Health and Aged Care

Safety Insights: Success and Failure Stories of Practitioners

Nektarios Karanikas with the cover of the book Safety Insights: Success and Failure Stories of Practitioners that he co-edited Maria Mikela ChatzimichailidouNektarios Karanikas is an Associate Professor in Health, Safety and Environment at QUT, and an internationally renown expert in Safety Management. He is a member of many professional bodies spanning Engineering, Project Management, Aviation Safety and Occupational Health and Safety.

Nektarios co-edited the book Safety Insights: Success and Failure Stories of Practitioners with Maria Mikela Chatzimichailidou. Nektarios caught up with Cynthia to talk about the book as well as safety in Australia.

Tell me a bit about your background, and what inspired you to write this book?

Originally an aeronautical engineer, I moved into the safety management space after I studied my master’s degree back in 2007 and became actively engaged in various safety programmes while working in the defence sector. My passion for improving safety management practices within organisations led me to start my doctoral studies in safety & quality management, after which I switched to a full-time academic career.

In my observation, safety practitioners are excellent in promoting their own successes and even better in pointing to the failures of others. My co-editor, Mikela, and I launched this book because we wanted to offer a platform where courageous practitioners could share positive and inconvenient experiences from the safety field. Thus, my vision to show the two sides of the safety coin, successes and failures through the lenses of the same actors.

Your book examines more than 30 case studies across various industries. What is the most common mistake that people/organisations make when thinking about safety?

Since safety is something immaterial, a construct, and people cannot sense it, they tend to put it aside or take it for granted. Most of us are aware of what non-safety looks like when we deal with injuries and damages. Therefore, we think that if negative incidences do not occur, we are safe. However, this can be true only when we are confident that the absence of unfavourable situations is due to effective organisational, local and personal management, rather than the outcome of luck and randomness.

What would be most important learning that you want readers of your book to come away with?

Safety is not a black and white area; however, fatalities, injuries and damages are. You are injured or not, but you can never be absolutely sure if you are safe or not. I believe the shared message emerging from all the stories of this book is that no approach to safety is inherently flawed or foolproof. Every safety tool, technique and method developed through science or best practice has its place if we are knowledgeable of its intended purpose, strengths and limitations.

What do you see as some of the major safety challenges facing Australian businesses in our current times?

Despite the productive debates about safety, which are necessary to improve but might generate false impressions, Australia has a very good regulatory framework and national and regional professional bodies with excellent initiatives. The first challenge is how to reach the small and medium business that do not have the resources to observe safety developments in the way that large enterprises do. A second challenge is how to integrate safety thinking into business thinking across all organisational levels. If we approach safety as something separate, immediately we perceive it as an add-on and not something to pursue systematically and together with all business objectives.

Could you say something about the value of the Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) Management course, and how it can help with safety challenges?

Our course offers a comprehensive overview of the different aspects of managing OHS at an enterprise level. We cover various OHS management approaches, the role and requirements of relevant standards and legislation, and major OHS management areas including risk and change management, safe design and OHS performance, emergency preparedness, investigations, auditing and culture. Nonetheless, we do not provide ready-to-digest solutions. We emphasise the combination of systematic and systems thinking towards the development of resilient organisations. We want to educate well-balanced safety thinkers and doers.

Associate Professor Nektarios Karanikas also teaches the professional development short course(s) Occupational Health and Safety Management and Human Factors and Ergonomics. Find out more or register your interest here.

QUTeX short courses and professional development

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In my current role as QUT Faculty of Health Director Knowledge Transfer and Partnership Development I am responsible for the development of mutually beneficial partnerships and knowledge transfer between industry, government and community organisations in support of QUT’s Real Health Matters strategy and its Executive Education Flagship, QUTeX. My passion, experience, business career and academic interests focus on innovation at the intersection of health and wellbeing with technology and social change. Before joining QUT I worked with the mining sector on lost time injury data as well as a diverse range of other research projects. The opportunity provided by Safety Insights to update and delve deeper into current practice is a real treat; delivering take-aways for strategic decision-making, stakeholder engagement, learning and teaching, research and innovation, quality and safety, and risk management. I think, like many in the field, my interest in OHS issues began almost accidentally, when I was elected the undergraduate student rep on the chemistry laboratory safety committee at ANU. It is a thread that has continued to weave its way through my working life in university, government, private and not-for-profit Executive and Board roles. There is nothing like personal responsibility that is enshrined in legislation to focus the attention of executive and non-executive Directors’ alike! This is something we are fortunate to have in place in Australia, but as Nektarios points out there is still much to be learned and done to ensure that safety thinking is embedded and embodied in everything that we do.

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