A Question of Ethics
An ethic is a moral system. When one declares an ethical position, one is making a statement about how a moral position is systematized. The fact that Safety pays little attention to ethics, doesn’t study ethics in its curriculum and confuses moral and ethical definition is an indictment of the industry that loves to parade the branding of ‘professional’. When one looks at real professions the focus on ‘an ethic’ is central to their association and identity.
By the way, a Code of Ethics is not necessarily an ethic. Most Codes of Ethics are statements of rules and standards not the guiding philosophy (moral ethic) that underpins the code. Unfortunately in Safety, most confuse ‘values’ with ‘what is valued’ and, they are not the same thing. One is only likely to understand the difference through a study of Ethics. I find it so amusing to see safety departments and organisations parade about these things called ‘values’ when many of the things listed are not values. Indeed, safety is not a value but rather something that can be valued.
Recently in Australia we have seen endless parades of people in power who are corrupt, with the most recent conviction of a Cardinal (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/george-pell) as a wake up call to the vices associated with power such as greed, selfishness, intolerance and duplicity. The opposite of a value is a vice.
The average person is simply shocked by the corruption and lack of integrity associated with people in power and despair at a lack of moral virtue with people who thirst after leadership. Interestingly one can find thousands of books on leadership but so few of them on ‘ethics in leadership’.
Of course, it is no surprise that the safety industry struggles with ethics (https://www.sia.org.au/news-and-publications/news/where-do-companies-fall-down-ethics-whs-and-risk-auditing ). After all, the study of ethics can’t be found anywhere in a WHS curriculum. In real professions Ethics is front and centre of what it means to be and act professionally. Declaring that you a profession doesn’t make it so. How normal that the SIA would go to an auditor (not an ethicist) for a viewpoint on the problem with ethics and culture! This is why someone thinks there is such a thing as ‘unbiased objectivity’. Absolute dreamland.
Further still, the ethical assumptions of a WHS curriculum overloaded with attention to legislation and regulation hides a complete lack of attention to understanding what an ethic is and the critical thinking needed to understand it. Hence in safety it is so easy to justify bullying, abuse, dehumanization, victimization, intolerance and a host of vices in the name of ‘good’. After all, compliance ‘saves lives’.
Of course Safety has less chance of ever being ethical and hence professional, because of its denial of fallibility. When the global safety mantra is zero (http://visionzero.global/ ) in denial of fallibility, one can never be able to treat humans ethically. When you speak zero to fallible people, the only outcome can be brutalism. This is why Safety is so attracted to the vice of blaming, because it has no idea of its own ethic. This is why Safety is so attracted to the intolerance of Zero, because it has no idea of its own ethic. This is why safety is so attracted to ‘Cardinal’ rules, because it has no idea of its own ethic. Well, I don’t think the Cardinal is ruling today!
Bernard Corden says
There are currently 99 confirmed cases of mine dust lung diseases in Queensland and the figure was recently disputed by the Queensland Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, who holds a fellowship from the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh.
If one resorts to the scientism and binary logic of health and safety the next obvious question is how many cases of black lung are considered acceptable?
The object of the Queensland Coal Mining Safety and Health Act is to protect the health and safety of persons at coal mines. This is underpinned by the precautionary principle, a German socio-legal tradition that reflects the medical profession maxim….First, do no harm.
This begs the next question of how does the minister’s response align with medical profession ethics?
Over to you Dr. Lynham.
Thank Rob, I went back and re-read that post. I also ordered the book by Egan.
Rob Long says
Petersen is so strange. I tried to read his first book on maps of meaning and it is simply smashed together jibberish. Totally incoherent and lacking in any real sense of meaning. I think he just appeals to a very simplistic audience like Sinek or Robbins. Once they get on ‘the circuit’ its all about dollars. The receipe seems to be how to say nothing really well. No different from the faddism that permeates safety, without vision there can only be a grab bag of re-hashed behaviourism in a different skin.
Bernard Corden says
Henry Giroux also gives it a good serve via his social atomisation and commodification of everything rants. The next step with Apple, Microsoft, Facebook et al will be charging to use the alphabet.
Despite the fawning accolades I lasted less than two minutes listening to Jordan Petersen the other night.
Rob Long says
BTW, the best book on helping is by Gerard Egan. I wrote about it recently.
Rob Long says
Dyno, If Safety can think of a lousy semiotic they will find it. It comes from having this crazy worldview that polices people and doesn’t ‘help’ people. I personally never refer to safety people other than ‘safety people’, i certainly don’t empower many of its dysfunctional semiotics that help dehumanise others. All the real professions understand their task as helping’ which is why Safety is not a profession. Typically a technician focuses on objects, what a shame that people are just objects to such a disposition. If safety is just the policing of objects then pack up and find another activity, there is no hope in such a mindset.
Are you referring to “Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help” by Schein? I just Googled his name and “help” so that must be it. Thanks for the heads up on that. And the term “technician” does come from Safety, that is what they call the DOW and Exxon Safety people that have not attained “manager”status. In essence, they are safety tradespeople, well versed in BBS and counting the number of times they fail to reach zero.
Rob Long says
I wouldn’t even use the word ‘technician’ as it suggests the value of technique. I somehow think Safety would like that. I just keep to the language of ‘safety industry’. If people understood more about mimetics, semiotics and the unconscious they might realize what zero does to them. Good to get people into Schein, his book on helping is also good.
Ooo, I also found another Schein book “Humble Leadership: The Power of Relationships, Openness, and Trust” and ordered that on Amazon. Rob my library has absolutely grown by proportions I never imagined until I started reading these blogs and taking CLLR coursework. I think a lot of folks that have crossed paths with you can probably say the same
Very welll stated Rob. I do hear the same thing (in fact I heard it today) where Safety Practitioners (I use that word or “Technician” vs the word”Professionals”) confuse “values” with something that I “valued”. I found a way to help people understand is to use it in a sentence. “I _____ my children” with a value being placed in the blank space (for example “love”). Put the word “safety” in that space and it does not make sense.
Also spot on about the trajectory of Zero. It can ONLY lead to blame and punishment.
On the flip side, the organization I work for just purchased 20 copies of “Humble Inquiry” for all the Safety Managers to read and I will be leading a session on lessons learned in from that book and introduce it to them by showing them 1 brain 3 minds and WHG, that will be in April. I expect ALOT more dissonance before the necessary unlearning required begins to take place, but its a start.