Being experienced doesn’t guarantee you’re a safer worker or better at your job – sometimes being around the block leads to complacency. So, how can employers keep their people safe?

Read on to find out what I discovered during a recent conversation with my brother-in-law David, an Australian earth-moving business owner.

David and I were discussing a horrific work accident that happened last year. One of his workers decided to ignore safety instructions and turn his grader around in a rather precarious position instead of driving further up to where it was safer. The end result? The grader and worker ended up at the bottom of the ravine a lot faster than intended.

With life threatening injuries and a grader completely written off, my brother-in-law was quite rightly upset about the whole ordeal. His primary concern was his worker, who’s now gone through months of rehabilitation and counselling to get ‘work-ready’.

“How do you feel about him coming back to work?” I asked David.

“I’m rapt to see this guy back on his feet. I’m looking forward to having him back – he’s one of my best men,” he explained. “He’s just like an old dog, and we have to remember to treat him like that.”

At first, I was a little stunned and thought he was being derogatory, but he went on to explain that just like an old farm dog, he occasionally bumped into things, due to complacency and over confidence.

He wasn’t being insulting. In fact, quite the opposite. I could tell he really cared for the “Old Dog”. He was just stating the obvious – older workers might not be as sharp as they used to be.

Beware of the ‘She’ll be right’ approach

David told me that while his younger guys were high risk because they didn’t have the experience of the “Old Dogs”, he felt his more experienced employees were equally at risk and was intent on protecting them.

“The older workers, who’ve been in the game for 20 years, sometimes find shortcuts or overlook certain things because that’s just the way they’ve always done it.”

He went on to explain that the biggest downfall with “Old Dogs” is they get to a point where they take the “She’ll be right, mate” approach to everything – which can lead to disaster as per David’s example.

Look after the ‘old dogs’

With new technology, stronger machinery and faster ways of operating, it’s even more important to keep Health and Safety a top priority. We’ve got to make sure the “She’ll be right” attitude isn’t passed onto the younger generation in a work environment where people could be at risk.

Senior workers need to be run through the Health and Safety procedures and follow instructions, so they set a good example for the young pups. While some may not agree with everything, it’s important to consider everyone in the company, not just themselves.

David believes the employer has a big role to play in ensuring everyone is safe.

“As newbies get older the physical attributes start to fade, just like a veteran rugby player or cricketer, and there are some things they can’t do any more. It’s our job as employers to recognise this and put in place strategies to protect them and those around them.”

Soon after this discussion with David, my father-in-law arrived, and I was reminded how he’d fallen into one of the garage pits years earlier. The pit had been there for 40+ years (as had he) but complacency and being distracted caused him to accidentally fall in, closely followed by a dotty Jack Russell. Luckily neither were hurt, but it certainly highlights the sentiments of what David was saying.

Let’s look after our old dogs everyone! But more importantly, let’s get our old dogs looking after the pups by embracing health and safety.