Welcome to the OHS Theatre!

Theatrics is defined as excessively emotional and dramatic behaviour and no person will ever see a better show than watching two Occupational Safety and Health Officers on a construction site. The curtain is called the Safety File. And the two actors are arguing on why this file is not approved. Do yourself a favour, and go see at an OHS Theatre near you!

Having said that, yesterday I received an email from a very irate OHS practitioner accusing WorkSafe of not understanding the value of the OHS profession. Officially, WorkSafe do understand its value but adding this value so-called “Best Practices” is limited in efficacy, time consuming, and often borders on theatrics.

To understand the concept of the WorkSafe philosophy it would be best to explain it in “OHSALESE”.

OHS practice is based on a Hierarchy of Controls, which starts with elimination, and ends with Personal Protection. While OHS professionals functions in the bottom two tiers, the WorkSafe practitioner functions in the upper three tiers, the bulk of which is in Engineering Controls. What caused the anger of the OHS practitioner who sent the email is therefore explained in response to this:

“I don’t get why you discriminate against OHS professionals. OHS is a multidisciplinary field and it is our job to manage all of it. OHS is not a HR Function, but an executive function. I report directly to the CEO and I determine what goes and who goes. I will not allow any WorkSafe member on any of our sites.”

The writer is correct. OHS is a multi-disciplinary function. But, it goes further than the OHS Box. Thinking outside that box, is where the problem lies.

There are four requirements for a business to operate. Premises, Plant, People and Place. While the latter is the environment in which it operates, the others fall inside the scope of OHS.

The first, Premises, falls in the scope of the Built Environment. This includes Design Engineers, Civil Engineers, Structural Engineers, QS’s Architects, and yes, in SA also the CHS professionals.

The second, falls in the scope of Engineering, as it deals with plant and equipment of a mechanical and electrical nature. Engineering also has many subfields, such as Systems Engineering, Safety Engineering and Idustrial Engineering, which impacts on the third aspect – People.

People do the work, be it filling in a checklist or building a Bugatti Veyron. These are called “occupations” and could be anything from a beggar to a CEO if one looks at the wide scope of the Organising Framework for classification of Occupations (OFO). Des Squire wrote an article on it here.

And finally, the Place in which all of the above happens is the Environment, internal as well as external Animate as well as Inanimate.

In the circle of life, homo sapiens in its desire to self-actualisation according to Maslow’s theory of needs, people are affected by all of the above, and the nature of the effect impacts only on two things. Their Safety, and their Health. And while death itself is the only 100% safe place, we have to do the best in ALL of the above to prevent death; a futile exercise all the same.

And the reason we have separated us from them (OHS), in our world of duality, is illustrated by these two paradigms:

Safe workplaces provide safe occupations.

Safe occupations require Safer workplaces.

Read it again, and ponder on it for a while. Perhaps the proverbial penny will drop.

WorkSafe stands for the first paradigm. And that is why we discriminate between (And not against) OHS and Operational Safety.

Through safety focused engineering design, construction and operation, places, premises, and plant will be safe for people.

How is OHS different?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is a branch of public health aimed at improving workplace health and safety standards. It studies injury and illness trends in the worker population and offers suggestions for mitigating the risks and hazards they encounter on the job. (Safeopedia.com)

Occupational safety and health (OSH), also commonly referred to as occupational health and safety (OHS), occupational health, or occupational safety, is a multidisciplinary field concerned with the safety, health, and welfare of people at occupation. (wikipedia.com)

OHS, or Occupational Health and Safety, is a multidisciplinary practice dealing with all aspects of health and safety in the workplace, with a strong focus on preventing workplace hazards.

And there you have it…

If the health inspector prevents all diseases, the doctor will be jobless.

If the Safety Engineer design a safe workplace, the OHS officer will be jobless.

Globally there are more companies with a history of zero injuries than companies with a DIFR, there are very few countries that force employers to appoint “OHS” Officers.

The ILO estimates that some 2.3 million women and men around the world succumb to work-related accidents or diseases every year. Out of 7,7 billion people, that is a fatality rate of 0.03% in 2020.

Machines are getting safer, Cars are getting safer, products are getting safer. Yet, accidents still happen and that is why there is a need for the OHS practitioner. To say to us…”you missed a spot”.

But, no, that would be too complicated. It would require a skills set of an engineering field. So it’s easier to say to us “Do it this way as it’s best practice.”

Perhaps Terminator had a point. It’s time for the machines to revolt!







Leave a Reply

More like this...

Why directors and managers need to “get involved” in Safety

It is common practice for directors and managers to send their safety officers on courses and seminars relating to Occupational Health and Safety in the workplace. But where these seminars are aimed at Board and Exco level, there’s a very good reason why the safety officer should be excluded. “If you are calling from Vodacom,...

This content is for Director's Club and Founding Members SA only.
Login Join Now