Role of the safety professional
by the late George Robotham
It is interesting to read job advertisements and see what employers expect of OHS personnel. Statements are often made that the OHS person is to be responsible for implementing and managing OHS. Of course this flies in the face of management obligations at both common and statute law. With one company I worked for we had OHS Advisors not OHS Managers, the term OHS Manager was not used because OHS was seen as a line management function and not the responsibility of the OHS person who advised management.
Shortsighted companies think they employ safety people and these people will look after safety. The more progressive companies often do not have many dedicated OHS personnel, management and supervisors are so well trained and effective in safety that few dedicated safety personnel are required. Safety personnel should report to the senior officer so the function has some chance of being perceived as being of importance. The danger when you have too many safety people is that line management gets the safety people to manage safety not themselves. Safety is a line management function and safety personnel should be seen as specialist adviser.
In their keenness many inexperienced safety personnel get over involved in doing safety and take the responsibility away from supervision and management. By all means assist them to do their safety job but do not do it for them.
I recall visiting one organization that won a prestigious industry safety award. They had no safety staff, no health & safety representatives and no safety committee. When questioned the Managing Director said all employees are our safety officers, all employees are our health and safety representatives and all employees are on the safety committee. They invested considerably in training all employees in safety, a similar approach was taken in other functions.
The organization was the benchmark for the industry in many management aspects, interestingly they went broke after about 5 years operation.
I find it difficult to think an OHS person can be effective if he is not a bit of a stirrer and questioner of the status quo. Always research issues thoroughly so you are sure of your facts and be prepared to stand your ground. There will be times when unreasonable demands are made for you to compromise your safety principles.