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!