OHS Canada Magazine

It’s time to connect the OH&S generations

In a world neck-deep in division, shared purpose is important


There are many differences between longstanding occupational health and safety professionals and the next generation, writes Christopher Hurley. (3asy60lf/Adobe Stock)

At a recent job, I was fortunate enough to be partnered up with a seasoned safety veteran, a real “OG” with a lot of experience and a lot of colorful stories.

It got me thinking about the differences and similarities between health and safety professionals across different generations.

Technically, the approaches vary — younger generations will be quicker to implement systems with tablets, and will inherently understand the benefits of a central electronic document storage.

Technical advances are the types of things that make new graduates giddy with the potential in front of them. 

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On the other hand, physical, paper forms should be a thing of the past, but some of our more-seasoned professionals still hold onto them tightly — under the auspices of “if it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist” — still an incredibly powerful and accurate statement.

Although occasionally reluctant to adopt more technologically advanced platforms, the on-the-floor confidence demonstrated by our seasoned pros always impresses me.

This job was no different, as my partner was laser sharp in pulling regulation sections from memory, assessing what appear to be unique situations, and having a story about a similar situation to utilize as a reference point.

The always patient, coach-like manner he presented in any given situation is something we can all learn from.

For some, this demeanour comes naturally. In a fast-moving demand-and-receive society, will our millennials and beyond pick this life skill up as easily as some of those that have come before?

Generational differences

This job was not an easy one, and although I’ve certainly been around for a while, I found myself enthralled by what my older partner was saying, his conversations with others, and his ability to really understand the dynamics of a complicated job. 

There’s been long periods in my career where I haven’t had a mentor, and even though I’m in my mid-40s, I always appreciate and respect the opportunity to learn from others.

We can’t know it all, even though many of us attempt this impossible accomplishment.

In my own time mentoring others, I’ve seen incredible resourcefulness from young and eager safety pros. It’s refreshing to see their energy and their ability to hunker down, research a problem and come up with high-quality, effective solutions. 

Despite this, it’s not uncommon for the older generation to talk about how doomed the business is as a result of the incoming troops.

In my experience though, it’s just not a concern. Our millennial counterparts will jump in with both feet and get the job to the finish line as safely as they possibly can.

At this point, I’m lucky enough to be looking ahead as well as behind, from a generational perspective. One thing that I find most fascinating between generations of safety professionals is the ability to care about people.

Everyone is mindful of schedule, costs, time — but at the end of the day, safety professionals — regardless of age — are in it for the people. The conversations, the demonstration of care, the ability to navigate conflict and challenges — it’s all in our wheelhouse.

In a world neck-deep in division, it’s important to look more for our shared purpose with each other — always endeavouring to drive relationships to a higher level. 

Leveraging and learning the knowledge of older generations is a given; we must also remain open-minded and curious about younger safety pros’ perspectives. 

Not only will that help us deliver on our commitment to all generations of workers, it will also drive cohesive teams and better overall safety performance outcomes.

That is something we can all enjoy, regardless if you were born in ’69 or ’99.

Christopher Hurley is the founder of Safety Services Canada in Caledonia, Ont.

This Safety Culture column was published in the November/December 2020 issue of OHS Canada.