Posted on: September 19, 2009 Posted by: Diane Swarts Comments: 0

If some members of your work team are not SHEQ competent in their own garage, tool shed, hobby den, or kitchen at home, they require training and supervision before going onto your shop floor, writes editor SHEQafrica.

Home jobbing is a good place to learn SHEQ competence, and the best place to entrench safety culture. Employers are reluctant to discuss off-the-job safety, but our industrial culture may well depend on taking safety home.

Like most boys, I learned basic mechanical risk competence at home, in my father’s garage. Among that treasure trove of materials, tools, gadgets, and old magazines, lie at least ten potentially fatal risks, and the gradual path to skills, ideas, experimentation, personal growth, and alchemical transformation.

In the garage, the eternally human impulses of modification versus supervision, productivity versus loss, completion versus finesse, procurement constraints, near misses, stress, exposure, and pain, play themselves out like animated snakes and ladders.

I was fortunate to have had qualified supervision in the garage some years ago, when vehicle, appliance and home maintenance sustained the art of loss management. I also had five years of qualified mentoring at a technical school with four workshops. Thanks to all this practical training, coaching, and some luck, I escaped with one major chemicals exposure, two lost time injuries, and twenty-odd minor injuries.

Many younger technicians missed out on home and formal practical training, and remain more prone to the quality of their management systems, coaching, and luck.

Home supervision in general ‘garage practice’, like practical technical training, and mentorship, are all in decline. Apprenticeships are supposedly replaced by practical unit standards and assessment of assignments, but everyone knows they are not working. Simulators and touch-screen testing are rising to the occasion, but there are no simulators for real-time teamwork jobs yet.

The recent deaths of two workers in a tyre pyrolysis explosion, while heating wheel nuts with a welding torch, are among many warnings that practical competence is in decline.

The divide between formal training and practice is growing ever further apart, despite lip service to ‘practical elements’ in vocational training and at tertiary level. An engineer in Vereeniging whom I met last month, sums it up: “I learned more engineering on my first night shift, than in years at university.” Educators, trainers and employers should think long and hard about the SHEQ implications of this real life statement, though it may be a slight exaggeration.

In the thick of things at work, as soon as a job leads outside straight and narrow procedures, people follow their unconscious competencies, based on long practice, or on observing role models. Competence is best defined by what people do, not what they know.

And what they do is best observed in the garage at home. Workers are expected to bring ingrained safety practice to work, and to take some of their safety training home, but the synergy is seldom complete. We teach teams to apply the same SHEQ principles to different jobs, but it takes practice to apply risk skills two worlds of different ownership, scale, budget, and motivation.

Behaviour, rooted in unconscious competence, tends to standardise between work and home worlds. Competence, like the cultural habits loosely named ‘breeding’, will show up in incident figures.

Employers should promote the idea of competence in work and home life. To bring safety to work, we have to ‘take it home’ and the other way around. To get the ball rolling, employers could introduce a ‘home job’ toolbox talk and a ‘garage job’ simulation.

Leadership often requires no more than example and permission to create and develop aspects of an ideal. One of the elements lacking in our highly diverse national culture, is the ideal of life skills and job skills growing together.


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