’ them and ‘make them safe’. Here’s hoping the great community we have created on here can make a different one day at a time

  • Gary

    G’day all,
    great topic and very good article. If I could add my two bobs worth – in my experience, it’s not the safety practitioner mindset that needs to change. We are always taught through our training to challenge the norm, coach, mentor and be there to advise. What I find most frustrating is the management (usually senior) who believe the role of the safety advisor is to do the ‘safety’ work, instead of coaching others (usually management) to do it. What usually occurs when this happens is that when an incident does occur, it invariably ends up the safety advisor having the finger pointed at them as they were not doing safety ‘stuff’. Whilst blame should not be proportioned, in the real world it happens. I have lost count of how many times I have requested to conduct education sessions with management (direct Supervisors / management) but ‘time is money’. Whilst I understand the need for the bottom line and almighty dollar, unless senior management is on-board with safety and committed to it, you will find frustrated advisors, and management who don’t understand their responsibilities and / or accountability.

    • Rob Sams

      Hi Gary, thanks for the feedback and thoughts. There certainly are some challenges that those in ‘safety’ face. Per my comment above, I don’t think making the ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ arguments are that useful. I wonder what value this adds to improving safety outcomes. I know the type of managers that you refer to, and I know that it is difficult to understand and deal with them. I think the challenge for us is to work out how we can make the most of the relationships for the better of everyone in our workplaces. Cheers, Rob

  • Nic

    I was just thinking about this last night as I lay awake in bed unable to fall asleep! (Some of my best thinking is done on sleep deprivation!)

    How can we build a trusting environment with our employees & employers when we constantly dictate every move a worker can make. (Via pre ops, hazard analyses, safety cards, permits, etc…)

    No one tells me how to do my job, I’ve been entrusted to do the right thing and make the right choices when they need to be made.

    We hire these workers usually because of their experience and expertise, any deficiencies and we quickly send them for training. So why are we not letting them do what they do best? Their job!

    Like it was said below in the comments, safety advisors are like parents. We foster a nurturing environment for our employees where they are free to grow and learn. We encourage them to think outside of the box and to take chances. All of this is done in a safe environment where they won’t get seriously hurt. When some employees push the boundaries too far, or neglect the sound advice of their parents, we quickly remind them whose boss via appropriate discipline. (progressive discipline when the situation warrants it!)

    Sure a few bumps and bruises will happen along the way, but at the end of the day we get to watch them grow into safety advocates who then keep our safety culture alive by mentoring new employees as we welcome them into our corporate families.

    The approach of being the fun police is an ancient one that needs to be buried!

    • Rob Sams

      Here, here Nic! I’ve had some of those ‘thinking’ moments whilst trying to fall asleep 🙂

      I’d love to see a more humanistic workplace. The great community we have on here is a great way to make this happen. Cheers, Rob

  • Dave

    Safety is about partnership – not dictatorship. If I am pushed I will push back (or fall over more often than not) but if you lead I will follow and if you ask me to lead I will bring everyone else I work with along with me for the ride (and probably organise a sing-along. Anybody remember Men without Hats?).

  • Richard H

    I tell people I am a safety advisor and whatever their response, it is their issue.

    were 3 advisors at my place of work (now there are 2) and each of us
    would go and spend a day at each of the offices within the organisation
    throughout the week. We go there with our lap tops and do our work at a
    spare desk.

    At first we were treated with suspicion because,
    historically, OHS Advisors only went to offices to investigate, audit or
    issue non-conformances. After a while people got used to us being
    there and would ask us to help them. They would ask for our advice,
    which we would give gladly. Now we are part of the various teams and we
    are asked to assist many times.

    If you manage by compliance
    people will work to a level that will just keep them out of trouble. My
    message to my teams is that with all of the activity that takes place,
    with all of the people on worksites there are no serious injuries.
    There are near misses and minor injuries. To achieve this result they
    are doing a hell of a lot that is right. My job is to help them to do,
    what they already do well, just that little bit better.

    • Nic

      Great approach Richard! “My job is to help them to do,
      what they already do well, just that little bit better.”

      Love it!

      • Rob Sams

        ‘Goodonya’ Richard, sounds like you really do care, and see your role is to support people to discern risk for themselves rather than try to control people.

      • TonyP

        Great Saying Richard, I’m stealing (borrowing) that one.

  • Dave J

    Good article. I also do not say I am a Safety Advisor anymore. I say I work in construction. I am tired of being sent out to be the policeman on site, its counterproductive to building good relationships.

    • Rob Sams

      ‘Goodonya’ Dave, aren’t relationships so important. You can’t have a relationship with a clip board 🙂

  • Gabrielle Carlton

    Wow Rob you’ve got people thinking, questioning, running and just plain not wanting to play the game. This is what the risk and safety industry needs. A good harsh touch of reality. The reality is we are so far removed from what most of us set out to do and that’s to support people. Now it’s all about telling, policing and compliance. You’ve hit a nerve because people find this a hard one….how do they ‘manage’ risk when they don’t police? You’ve given some great advice…when we start realising it’s about support, learning and assisting people to discern risk from their own perspective. Well done Rob I love it…there are more and more Potato Heads out there than we realise.

    • Rob Sams

      Thanks Gab (aka fell Potato Head), great to see the responses on here from our great community who see it as our role to support through having great conversations, not control through fear. Being a Potato is so cool

  • Rob, really enjoyed the article. You are definitely touching on some things that some see as sacred and beyond criticism (let alone discussion!) That is of course why this raising this stuff is necessary. I have some understanding (even sympathy) for people who are trying to ‘make’ others comply with good intentions – they face an impossible and usually muddled & confusing task and are often given the message that there is no other option. Those people are invariably doing their best and also deserve understanding, just like the rest of us (i.e. they are not mad, bad or stupid). Of course ‘compliance’ doesn’t have to mean “making” people do anything – but it has almost become synonymous with that – and it’s tough to break free while still being a credible voice in an organisation. I’m about to become a “risk and compliance consultant” for a NFP but my role will not be about command and control, procedures and rules (although I do think minimum systems are critical – like the system that enables this online discussion). I will be making my work about conversations, beliefs, behaviour, culture, questioning and challenging. I’m expecting it to be bloody difficult!

    • Rob Long

      Very astute reply Sam. All the best in your challenge.

    • Rob Sams

      Hi Sam, thanks for the feedback, I agree with Rob, very astute and some very good points amongst your thoughts. You are so right, we do need systems, procedures, rules and controls, just at a minimum so that we are all clear what is expected of us. I know you’ll do well in your new gig, as you are there for the right reasons. Good luck, and may you find courage in those difficult times. Cheers, Rob

  • Rod

    Great article Rob, its somewhat analogous with the traditional approach to Supervising and Coaching. Many people thrust into Supervisory roles think its about telling or dictating how things should be done, with the attraction being that its quick and easy and gives a feeling of being in control. Coaching on the other hand is about facilitating learning by providing choice. The compliance approach is limiting and doesn’t facilitate learning.

    • I guess we cant blame them Rod – they are usually just trying to emulate those before them and/or those who put them into that role. Many have not had a good role model, learning from them what not to do is not effective and most are not provided with appropriate tools, skills and knowledge. Even in an organisation that says they support all the good stuff, they only recognize and reward the traditional approach – the number of times I was told as a young site manager that I should not so friendly with the workers………..

      • Rod

        Yep, you are spot on and no doubt we have all fallen into that trap at times. For some reason its worse in the safety field. I think it really is about that feeling of being in control as ludicrous as it is

    • Rob Long

      I think your are spot on Rod. If learning is the focus then mutuality should be the method. It’s strange how the seduction of measurement so fills the space for safety yet the things that matter in life that are not measurable seem to be in so short supply. Unfortunately it has been made too easy to walk into the moment equipped with the Act and Regulation and thrive in the methodology of judgement, power and superiority. It’s a tough gig to facilitate learning when this paradigm dominates the airwaves, most not knowing what they don’t know. All the best with your work.

  • Geez Rob – you touched a nerve – had quite a few unsubscribe after reading this article – latest was a “Compliance Officer” from a large US resource company – LOL. Mission accomplished – we need to create discomfort as opposed to fear if anything is to change – shame that the message will now not be received by those who need it the most 🙂

    • Rob Sams

      I guess that’s what happens when people feel uncomfortable and don’t want to challenge their own thinking. For the Compliance Officer from a large resource company, I can only imagine the ‘mental gymnastics’ that they must have been going through. It’ll be interesting to see how people respond and see if people think the article is criticising ‘safety’ people, or supporting them. Amazing how many people only read the heading and make assumptions. I’ll keep you posted on the (expected) abuse I’ll cop on LinkedIn. Bring it on, if it’s what get’s people thinking, you’re right, mission accomplished.

      Thanks for your support Dave, great that you are brave enough to host this site and share all the learning with those that are interested.

      • Thanks mate – luvin it! Just added “mental gymnastics” to my current repertoire 🙂

        • Rob Long

          Dave, you really should join us on the Grad Cert.

          • Absolutely mate – count me in – I’ve seen the way that your students now see and speak about safety, risk and life in general and I cant wait to be a part of that journey 🙂

      • The positive is that I am seeing lots of “Likes” on LinkedIn – people are at least thinking subversively

  • Rob Long

    A clear articulation of the current status of culture in the industry, and I wonder how it got to this? What and who has been the driving force of this climate? Maybe it’s all those forces that don’t understand and don’t have a clue what they have created.

    I think your meeting in small groups and focusing on learning and thinking is excellent.

    • Yeah I like Robs idea of meeting in small groups. I think a lot of people think like we do in private but do not dare to question or ridicule established methods in public. Would be a great way to get all that off your chest and learn how others deal with it. Luving using the term “subversive” at the moment!

      • Rob Sams

        Our ‘Thinking Groups’ have been wonderful. Funny that we rarely talk about ‘safety’ and instead talk a lot about people. Nice!

        • Sensational idea mate – there are probably a number of little “subversive” groups out there. I am in several private email networks of recalcitrants – but they mainly bitch about the latest legislation and share stds and their latest complicated procedures! Perhaps you could write about how you set up this group, how you manage it, what you talk about etc so that others may be motivated and inspired to do the same.

          • Rob Sams

            Good idea Dave, onto it! I’ll work on another piece this week. I’ll talk to Gab too as she has some up and running too. It’s going to be hard not to have ‘subversive’ in the title 🙂

          • Rob Long

            The one I have been running in Canberra for about 6 years has been really good too. Often over breakfast and Coffee on the way to work. It just started by like minded people wanting to ‘meet’. Nothing special or formal really, no agenda, topic or secretary, very conscious that we weren’t organising anything but just wanting to share with like minded people who ‘get it’. It is a place where those interested in the psychology and culture of risk can share questions more than solutions and empathise with struggles in the bipolar world of managing risk.People are free to come and go and they do, but are mostly just invited because they have a thirst to learn and want to humanise in their job. The last thing we do is winge, it’s mostly about listening to how others do things and how they try to enact what they know.

      • Rob Long

        Dave, a great but heavy read is ‘The Politics of subversion’ be Negri, I also like Ellul on subversion and the politics of freedom too. Both are focused on more national and neo-marxist ideas but there are easy links to draw to the nature of social media and micro politics at work. In many ways I see the process of safety as a subversive activity and think it is weakened by mainstreaming and orthodoxy.

  • Rob Sams

    One of the challenges that people in ‘safety’ (and a lot of other roles for that matter, e.g. HR) face is the constant juggle between business objectives (e.g. bottom line, shareholder expectations, compliance and goals/targets) and ‘safety’. I feel privileged to work with a number of companies who respect the law (because they see it as society’s standards rather than being fearful of it) and who also understand that being in business is not all about making money.

    • I compare it a lot to the responsibility of being a parent (the most important job in the world) – you have to establish clear boundaries but also encourage creativity, imagination, learning, respect, growth, health, social interaction, risk taking etc etc etc etc all the while ensuring their safety.

      • Rob Sams

        I really get that Dave. When you are a parent you are in a relationship with your child, you are not the police. Great analogy I reckon. Maybe one of the challenges we face in ‘safety’ is that if it is all about fear, and treating people as an object as part of a process, means that we don’t develop relationships?

        • Perhaps if Leaders shared their fears and built better relationships, then each work group may understand what motivates the other. If employees better understood the multitude of pressures and fears that the boss had they could help and show him a better way of leading that they are more responsive to as opposed to his/her autocratic manifestation of what a leader should be and should do. I think it is incredibly powerful when all work toward a common, realistic goal and properly understand the risks, challenges, reasons, fears and barriers (would you call that resilience?) – as opposed to management leading toward a perfectionist goal in the name of safety, covering up all that is bad and with a big stick as a motivator. Just thinking aloud – someone else may be able to put this more eloquently 🙂

          • Rob Long

            Dave, you’d love the Unit we do in the post grad on following and leading in risk. The book that comes out soon reflects just what you stated. Kellerman and Riggio on Followership are essential reading for all those who are leading.

          • Look forward to it mate – then there are those who attempt it and get it horribly wrong by saying things like “Listen guys I know this safety stuff is bullshit but it’s what the company wants or I lose my job or go to jail”. If that were my boss I would spend my days working out ways to covertly and subversively make that happen!

        • Rob Long

          Absolutely Rob, my kids are now 29,31,33,36 and are our best mates. We walked together through many struggles but always with acceptance and trust, not control and power.

  • Rob L

    I’ve heard quite a few safety folk complain about how they “don’t understand why someone would….”
    That companies “don’t understand. How authorities “don’t have a clue”.
    I’ve heard safety folk attempt to moralize their arguments. Cite behavioural research out of context – often from studies with a tonne of internal validity but little real-world trial. Safety dudes and dudettes will submit reports with fancy graphics and wonder why they still aren’t being acted upon. They are forever highlighting the imminence of “potentially serious legal repercussions if……doesn’t happen soon” despite having minimal to no real understanding of legal machinations.

    Even if you don’t make the above errors, you are likely rocking-up to worksites that have built perceptions of safety folk on such legacy issues. You must overcome these if you are to find satisfying effectiveness from your efforts.

    Couple things for the un-satisfied safety person to consider:

    1. Companies are not governments. They don’t set the regulations and often have a limited understanding of how they are developed – so default to the same cynical view of things that most people engage when pressured. Companies are obliged to meet compliance requirements and satisfy shareholder profit expectations first and foremost – these things determine whether company managers keep their jobs.

    2. Ask many top-tier companies about safety consultants. Some will be full of praise. Many will be frustrated.If you are seeking some sense of praise, you need to understand what the company wants, and what it finds counter-productive and annoying. The most common errors which safety consultants make pertain to the way with which they embarrass or make companies and people feel deficient. Some will say that they have had to give the company the “hard truth” – but if there is conflict or dismissiveness towards your recommendations – this is an issue with communication more so than with the ideas being presented.

    3. Companies want authoritative advice. If they are spending a lot of money, they want someone who has more experience then they have. If the safety person is barely one-lesson ahead of the person who has to listen, this will be overt, even if not mentioned, by company people. Knowing the rules and believing you have some Jedi -guaranteed ability to read and ‘teach’ people’s minds is no longer enough convincing-expertise – companies expect that you can accurately demonstrate that you understand how they make money and tailor your approach to help achieve it.

    I’m a green WHS guy. Having guided several high-performing business people to the highest mountains about has nonetheless enlightened my perspective of what business people see when they interact with safety folk. That said, my understanding is not extensive.

  • Comment from Linkedin:

    Good luck with an organizing philosophy that says it’s OK not to be safe on the basis of personal choices. OKayyyyyyyyyyyy; just remember guys and girls, survival is not compulsory!

    • Rob Sams

      Oh dear

  • Ian Peters

    “Instead, I tell people that I enjoy learning about how people make decisions & judgments. My work is to share this learning and help people to discern risk themselves, not for me to do it for them. My work is to coach people and ask questions, not to control them, so that they can realise themselves that they may be in danger.”

    Couldn’t have put it any better myself.

    • Rob Sams

      Thanks Ian

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