Accidents Happen Because You Don’t Put Safety First

Accidents Happen Because You Don’t Put Safety First

safety first people lastThis is the language and logic of Worksafe Victoria (http://worksafenews.com.au/news/item/571-farmers-urged-to-put-safety-first-as-fatalities-soar.html). Apparently farmers put safety last or second and that’s why farmers get injured. If only farmers got the hierarchy right there would be no harm. If only this simplistic, binary and naïve approach to risk were real.

The idea that safety should be first is a naïve way of thinking about life and all activity. Safety doesn’t sit in some bubble as if it has no connection to other aspects of life. All values compete and the rationale for competing values creates different trade-offs and by-products in tackling risk. If safety was first one wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. The truth is, there is no single hierarchy of values but all values are situated in context according to driving ideologies and ethics at the time. You can read more about competing values by downloading Cameron and Quinn’s work Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture (https://www.researchgate.net/file.PostFileLoader.html?id=559077c25e9d9768f68b4570&assetKey=AS:271750183489537@1441801700739.)

When we conduct the MiProfile Culture Diagnostic in organisations (https://vimeo.com/24764673; http://www.humandymensions.com/services-and-programs/miprofile/) we often assess the naivety of organisations regarding binary hierarchies. We do so because the language of ‘safety first’ drives scepticism and cynicism in organisations against safety which weakens the message of safety. Everyone knows on a building site that a concrete pour comes first when there are hundred’s of thousands of dollars to lose in 30 minutes. Talking about ‘safety first’ and then going bankrupt doesn’t make sense. Competing values have to be kept in balance, this is the only way to make sense of risk. Unless Risk Makes Sense (http://www.humandymensions.com/product/risk-makes-sense/ ), workers will believe that safety is non-sense.

So, if safety comes first, what comes second? Does well-being come second, economics third, politics fourth, people fifth, ethics sixth, mental health seventh and substance abuse eighth? This is the silly kind of thinking that comes from ‘safety first’ language. Moreover, such language is totally out of kilter with the notion of ALARP (https://vimeo.com/162637292) and Due Diligence (https://vimeo.com/162493843 ). Even the Work Health Safety Act doesn’t expect that safety comes first. It simply expects that one does what is reasonably practicable in the face of risk. The law knows that risk cannot be eliminated, there is no legal liability if one gets a cut finger (https://vimeo.com/163499152). And, Due Diligence only expects what one does is ‘appropriate’ in the context. Due Diligence does not expect risk elimination.

5. ALARP from Human Dymensions on Vimeo.

When one speaks the language of ‘safety first’ and then in context workers see that such language is only propaganda, then safety becomes a joke. They then know that the language of ‘safety first’ really means, ‘safety comes first when it suits the CEO’. When the trade off looks like a safety measure would send one out of business then safety doesn’t come first. It’s no different than the language of ‘zero harm’. Of course its not ‘zero harm’ but ‘selective harm’, we know this from all the research into FIFO and DIDO suicides and fatalities (http://www.sbenrc.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Simon-Colquhoun_IPC-Full-Paper.pdf; https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/fly-fly-out-workforce-practices-australia-effects/introduction; https://theconversation.com/au/topics/fifo-3445 ). What workers know is that CEOs preach zero harm for paper cuts but don’t change arrangements that result in psychological harm or mental health. Such prioritisation is well known and only serves to expose propagandist language as meaningless non-sense.

Of course farmers don’t wake up in the morning and seek to hurt themselves. How insulting to suggest that the reason for an injury is a problem of attitude. Oh of course, ‘safety is a choice you make!’ therefore, all workplace deaths are a choice, a suicide. What crazy language and logic that ignores the complexities of life. If only farmers could have a better priority in values like Worksafe then they wouldn’t get hurt. I wonder just how alienating such language is to the farming community?

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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