Dr Eric Wigglesworth
Dr Eric Wigglesworth AM played a highly significant role in the development of the safety profession as we know it today. Those who are familiar with the Eric’s work will remember the tenacity with which he pursued high standards in research and scholarly writing and the exacting standards he demanded be met by his students.
Eric contended that “The acid test of a profession lies in the extent to which that profession has contributed to the quality of life of the community that it serves.” Implicit in Eric’s contention is that professionals must publish the findings of research and workplace interventions to establish a robust knowledge and evidence-base.
Thus the Eric Wigglesworth Memorial Lecture was established as an avenue for scholarly discourse.
Dr Wigglesworth came to Australia in 1962 to join the Australian Defence Scientific Service as Safety Officer in Melbourne. He later became the Director of the Injury Research Project located in the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. He was the Executive Director of the Menzies Foundation from its inception in 1979 to his retirement in 1998.
Eric Wigglesworth was at the forefront of OHS education in Australia from 1963 when he was a member of the inaugural Education Sub Committee of the Safety Engineering Society (later the Safety Institute of Australia). Eric later chaired the Education Sub Committee from 1977 to 1983. During this period the Education Sub Committee was the major voice in identifying the need for formal education for safety practitioners and promoting the ‘science of safety’.
The Sub Committee members drafted the content and carried out the teaching for the initial Certificate course set up at the South Melbourne Technical School in 1968. This was the first OHS specific course developed under the auspices of a state education department and served as a model for other states.
In 1976 the Victorian Industrial Safety Convention, a joint activity of the Education Committee of the Safety Engineering Society and the Victorian Department of Labour, resulted in a consensus statement endorsed by the then Victorian Minister for Labour determined that ‘…whilst there should be …appropriate initial courses in industrial safety, there should be far more specialised courses at certificate, diploma, degree, post graduate diploma, and higher degree level for persons who wish to develop expertise in this area.’ Joint government and Safety Engineering Society working groups (under the leadership of Eric) were set up to further the decisions of the conference.
Eric, through his work on the Education Committee was instrumental in establishing the Graduate Diploma in Occupational Hazard Management in 1980 at the then Ballarat College of Advanced Education (now University of Ballarat). This course was the first tertiary level OHS qualification in Australia.
In 1983 Eric combined his roles of Chair of the SIA Education Committee and Executive Officer of the Menzies Foundation to convene a scientific and government workshop to examine the issues of a common curriculum for OHS education in Australia. This workshop resulted in a number of resolutions that guided OHS education in Australia for many years.
Eric lectured in the Graduate Diploma course at Ballarat from its inception until his retirement in 1998. During this period Eric wrote many learned articles and introduced student practitioners to the energy-damage concepts. He challenged the students to go forth and ‘tame the tigers’. Eric considered that his life’s work is reflected in the title of his doctorial thesis ‘Towards the Applied Science of Injury Control’. Although the scientific approach is widely accepted today, it was certainly not the conventional wisdom when his career began.
Eric wrote more than 120 scientific papers in refereed journals and edited 5 books. He was very vocal in promoting the case for tertiary-level education in occupational health and safety. Even in retirement he continued to write articles for journals promoting the need for research to enhance the knowledge base for the science of safety.
Eric was an Honorary Fellow of the Safety Institute of Australia and an Honorary Fellow of the UK Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. He held the degrees of Bachelor of Science and Diploma of Education (University of Leeds), Master of Science and Doctor of Applied Science (University of Melbourne) and the honorary degree of Doctor of Medicine (honoris causa) (University of Tasmania) "in recognition of an outstanding contribution to improving the health and safety of Australians, and to raising professional standards in this area".
In the Australia Day 2000 Honours list, he was appointed a Member in the Order of Australia for services to public health and to accident prevention.