Today, you can access the entire collection of information used to create university-level health and safety programs, for free.  Today, you could sign-up for an MBA, and in a year from now have an MBA, for free.  If you haven’t done either of these things, and you probably haven’t, there’s a reason.  For the people who have taken that first step, almost all of them drop out and walk away.  This is a story about the rationality of never starting and of giving up, and how we can create the conditions for you and those around us to actually get better. 

Hey, it’s Andrew, and this is Safety on Tap. 

Since you’re listening in, you must be a leader wanting to grow yourself and drastically improve health and safety along the way.  Welcome to you, you’re in the right place.  If this is your first time listening in, thanks for joining us and well done for trying something different to improve! And of course welcome back to all of you wonderful regular listeners.

I worked in an organization in which it was normal for people to talk about responsibility saying things like ‘ok Jill, you’re on the hook for that action’.  When discussing significant projects, or high workload, or risky things to have your name one, people might kindly ask ‘do you want to be on the hook for that?’

At the time I thought it was a strange phrase.  It conjured up images of ‘catching’ slippery sea creatures and dragging them to their demise, or in darker moments the more dread filled meat hook so favoured by horror writers and medieval dungeon keepers. 

It tuns out the idiom ‘on the hook’ does come from fishing.  A fish on the hook has been caught, it no other options, what happens next is decided.  On the flip side, a fish not yet on the hook is free, and one which was on the hook but is no longer, has ‘slipped’ off the hook. 

This metaphor for gives us a long runway into a discussion about responsibility and accountability more generally, which I will explore in an episode soon, but for now we need to talk about putting ourselves on the hook, taking responsibility for the things we control. 

The OHS Body of Knowledge is a project which began in Australia, and since has had collaborators from all over the globe involved, with one goal in mind: to attempt to define and update the core stuff people like us should know and do.  A body of knowledge is a necessary component of our claim to being professionals, which is tricky, because we don’t all agree what we should know and do.  That aside, there is HEAPS of stuff we would agree we need to know and do, like support legal compliance, prevent and minimize harm, etc etc.  It’s a combination of a bunch of expert authors, which changes from chapter to chapter depending on the topic, and it draws on the most contemporary evidence and literature for health and safety practice. 

The OHS Body of Knowledge is mainly used by universities, as a kind of master reference from which they build their degree programs for health and safety.  It has been freely available, downloadable from, since around 2012 (I think). 

And who knows about it? Who accesses it? Almost no one. 

Oh the ways that the freely accessible, comprehensive OHS BOK could be used by H&S professionals!

 – Managers could use it as a part of a manual for their teams, a ‘how to do safety’ 101,

 – Professionals could use it to structure their professional development (like, I dunno, reading a chapter every month),

 – Teams could use it to each take a chapter, read it, dig out the references and teach each other,

 – Industry collaboration groups could use it as a reference to help them work through their agendas of managing risk, enabling change, and developing capability,

 – There could be an OHS BOK book club where random collections of people read, then meet to discuss. 

 – Students can use it to expand on their course curriculum,

 – Employers could use it as a structure for an internship program,

 – People looking to get into the health and safety profession could use it to self-educate themselves if they are unable to access or afford university education, no matter where they are in the world!

But almost all of those things are ideas, dreams, fragments of enormous potential left in the bottom drawer of life. 

Because there is no hook. 

Gym memberships work when they have a few key ingredients.  One is that the sunk-cost motivates us to use what we have paid for.  But that’s not all.  Long term use of gym memberships also depends on the enjoyment of the experience, self-efficacy (I can do this) and social support from friends and family who can also be models for using the gym, and hold you to account for going [1]. 

A lot of people ask me if they should do an MBA.  I’m not sure why, since I don’t have one and rarely would suggest someone does one.  Maybe it’s because I work with a lot of health and safety leaders who are motivated and continual learners, I don’t know. 

I used to ask people why they wanted an MBA, and many of the responses came back with some variation of ‘I don’t know it just seems like a good idea’.  That is not a recipe for success.  So then I ask about what’s important, what really matters, what will float their boat or improve their employability or increase their status at work.  These are the things that make for bigger and pointier hooks which reduce our chances of wiggling off them. 

You can get an MBA for free.  There is a link in the show notes to this episode with a list of 15 online MBA programs you can do for free, starting today [2]. 

These free, online courses are often called MOOC’s, or Massive Online Open Courses.  Free and accessible education for anyone with a device and an internet connection.  In 2022 the average completion rate for MOOC’s was reported as between 7 and 15%, rarely more than 25%, with more than 50% of people who sign up never getting more than half way through [3].  Imagine if you were an educator and trainer, and you could not get 93% of people all the way through to graduation.  How would you feel? That sounds like dismal failure to me, but it’s not that simple. 

The problem here is not with the content, or the quality, or the educators.  I think, it’s got to do with there being no real hook for people to be on. 

What is happening here?

One of ways that we get on the hook is with money.  What is of value is worth paying for.  Invest now for a payback later.  There is a story we tell ourselves, though not many of us are aware, about the monetary value of things. 

Paying matters.  The OHSBOK is free.  You have at least 15 MBA programs you can do for free.  But it’s not just about the money, it’s a complex psychological investment which separates out people doing the stuff and getting what they want, from people who don’t, and get nothing. 

One of the ways we can see an investment, which isn’t just money, is in the difference between the process and the outcome, which are two very different hooks.  We are happy to be on the hook for a safety management system but not so happy to be on the hook for actual safety outcomes. We are happy to be on the hook to deliver training but not so happy to be on the hook for actual learning.  The process and the outcome are very different hooks. 

I’ve spent a few years enabling learning inside organisations, including the very popular but fraught learning teams.  The way I do this is by building the capability in health and safety teams to plan and facilitate these through the full lifecycle of a learning event, a process.  I don’t just teach them, I give them structure, and I put them on the hook. 

The way I put them on the hook is this: I say to whoever called me, asked for help, and will be paying the bill, look, you can invest in training and you may or may not get what you want but you can show your boss the certificates.  Or you can invest in actual outcomes, which is real learning teams, enabled by your people, which deliver actual operational improvements.  And, I say to them, not only am I confident about my ability to help and your ability to get what you want, that if you don’t get the outcomes, you don’t have to pay me.  I’ll put my fee at risk, as long as you and your team are prepared to be on the hook to show up, go through the process, and get the results you are asking for.  Does that sound ok?

Guess what happens? The first is that no one has ever asked for a refund, because we, together, team by team, have created the conditions for everyone to be on the hook for the outcome, including me.  The second one, which kinda surprised me, is that some people will, after that conversation, decide that they will take the safe path, to do a training course or read a book or listen to a few podcasts and try it themselves.  They are more comfortable being on the hook for a process, which is fine.  But they are not prepared to be on the hook for the outcome, because that’s scary. 

Why is it scary to be on the hook? Why would we not all be full-bottle professionals accessing all this free learning? Why would we not want to be accountable for actual outcomes?

Plenty of reasons. I’m busy.  We’re not sure.  It might not work.  It sounds like work.  I might fail.  Or, even scarier, I might succeed and set a new bar for myself and others.  If you are a fish which gets hooked, there is only one outcome left for you.  But this unfairly makes being on the hook a negative thing.  I think what it really means is that we are in a situation in which it’s really clear the things we value and are chasing, and we are unapologetic about ignoring all the billion other things we could value or chase.  Choosing to be on the hook for something is scary because we decide to reject our ability to flop around and slip off the hook, to chase other things.   

Whether we are talking about our own development, or making change in our organisations, there are plenty of good reasons why we are not setup for what we really want.  Call it context, or structures, or conditions, or whatever, there are things we can control which change our chances of the right people being on the hook for the change we seek to make. 

If you or I or them are not on the hook, we need to ask why does it make sense to avoid the hook, and what can we do to increase out changes of hopping onto the hook gladly, and staying there.

Thanks so much for listening.  Until next time, what’s the one thing you’ll do to take positive, effective or rewarding action, to grow yourself, and drastically improve health and safety along the way?





Transcript – Ep207: On the Hook & The Cost of Free with Andrew Barrett

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