Introduction

First let me apologise to J.K. Rowling; Paraphrasing your title was a mark of respect, for I thought it conveyed part if not all of just what it was I wanted to get across in this paper.

Very recently I had a communication from another safety professional organisation, it said, "You have been a member for 25 years. Thank you!" This, believe it or not, started me thinking as to just what I have learned in those 25 years plus as a safety professional and what legacy I would be able to leave when I finally complete my career. Could I say that I have left the working environment a ‘safer place?’ Could I leave anything positive behind me?

So this paper then is a reflection on those 25 years in the ‘business’ as a way of leaving to the newly qualified, appointed safety professional some thoughts as to navigating through that minefield of application of the theory and what is practical in the working environment.

When I started in this ‘safety profession,’ I was convinced that there were some secrets, some magic bullet that, if I discovered it, I would not only find my fame and fortune but would make a major contribution to the safety and welfare of my work colleagues.

I didn't appreciate that there was even such a concept as a ‘wicked problem’ and that is something bears a few moments of our time to explore. The concept of a wicked problem was, as far as I can see, first outlined by Horst W.J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber, two Berkeley professors in an article published in Policy Sciences during 1973. (1) Before we get too technical, it will be worth defining the difference between tame and wicked problems:

  • A tame problem is in essence one for which we know the starting point and we know when we have a successful outcome to the solution that we have devised and implemented.

  • A wicked problem is therefore one in which there a degree of uncertainty as to the causation and certainly difficulty in ensuring a successful outcome.

Let me try and put that into a ‘safety related’ issue. It is well understood that working with computers (display screen equipment) can cause a multitude of physical ailments, (work-related upper limb disorders). It is probably fair to say that this is well understood by not only those of us in the safety profession but also by the vast majority of individuals within the general public as well.

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