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Achieving best practice in OHS: improving Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) by the application of knowledge management principles

posted on 2016-12-09, 00:58 authored by Verhagen, Clifford
Safety impacts on the lives of every person, every day, at home, travelling to work, at work and in recreation. Unfortunately, at times when safety breaks down people get injured and sometimes are killed. Work is an all too common place where these break downs occur. Every year in Australia, hundreds of people die at work and many more are permanently disabled; their lives and the lives of those around them will never be the same again. There have been many approaches by state and federal governments, unions and organisations to try and reduce this avoidable financial and moral cost to both society and workers alike. There are acts and regulations in every state with strict rules and harsh penalties for non-compliance. There are thousands of pages of associated codes of practice, guidelines and standards that support these legal requirements. Unions have worked hard for many years to push occupational health and safety through governments and organisations. Organisations have implemented many procedures, policies and standards themselves recognising the huge financial and legal exposure of poor safety. There has been many days of safety training both internally and externally provided to thousands of employees, which continues every day. Safety leadership has been driven through many large organisations to ensure management and employees alike understand the importance and reason for safety. Technology has played an important part contributing to drastic improvements in both mobile and fixed equipment to minimise the risk of an injury in such higher risk situations. In more recent times, concepts like behaviour-based safety and positive performance indicators have been introduced to improve safety. Indeed, all of these approaches have reduced the risk of injury in the workplace significantly. Nevertheless, hundreds of injuries and serious incidents occur every day, many of which could have been avoided. Hence, more needs to be done and the vision of an injury free workplace should never be forgotten. This study examines safety management and current practices to see if there is a better way than current approaches and how safety can be improved further from an overall strategic approach. It investigates whether another field, knowledge management, can be used to improve safety management performance. To do this, firstly an initial conceptual model was developed after an exploratory analysis and literature review. A comprehensive longitudinal study was then carried out in a large national Australian organisation to test the research question as to whether the practical application of knowledge management principles to safety can improve safety performance. The study involved methodical triangulation to combine a range of qualitative and quantitative data. The study, which ran over three years, positively supported the research question that knowledge management can be used to improve safety performance. This was achieved through applying sixteen practical safety applications using knowledge management principles. From this finding an overall framework and approach was developed which can be used by other organisations to improve their safety performance even further towards best practice. It is hoped that through this outcome that many other serious injuries and incidents are prevented, creating a better society and saving the lives and livelihoods of many more workers.


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Principal supervisor

Amrik Sohal

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Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Business and Economics

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