Reporting safety hazards and other issues – a gift to the University
Traditional safety thinking does not always translate easily into an organisation like ours. Hazard reporting is a good example of this. In a factory, workers will report hazards and safety problems to management as workers themselves are often powerless to effect change; they expect that management will act to fix the problems they identify. Within an organisation like the University the level of education, knowledge and autonomy of our laboratory, field work or workshop staff gives them the ability to quickly rectify hazards that they have identified themselves. Reporting those hazards to management rarely occurs because it is viewed by the staff themselves as wasted effort.
Hazard reporting with respect to our research and development operations, teaching operations or our infrastructure area often comes from outside of the local group managing the operation. This occurs usually when someone external to the group is looking to bring the matter to someone’s attention so that an issue or hazard can be considered and addressed.
In the University the reporting of a hazard or indeed the follow up questions may at times be met with a negative reaction. This might be because we resent the extra work or it may be that we are concerned that the report reflects badly on us. We can sometimes fail to see the opportunity being afforded to us to thank the person reporting the safety issue for the opportunity to reconsider how things might be done in a safer way. We should consider it a gift.
Why should we consider a hazard report as a gift?
It is the reporting of a safety issue that provides an opportunity for us to consider it and act before it potentially causes injury and/or damage to our research or teaching programs. A hazard report is a little like someone who points out that there is a potential error in the calculations or logic in a draft research paper – better to know before we publish it so that the calculations or the logic can be adjusted before publication.
The management approach to the reporting of safety issues, whether they are hazard reports (incidents that did not involve an injury) or injury reports, is also critically important. Management should see reports as a positive thing; again as a gift. An injury report that we learn from, where we are enabled to take the steps that will prevent future injuries, is a positive thing. How management reacts to the reporting of safety issues will ultimately have a large influence over the areas safety reporting culture. Obviously no one wants people to be injured, but once the injury has occurred a focus on prevention rather than blame is what supports a good safety culture.
If the management response is to thank individuals and areas for reporting then it will encourage a healthy volume of reporting. If the management response is perceived to be a negative one, if the message received (unintended or not) is that management isn’t happy to receive reports, then safety issues will not be reported and the opportunity to consider them will be lost until a major issue or catastrophe occurs that cannot be concealed.
Safety management is about prevention.
Safety reporting is about opportunities to prevent injuries and other impacts to our research and teaching programs.
How we respond to the gift of a safety report lays in our hands.
The approach to hazard reporting and to safety investigations within an organisation talks a lot to the existing safety culture of that organisation and can impact on the future direction of the safety culture. Organisations with a positive safety culture generally view a safety report where no one was injured and where there was no damage (to facilities or programs of work) as a gift. I want to encourage you to think about safety reports in the same way.
Gerald Buttfield, Director HSW
The University of Adelaide