A Professional Ethic of Risk

A Professional Ethic of Risk

imageMy daughter who is completing a degree in Paramedics has spent all of the last semester tackling the challenges of ethics in medical practice. One of her assignments was based on a case study where: welfare of the patient, institutional interests, self-interest, community, a code of ethics and moral agency were all in conflict. The situation demanded critical thinking and decision making about: utilitarian ethics, human dignity, moral agency, definitions of professionalism, situational ethics, therapeutic ethics, humanization, values clarification and the four principles of bioethics namely: autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence and justice. You know, the kind of stuff you study in a safety degree, ha! (https://safetyrisk.net/isnt-it-time-we-reformed-the-whs-curriculum/ )

One can’t claim the word ‘professional’ without an ethic of risk. When a paramedic shows up to ‘help’ they have already been ‘put through the wringer’ about what it means to be ‘professional’. They have already had to consider many scenarios that challenge their understanding of virtue ethics and moral agency. They have already been challenged to consider their understanding of personhood in relation to the best interests for those for whom they ‘care’. They have a clear idea of what it means to ‘help’ and care’ and don’t need to run to the brand of ‘professional’, they just do it and don’t need to advertise it. Most professionals act this way.

One thing that that emerges out of a study of ethics is a better awareness of all the competing factors in moral decision making. In real ethical decision making one realizes that the behaviourist/individualist construct so common to the safety paradigm is simplistic nonsense and can never generate an ethic of risk. One cannot be ethical founded on the ideology of zero.

One cannot divorce human decision making from the context and culture of the situation. The idea that humans can operate in a vacuum with reason disconnected from social, historical, cultural, anthropological, organizational and psychological influences in ‘free will’, is nonsense. At best humans are caught in a dialectic with all these influences. It’s not nature versus nurture but nature in dialectic with nurture, what Buber called ‘i–thou’.

Humans are social animals that operate within a complex adaptive ecology. The idea that the human brain is some kind of computer on top of a body enacting logical (or irrational) decision, is a construct of the behaviourist/individualist worldview. Such a construct enables one group of people to endorse blame easily upon the deemed ‘wrongdoers’, but is entirely a subjective concoction. This is the philosophy that dominates most safety investigation ideologies but not an approach advocated by a Social Psychology of Risk (https://cllr.com.au/product/seek-the-social-psyvhology-of-event-investigations-unit-2/ ).

In the dominant paradigm of risk and safety the idea of a collective unconscious, cultural factors and social influences (https://safetyrisk.net/mapping-social-influence-strategies/) must be rejected because blame must be found and cause must be defined. Blame must not be ‘distributed’, someone needs to be sacked and punished. It certainly can’t be the CEO or policies of zero harm that have led to an accident, it certainly can’t be the culture of cynicism created by delusional safety ideology that contributed to an accident, it cannot be insane safety bureaucracy that triggered an accident (https://safetyrisk.net/paper-safe/) and, it cannot be the culture of safety that influenced poor decision. No, it is the individual of free will who chose suicide over life. Obviously, people want to come to work to harm themselves. (https://safetyrisk.net/the-convenience-of-complacency/)

The computer metaphor that dominates safety anthropology (https://safetyrisk.net/a-great-comparison-of-risk-and-safety-schools-of-thought/) enables the projection of blame as supported by the mythology of free will. This is the ideology of ‘safety is a choice you make’. Such a construct has no idea of the human unconscious, social unconscious, cultural factors, social influences and the creation of ethical meaning through semiosis. Keep it simple, black and white and ‘head in the sand safety’, unfortunately not the position of a professional. This is why lawyers and the courts come to very different conclusions to safety people when it comes to justice (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/risky-conversations/ ).

One of the key elements in professional thinking is an understanding and acceptance of ecological complexity. Humans are embodied in a social world that is emergent not predictable. The mechanistic symbology popular in safety is a construct of the behaviourist/individualist delusion.

Unfortunately in safety without an ethic of risk, the individualist/behaviourist fixation will always dehumanize the human as a driving ideology. It is on such ideology we read how Safety defines ‘just culture’. Most definitions of culture in the safety industry come from such an ideology, the SIA BoK and how it defines culture is a classic example. When the industry is cloistered within its own compliance worldview it simply endorses itself in association in what it knows to be right. Disagreement must be rejected, views from ‘outside’ are irrelevant, and must be demonized, compliance is key.

In my daughter’s assignment there was no clear answer, no clear fix, just a stronger ability and capability to argue a justification for action. A similar demand is made of safety people in the idea of ALARP. ALARP is about being able to give reason for why a course of action was taken (https://vimeo.com/162637292 ). ALARP is a very lose subjective legal term, something the legal profession accepts. The lawyer knows why ALARP encapsulates a better ideology of justice than black and white behaviourist/individualist ideology. This is because lawyers understand an ethic of risk.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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