September 13, 2022

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EHS Congress – ‘Post-Covid we are in a state of paralysis’

The first-panel debate at EHS Congress 2022 on the relationship between academia and the practitioner posed more questions than answers.

Carsten Busch, Sidney Dekker alongside Jenna Merandi at Nationwide Children’s Hospital; David Rowbotham, Global Head of Health and Safety at Bupa; and Pete McLelallan, Senior Director at EHS – EMEA & LA at Johnson Controls took part in a debate at EHS Congress, Berlin, attempting to bridge the gap between academics and practitioners.

During the debate at EHS Congress, Berlin

“Theory and practice are hard to make happen,” explained Pete McClellan, a practitioner. “We hear the theory but post-Covid we are in a state of paralysis. It’s all well and good to think we’re out walking the walk [but] practitioning is paralysed right now.”

The question was put to the audience. ‘Does a gap exist?’ – The vast majority of raised hands suggested it was. One of those hands belonged to Malcolm Staves and he was encouraged by the Chair to share further, “Academia doesn’t talk to industry and there needs to be collaboration,” the Global Vice President Health & Safety at L’Oréal said.

Sidney Dekker, with tongue only slightly in cheek cited TikTok, a suggestion that our social-media-frazzled minds are too impatient to focus on longer forms of content. “The channel to learn is TikTok,” he said with a slight grin, “but how do we bridge the gap if nobody reads like they used to?”

The Chair posed two scenarios: “Do academics write papers in a language that practitioners don’t understand, or does it take too long for a paper to get to market?” Dekker suggested the latter, “We have a unique field in safety,” he said, “[Publishing] Time to market should be zero. On the other hand…I think we write them quicker than people can read them.”

Dekker went on to suggest that academic research can exist in silos and health and safety research projects and often garner just a small amount of data in order to encourage finding. “[Research is] hard to find. [They are] the kind of projects that get money from industry and are not the projects that science would find interesting.”

Carsten, a man known for ‘myth‘, and an avid researcher said the bridge was actually necessary, “I’m one of the few people who spends my free time reading all these academic papers. I think the gap is normal and the gap should be there in some way. But we need to build bridges.”

It’s a debate that is set to continue beyond the event.

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