Why my safety threatens the safety of wildlife

by Dave Collins on March 13, 2014

in PPE,Risk Aversion

Why my safety threatens the safety of wildlife

Great recent article on the Safety Differently Blog Posted by Terry Reis

imageTerry writes about something we all lament, about a time, not so long ago, when safety wasn’t the painful and, often times, ridiculous burden it is today. It was something you could discern for yourself, take personal responsibility for and then practically and efficiently manage the real risks to you and your colleagues. Yeah, lots have changed in regards to technology, administration, regulations and controls over the last 30 odd years but have generic inductions, convoluted procedures, more rules and blanket PPE policies etc really improved safety? I VERY MUCH DOUBT IT!


Last year I saw a photo of two blokes who were conducting a fauna survey in Queensland in 1978. One is wearing a shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a pair of ‘stubbies’ (very short shorts for the more youthful and urbane among you). The other is also wearing stubbies, and nothing else other than (possibly) underwear. He is either bare-footed or in thongs. The grass makes this difficult to ascertain but he is certainly not wearing shoes or boots. Neither wears a hat and one carries a rifle and a bag slung over his shoulder. This bag may contain water, a first aid kit and other items for their safety. But I doubt it.

This photograph resonates with me as I put out my first Elliot trap as part of a fauna survey circa 1978, although I wore a shirt to cover my less-than-manly chest and didn’t carry a firearm. I continue to conduct fauna surveys, mostly when I work as a consultant and hence often for mining or coal-seam gas companies (yes, I do sleep at night). But how I long for those halcyon days of the late 70s when you could be blissfully unconcerned about your personal safety and that of your colleagues.

This is because my health and safety is now paramount in the minds, or at least procedures, of many of my employers. Apparently, nothing is of greater import to them. Before I can step forth to even glance at a bird or lunge at a lizard I must show proof that I have undergone rigorous training and seemingly endless, repetitive and largely inappropriate inductions. Strangely enough, I am seldom asked for proof that I can actually identify fauna. The details of what transpires before I venture forth into the field could be a tome in itself, but let’s just deal with the field work.

The burdens of safety
It is commonplace that I am obliged to wear a hardhat (even in treeless paddocks); high-visibility clothing (presumably so wildlife can elude me more easily); long-sleeved shirts with the sleeves buttoned at the wrist; long trousers; steel-capped boots; and safety glasses. I may be required to wear gloves, or at least have them hanging from my belt for ease and speed of deployment. I may not be allowed to carry a knife (let alone a gun), but I may have to carry a GPS (for my safety rather than recording the location of fauna), EPIRB, UHF radio, first aid kit, five kilograms of water, sunscreen, insect repellent and, albeit rarely, a defibrillator.


  • Will do Rob.

  • Mark Jentsch, the characteristics of a cult are well defined and a few things discount that possibility eg. transparency, secrecy, hero cult leader and so on. Happy to discuss off line.

  • Mark

    I agree Dave that there is still ‘some’ morals etc left over from the past, but its hard to really grasp the context in which way these morals are being used today. It is like the leader who uses humble inquiry to get their own way, as they know this trick can make the pathway to their goal so much easier. You will never see a con salesman being anything but humble until you decide not to sign that line that is.

    It’s also hard to believe that many leaders are trying to do the right thing because so many ‘large scale’ accidents show continual lack of care. I have read every book/paper of Andrew Hopkins amongst many other means I can on incidents, and I dare anyone to show me evidence that safety was taken seriously in any of these cases. The evidence is overwhelming disappointing time and time again. If these incident could have been hidden, they would have been buried.

    I will not apologies for my cynical views in regards to this matter, as I, have not seen any evidence while I was in safety that convinced me that safety is a proactive measure to care for its workers. I also would go as far as to say that if there was no legislation or means to sue for injury at work, I don’t think many companies would be concerned with spending big dollars on safety. Safety would be left up the managers, foreman etc (for which i feel it should be anyway).

    In regards to safety being fixed on its own, this is because many organizations operate in Silos. Safety is still very much a Silo and is widely treated as a separate entity…I think the reason for this is because it’s seen as what I would call a “unnecessary necessary”. This is a good point you raise though about safety separation.

    I agree a company is in business to make money, that is why I went into business many years ago. But making money sometimes requires insurances. By this I mean in the general sense; insurance that workers wear PPE and follow rules. For these things are what is measured in a court of law, and at the end of the day, this is all that matters in proving your duty of care. A court may take into consideration the silver bullet system you are using, but many silver bullets are not the law.

    If safety is to work, it needs to get back to the bare basics.

  • Mark Jentsch

    the ideology of the cult would indicate it is localised or somewhat contained. This issue occurs across the broadest cross section of the community. In which case to think differently is an aberration – perhaps by trying to set up a ground swell of dissent or disagreement we are establishing a cult. 🙂

  • I don’t think much of this is about safety at all, this is much more about obedience to authority and enculturated power. It is amazing to observe the dynamic of mindless conformity and the empowerment of tyranny masquerading as safety. The ideology of the cult is the sub text for this discourse.

  • Mark Jentsch

    It’s an interesting perspective that is introduced when there is a perceived failing in safety.

    If it’s to lax, then the employer is at fault because they don’t want to spend the money and don’t care about the employees.

    If it’s to tight, then the employer is also at fault because they want to save money and don’t care about the employees.

    If it’s just right it’s because the workers have twisted the employers arm and taken charge of safety.

    The cheap shots at employers are easy. Let’s hope that we don’t choke as we have our cake and eat it too.

  • Mark

    Its a con for the reason we think we can truely provide safety outside of tangible controls. If we could control the human and make them safe, then all this stuff that band aids would not be needed. We hand out band aids to all, because we measure by what the worst thing that has happened. Someone by mistake cuts themselves then this act costs money, then to reduce this cost, we try and reduce future cost by wearing gloves. The company does not care about the injury, they care about the cost and reputation. The fear a company has to report an injury or incident is amazing , all those managers and safety people running around trying to justify an act is pathetic…we know incidents happen, why try and hide this …money

    Its a con because safety is not about people in most cases.

    • Having worked in Corporate Risk roles I can tell you that there are many, many drivers for the way things are. Its not just the cost of accidents, for doing things aimed at preventing those can cost many times more. You identified some of the others – reputation, legal compliance, winning contracts etc but there is, believe it or not, still some morals and ethics at those levels. It is difficult for board members to think and act otherwise as all that ever reaches them is numbers, things they want to hear and slick salesmen who promise them the magic bullets – they will certainly pay big bucks for that. I really believe they think they are doing the right things as they don’t know otherwise and nor do the people below them (the ones hired as “experts”). The other problem is that they try and fix safety on its own or differently to all of the other things that drive a good holistic company culture. We cant blame a company for wanting to make money as that is why they exist. The trick is to show them how to do both (oh and make them think it was their idea LOL). There is something bigger that causes all of these corporates to act the way they do and fear what they do and its not just money and lack of ethics. Even when they realize that what they are doing is not working (ie zero harm) how do you just let go and embrace a new way when the corporate world is geared the way it is and they have invested so much into it?

  • Mark

    Like this….

    Remember, it’s not that the company wants to save you, it wants to save itself. It will do this by telling you everything you need to do to be safe, tell you everything you need to wear to be safe, so when you fail to be safe, they can say they gave you everything you needed to be safe, therefore, it’s your fault not theirs, (so they think anyway).

    Safety is a CON!

    • Unfortunately I think you are right in a way Mark. Not sure it is a con, our safety is in their interests for many reasons but injuries are not good for business. It is easy to be cynical about it but there will be individuals in the company that are genuinely concerned its just that they and the company don’t know of any better way of doing this stuff and they cause more harm than good.

  • Rules always come before outcomes Dave.

    Though a simple question to ask is “Where is the Risk Assessment?”

    Properly done, sensibility will be introduced into the activity.

    • Rules are usually made AFTER outcomes caused by the actions of a minority and then imposed without proper assessment to control the majority. Yeah why don’t we question these things – often they evolve because nobody has thought or been too scared to do that.

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