I was on a plane the other day. It was the end of a hard week and I just wanted to switch off and get home.  The guy next to me wanted to get home too I’m sure, but he certainly didn’t want to switch off! We started to chat, me grudgingly, he happily. It turned out to be one of the best conversations I have ever had with someone about work, health and safety and it went something like this.

I asked him what he did and he said he worked as a Construction Manager doing the “real” work on-site. He asked me what I did and I told him that I worked for myself helping businesses develop and implement work, health and safety systems as well as quality and environmental systems. He looked at me like I was a complete tosser. I don’t like feeling like a tosser so I decided to focus on him.

So I asked Joe what he thought made a good safety person. He was down to earth and direct in his response, which I like. He said it was the people who get off their backsides and out of the office to talk to the blokes doing the job, to listen to them.

The safety people who didn’t do this weren’t really doing their jobs. They were the tossers in the office. Joe said they didn’t know what happened in the real world, they actually believed that everyone read their SWMS and procedures, and all they cared about was whether someone had completed a bit of paperwork. As though that proved something. As far as Joe was concerned the only thing that completed paperwork proved was that someone was literate, and sometimes not even that!

But he did know a good safety guy. He spends most of the day outside with the blokes. He understands their jobs and he understands their problems because he is out there doing it and he is truly interested in what is going on. He doesn’t focus on the paperwork, he focuses on what is actually happening and how to do it safely. Joe said “Don’t get me wrong, if he sees someone doing something dangerous he tells them so. But then he works out why they were doing it that way and works with them to change it.”

Joe felt that the tossers in the office didn’t really give a damn about the safety of the blokes, they didn’t live in the real world, they didn’t know things, because they didn’t observe and they didn’t ask how things are done, they just told people what to do.

It was a great conversation. What Joe was saying was obvious yet enlightening at the same time. I wished I could bottle up his thoughts and pass them around. We need more Joe’s.