Staff Functions

How might we be doing safety differently in Army?

By Craig Bickell, CSM September 30, 2020

October is National Safety Month, a time to make a commitment to improving safety and health in your workplace. Defence has a number of initiatives designed to contribute to this. In Army we are approaching safety month a little differently than we have done in the past. We want to hear from you on how we might do safety differently in Army. That’s because we think you are best placed to identify and suggest ways of solving safety problems and improving our safety management system, ArmySAFE. It’s because you’ve been applying safe work practices throughout the COVID-19 crisis and serving our nation through assisting the civil authorities in safely managing the crisis. You will have an important perspective on how we could improve our safety system. It’s also because we need your ideas to ensure that our safety management system ArmySAFE  is ‘ready now’ and ‘future ready’ for accelerated warfare.

Recently I had the privilege of attending a masterclass series on safety by one of the world’s leading safety experts and attended by a range of people with safety responsibilities from many civilian industries. With my safety experience, comprising my generalist officer training, staff planning and unit command experience, I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to hear this safety specialist say that we should be learning from the Prussian military theorist Helmut von Moltke. But that’s who this expert pointed us to and highlighted Moltke’s theory of Aufragstaktik, or mission tactics, which is the foundation of our contemporary theory of mission command. Here was a civilian safety academic and specialist quoting Moltke and encouraging its application to safety:

Don’t order more than absolutely necessary and avoid planning beyond the situation you can foresee”.

Subordinates are justified in modifying or even changing the task assigned, as long as it supports the higher command’s intent”.

These are familiar edicts to those of us in the profession of arms, but I was not expecting to hear them applied to safety.

I probably should not have been surprised, armies have been concerned with the preservation of their soldiers for combat throughout history. We call it force preservation. In fact, our modern-day drill is heavily influenced from the introduction of what a risk or safety expert would call a control to manage the risk of death or serious injury. The introduction of firearms brought in new ways for soldiers to accidently kill or injure their fellow soldiers. Partly to reduce this risk, so far as reasonably practicable, the sixteenth century Dutch military reformer Maurice of Nassau introduced a series of reforms to military drill, including the introduction of volley fire. This reform not only compensated for the inaccuracy of soldier’s weapons but controlled the fire and reduced the likelihood of a soldier accidently shooting his fellow soldiers. Clearly armies have been ‘doing safety’ long before the introduction of the legislation that now governs us, the 2011 WHS Act. We need to ensure; however, that we continually adapt our safety system to ensure that it is both ‘ready now’ and ‘future ready’ for accelerated warfare.

So how might Army do safety differently? We in the Directorate of Workplace Health, Safety and Security are interested in hearing from you at any time but particularly during October, the National Safety Month on how our safety system could be improved. If you have unit specific ideas please direct them to your unit safety adviser or chain of command. But if there are ideas on doing safety differently that apply to ArmySAFE, Army’s safety management system, then send them to the following email address: ahq.dwhs-a [at] . We’re looking forward to hearing your ideas during October -  National Safety Month on doing safety differently in Army.



Craig Bickell, CSM


Colonel Craig Bickell is the Director of Workplace Health and Safety and Security in Army Headquarters.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.


If we do one thing differently for Army, I suggest it should be reforming (again) our risk management approach. Despite much effort in the last two decades, I believe attempts to normalise risk management and stitch it into the fabric of leadership and decision-making have largely failed, mainly because we focus too heavily on risk appreciation during planning, to the detriment of actually managing risk during the activity. Thus we bog down in generating products that largely end up in a bottom drawer or in an objective file. A quick check of the current Military Risk Management policy document has nearly five pages outlining the steps to appreciate risk, and one paragraph on monitoring! I offer that this needs to be rebalanced. In 2014 I commanded the land force for Operation Render Safe, an explosive ordnance disposal activity in Bougainville. During this operation I conformed to Navy risk management processes and I found them to be more practical in understanding risk during the planning phase, then monitoring risk during execution. Their policy and processes have evolved since then, as have ours, but I suggest they have some tools Army could potentially adopt for more active management “post H-hour” when the activity is actually underway. In particular, the rule of three. It is a simple traffic light system, where green is for conditions that are within limits or assumptions so work proceeds, amber is when circumstances near the boundary of being acceptable which requires a heightened degree of monitoring, and red is out of limits and requires work to stop while the situation and controls are reassessed. This is designed to “help assess the immediate situation and maintain risk awareness” and “promotes input from all team members.” I suggest a simple tool such as this would increase risk awareness during activities to ensure those controls required during an activity are implemented correctly, or modified as the situation changes. And risks that are managed so far as is reasonably practicable, before and during activities, will lead to safer workplaces.

Intresteing read, I'll look up Moltke. As for Army safety, it is very onerous, time consuming and governance heavy. I have done this Safety thing in JLC, Air Force and Private enterprise and Army's system is by far the most document laden and over-burdened. The ASM is too big and duplicates Group and Services procedures in many areas, examples include: Why does every Unit need an SO ? Develop reasonable /BDEFormation SO's Why does every Unit need a Haz Chem Mgt Instruction ? thats what the higher level Haz Chem Management Procedures are for, plus ChemAlaert and qualified pers. Lets look at combining 1/4 ly Managment fora eg BMF, SEMC and WHS meetings. Bigger agenda, but one set of compartmentalised Minutes. ACAU are very regid and dogmatic in their evidence collection. I'm a Lead auditor and fail to see why exact named documents are required when other equivalent evidence meets (or exceeds) the minimum intent of the relevant standard.

Thanks for the feedback Wayne, yours is a very valuable perspective which I'm very interested in. DWHS&S-A.

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