A well deserved award – Professor Joan Ozanne-Smith

Officer of the Order of Australia medal

Officer of the Order of Australia medal

The Maze, Safety Pin icons

Congratulations to Professor Joan Ozanne-Smith who today has become an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) in the 2016 Australia Day Honours. The Officer of the Order of Australia is awarded for distinguished service of a high degree to Australia or humanity at large.

Australian honours espionage!

I am delighted that Joan has received national recognition with this award. I worked with another injury prevention champion, Ian Scott, to make the recommendation for Joan’s award to the Honours Secretariat.

Ian and I spent our time gathering details and evidence to do justice to Joan’s achievements. It all had to be done in secret, but we slowly put together a good case.

I was lucky enough to attend Joan’s 70th birthday party, held at the home of one of her sons. During the evening, after a few words from her daughter, Joan gave a speech that recounted her career highlights. I was thinking how useful it would be for the honours award submission if I could get hold of Joan’s speech notes.

After the speech ended I hovered, but Joan held onto her notes while chatting to another guest. After about ten minutes of me loitering in the vicinity, Joan was called into the house to cut the birthday cake. That was my opportunity and I scooped up the notes.

But where to take them? I had decided I could photograph the notes, but I didn’t want to be seen doing so. I was reluctant to let myself into rooms in a house I was visiting for the first time, and if someone had walked in on me, how could I have explained what I was doing?

Instead I walked out of the house, notes in hand, and into the street where it was almost dark. I then sat in my car, balancing the pages on my lap and sat like a secret agent taking photos of manuscript with my iPhone. Once done, I slipped back in to the party and replaced the notes where Joan had left them, hoping nobody had noticed. I think I got away with it – a successful clandestine operation. And the notes proved very helpful in rounding out our submission.

Ozanne Smith speech notes

Speech notes as photographed in my car (you can just see the gear console)

A fortuitous coincidence in the International Year of the Child

In the 1970s Joan was working in hospital emergency departments as a doctor. She was seeing cases where people were perfectly normal and healthy just a short time earlier and then came into hospital with terrible injuries. And patching them up just didn’t seem the best solution – she became interested in a prevention approach to injury.

1979 – the International Year of the Child – saw Joan working at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital. That year a Swedish paediatrician was brought to Australia to talk about their success in Sweden in child injury prevention – and their results were dramatic. Joan says she learnt from that lecture that Sweden had reduced its child injury death rate from rates that were about what we were having in Australia at the time to something dramatically lower. That was the spark for Joan’s career in injury prevention.

Joan’s career in Australia

In Australia, Joan has for decades now been a driving force in injury prevention and a pioneer in the field of child injury prevention, indigenous child safety, consumer product safety and geriatric safety. She has also contributed to road safety, workplace safety and violence prevention.

Joan has held positions at Monash University over a long period (still continuing), including at its Accident Research Centre and its Department of Forensic Medicine. She has established teaching programs, mentored researchers, published widely and tirelessly advocated for resources.

Joan has also made unpaid contributions over decades to non-government organisations such as Kidsafe, and to government advisory committees too numerous to mention.

Her efforts contributed to Australia hosting the 1996 World Conference on Injury Prevention and she has been a leader on conference scientific and program committees for nearly 30 years.

And internationally

Internationally, Joan’s contribution has also been outstanding. She helped the World Health Organisation develop and implement a teaching program for developing countries in injury prevention and then a mentoring program to foster professional development.

Joan has served as an injury prevention advisor and researcher in numerous developing countries. She was a leading force in the development of the 2008 UNICEF-WHO World Report on Child and Adolescent Injury Prevention and then in its implementation across the globe.

Joan has been a member of international journal editorial boards, standards committees and conference program committees over decades.Her work overseas includes developing inaugural road safety programs for the People’s Republic of China – a particular challenge.

Joan Ozanne-Smith in VietNam

Joan on the case for road safety in Asia

Pioneering work

The field of injury prevention is not generally well-supported. Some of Joan’s work has been in workplace and road safety which have a certain public profile; however the majority of her work has been in less acknowledged fields of injury prevention, which have therefore been subject to limited resourcing and support. Her work in the community has been characterised by innovation, commitment and perseverance. A string of successful outcomes are testament to her tireless effort.

Joan has had almost 200 journal articles and book chapters published (at last count) across 30 years, but the number does not measure the legacy of her work in initiating and influencing change. Her work has had a specific impact on issues such as the understanding of product safety, including the design and use of babywalkers, child resistant packaging for chemicals and medicines, and standards for cots.

And there’s no sign this stellar career is on the wane. Retirement does not seem to be on the cards, at least for the time being, and we can all be grateful for that.

Joan Ozanne-Smith


You can now listen to my interview with Joan in the Product Safety Solutions ‘Maze’ podcast.

Read more about Professor Joan Ozanne-Smith, including a full publications list, at her Monash University Researcher Profile page