Australasian Universities Safety Association (AUSA) Conference

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Australasian Universities Safety Association (AUSA) Conference

“What’s the stupidest thing we’re asking you to do to work here?”

This the take home question Dr Sidney Dekker suggested that employers ask their employees during his keynote address at the Australian Universities Safety Association (AUSA) Conference in Newcastle on Tuesday, 26 June. mlcoa was proud to sponsor the AUSA conference where the theme was ‘From the Old to the New’.

Dr Dekker certainly rocked the old assumptions we have made about keeping our workforce safe. He challenged the existing safety paradigm, arguing that we need to move away from beaurocratic implementation of rules and guidelines and to move instead towards driving safety from the bottom up, with the workers doing the job leading the way. He suggested that we can restore the dignity of work, reduce cynicism regarding safety management practices and even reduce fatalities by asking frontline workers what needs to be done regarding safety and listening to their concerns with an open and curious mind.

Dr Dekker’s presented an unequivocal call to action: we must report injuries and incidents in our workplace if we are to keep employees safe. Only when employees are welcomed to report injuries and near-misses, are workplaces equipped to make meaningful changes to safety practices and improve safety outcomes. Paradoxically, the research proves that the more workplace incidents and injuries are reported, the fewer fatalities occur. These reports are an opportunity to listen, assess and improve workplace practices and hence prevent more fatalities at work. By viewing incidents as ‘an investment that has already been made’, management can focus on getting a return on this investment by essentially learning from these mistakes. Put simply, embracing small failures helps prevent big failures.

He acknowledged that this approach may seem confronting to those accountable for safety at work. Dr Dekker insisted that when ‘zero harm’ policies are implemented, harm is actually done- as workers do not feel free to report incidents as they happen, they cover up and management is under pressure to demonstrate positive statistics regarding rates of injury.

Simplifying safety management, by decluttering, decentralising and devolving, is the way forwards to improve workplace safety and reduce risk, according to Dr Dekker. By deferring to the expertise of the frontline worker and providing them with the power and autonomy over how they do their tasks, employers can increase individuals’ internal motivation to be proactive with safety and concurrently reduce fatalities.

Watch out for changing ‘safety signs’- looks like big changes ahead for employees and safety leaders!

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