• Peter Bateman
    In the Jan/Feb edition of Safeguard magazine we pose three questions based on stories in the magazine. One of them is this:

    Lawrence Waterman now acknowledges H&S is 5% technical and 95% about people. If you agree, what specific experience taught you that lesson? If you disagree, why?

    Feel free to respond here on the Forum, or privately here via a Survey Monkey form.

    An edited selection of responses will be published in the Mar/Apr edition, but with no names attached. One randomly selected person will receive a prize, namely a copy of the book Paper Safe, by Greg Smith.
  • Craig Marriott
    Hi Peter
    This very much depends on how you are defining safety. For someone working as an engineer designing process systems for a high hazard facility, it is very much more than 5% technical. There are still major people elements, because people design, operate and maintain the facility. In more manual activities it is more highly people dominated.
    It perhaps says more about our approach that we even try to put a number on it.
  • Derek Miller
    Hi Peter
    it all depends on how people are defining H&S. As an occupational hygienist on the H side of H&S it is far more than 5% technical. We should be arguing that H&S should always be 100% about the people and their short and long term health. The skill sets we each use will be a mix of technical and people ones and that will change on a job by job basis, but the bottom line is it is always about the people.
  • Peter Bateman
    To place Lawrence's view in context, attached is his piece in Safeguard.
    SG185 Waterman (789K)
  • Sheri Greenwell
    The answer is....yes and no!

    I am not much a fan of absolute binaries for describing things, especially when it is clear that most polarities exist on some form of continuum (e.g. MBTI characteristics, situational leadership, etc). Most people will have a "comfort zone" along that continuum, with preferences for a certain aspect that may be more fixed or more flexible - think of it as being a bit like being left-handed, right-handed or ambidextrous; some people can only use one hand and find the other a bit uncoordinated and useless, while others may cheerfully swap from one hand to the other with great ease (I used to watch someone do that on the tennis court to avoid having to hit a backhand shot!).

    I have long contemplated the apparent "disconnect" between the concept of health and safety being about "keeping people safe"....and the actual real-world approach adopted by most traditional organisations, in which the primary focus of safety programmes is prevention of incidents in which assets and / or reputation could be damaged, including legal penalties, and people are still generally (if unconsciously) thought of in terms of their work output than as individuals.

    Safety management itself could benefit from some meaningful root cause analysis to better understand its failings / shortcomings and opportunities to improve.

    The technical requirements, as underscored by both Craig and Derek, are absolutely critical in high hazard workplace environments. And the correct place for these technical skills and competencies is primarily in design, planning, and guidance on risk assessment, communication and training, and supporting development of appropriate management systems.

    The people requirements are absolutely vital for conveying critical safety requirements from the design and planning element of the organisation to implementation and BAU activities. Understanding people and the diversity of their values, needs, capabilities, etc is essential for everything from getting the right people for the work to be done safely (ie recruitment and selection, fit for the organisation and task, etc), developing teamwork and communication networks, and particularly for effective development of worker knowledge and skills.

    Far too often, "training" is a critical failure point because technical experts are tasked with delivering information, precisely because of their technical expertise, but the technical experts lack the people skills and understanding of effective LEARNING processes and neurological factors, resulting in workers who have been "certified" but are NOT actually genuinely competent in functional ways. This also arises because training has not been designed and developed according to effective instructional design principles, including clarity about the appropriate logical levels of competency to be achieved and how these will be assessed - those paper-based assessments are often not worth much more than the paper they are written on.

    There are actually at least 7 types or stages of learning processes, a range of sensory channels and preferences, individual personality types, values world views, and many other individual characteristics and variables, which then also have to consider the context of the organisation's culture and values, the industry in which the business operates, the actual workplace conditions, etc. These will never be addressed in a "one size fits all" approach, and burying one's head in the sand because of its complexity will only perpetuate the problems. Yes, it is complex, and no, it's not really something you can do once and "put on automatic" - that is why we are still struggling with it!

    To successfully navigate all these individual human factors, a safety practitioner really needs to have a pretty good grasp of the full spectrum, with the ability to responsively "flex" between technical and people skills according to requirements of the current context. This in turn is likely to vary according to a number of other external factors..... I've often suggested that my role is more like being a bridge between the most technical elements and key requirements, and the people who do the work. I make a point of understanding the purpose of safety requirements, use my skills and experience to develop rapport and trust, and figure out what each person needs. I figure out their obstacles and help them to find solutions that work for them, without taking over and creating more barriers and obstacles!

    Ultimately, only an individual can truly keep themselves safe, because I can't be everywhere and I don't have any remote controls for other individuals. All I can do is to help others to become aware, understand, commit and develop constructive mindsets. If I try to impose too much technical requirements without respecting their needs, I will only create resistance and make my job that much harder.
  • Michael Wilson
    He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata
    What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.

    You can find out the answers to technical questions but if you can't deal with people you are stuffed.
  • Peter Bateman
    I sent Lawrence Waterman a link to this thread. He replied that his "crude comment" about 5% technical and 95% people was designed to stimulate thinking, and that the responses in the Forum "are much more thoughtful than my throwaway remark deserved".

    Nevertheless, he adds:

    "More mature and experienced practitioners, in general, do focus on the people they are working with, working for and seeking to influence - but the noise meter, the air sampling pump, the measuring tape, the spreadsheet are still sometimes deployed as barriers to hide behind, and to generate “comfort tasks”. I was suggesting that, however perplexing and critical the technical issues are, we need to remember what we are in safety and health for, and to never let the technical become a smokescreen behind which we fail to develop the crucial human relationships based on mutual respect that can sponsor and maintain real improvements in the workplace."
  • MattD2
    I think you have summer used it nicely there Peter.
    I see a conflict here with "H&S" wanting to claim the field should be more focused on people relationships than technical knowledge, but also wanting to be seen as a real profession.

    As a Profession there needs to be a basis of technical competency (as well as a code of ethics, etc.), and for H&S I see this needs to include knowledge on both specific risks and management of those risks (e.g. confined space, warehousing and logistics, food and pathegens, etc.) as well as general business management (risk management, costs/benefits analysis, etc.) - which would define a competent H&S Professional in their specific field (just like you wouldn't ask an electrical engineer to design you a bridge).
    The People side come in regarding what makes a capable H&S Professional - being able to recite chapter and verse what the legislation or code of practice say regarding a specific situation and no more does not make you capable (even if you are competent), having the ability to use you knowledge to understand a situation and development the best approach to take (e.g. the influencing and collaboration aspects of " about people") that make a capable Professional.
  • Sheri Greenwell
    Just to further stimulate discussion on this thread....H&S covers a lot of ground and a lot of possibilities of specialist technical information. How much should we expect any one generalist safety practitioner to know, and where is the correct place for technical specialists?

    In my own case, I tend to think of my role as being aware of when specialist and more in-depth technical expertise is called for, and to leverage my professional network to get advice and a second opinion where appropriate, rather than trying to figure it all out on my own.
  • Nathan Gordon
    Hi Sheri. I agree with your point of view, well said.
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