Why we are making no progress in safety – and there is no light at the end of the tunnel

There is very little knowledge development in safety in Australia; so close you could call it none. A review of scientific journals would probably show this to be true – at least that is my hypothesis – but no one will do research on that either.  No one will even study why there is no research because there is no one to do it and no interest from the body that funds research.  Research in Australia (generally not safety-specific) is funded publicly by the Australian Research Council.  The Council distributes close to one billion dollars per year ($811.3M to be precise). Occupational health and safety is not one of the Australian Research Council priority areas and never has been.  Why is this?  Apparently it is a huge problem?  The reason is that occupational health and safety has been seen as a contest between employers and employers. There has not been a view that there is anything to learn. Hence the focus has been on the contest rather than knowledge.  The roots of that are in the history of workplace law and the master/servant relationships. Employers have the safety, employees want the safety, and the government is the umpire that decides the right amount.  From this we get entrenched political systems that say that anything about safety must be decided by tripartite bodies – read political – rather than scientific bodies.  Science/knowledge is not needed.  The philosophy has been, and generally remains, that the quality of workplace safety is (a) governed by actions and decisions in the workplace; and is (b) a contest over the amount that should be provided.  Neither of these things are true.  This is the basic cause of the lack of knowledge and knowledge development in Australia. It is also a fundamental cause of the lack of sustainability (let alone growth) of learning institutions in the safety sciences whose seedlings emerged over recent decades but were not nourished.  We have reached the situation where we have virtually no research output on the topic and flagging instead of growing education environment.  There is no light in the end of this tunnel. 

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About John Culvenor

Hi, Thank you for taking a look at this blog. I work in engineering, ergonomics, creativity, design, training, etc. Often this is about helping solve legal puzzles through accident analysis. Sometimes it is about thinking up better designs for equipment, workplaces, and systems. This blog is about good design and bad design, accident analysis and how it can be done better, and how we can make a better, safer world by design!
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