It’s Business as Usual in Safety
Recently the SIA released a report ‘The Business Case for Safe, Healthy and Productive Work’ (Nov 2014). Commissioned by Safe Work Australia and the SIA the work is authored by the International Governance and Performance Research Centre at Macquarie University. The report in itself is a quality report but yet again sustains the assumption that the ideology of measurement is the key to safety. Once again the assumptions of standardization, mechanistic and accounting-focused approaches to safety are endorsed by the report.
The aim of the report is to ‘develop a standardised set of indicators business can use in annual reports as well as guidelines for the development of lag and lead indicators relevant to the size and nature of business’. These standardised indicators involve ‘developing a draft set of external and internal indicators to improve … reporting and … meet due diligence obligations’. How will this project develop these quantitative outcomes? By using a qualitative ‘mixed methods’ approach. Hmm, anyone notice something about methodology there?
It is good that we have systems and qualitative methods in safety. It’s good that we have technological, engineering, accounting and regulatory approaches to safety. However, this is not where the problems occur in the safety sphere. If anything we have an excess of engineering, accounting, regulatory and systemic foci in safety. The SIA and Safe Work Australia continue to endorse this narrow approach to safety. What hope have we got when a non-representative association and the government continue to place focus on the standardization of lag and lead indicators as the key to safety? What hope have we got when such authorities continue to try to quantify the unquantifiable? When will the SIA work out that the issue isn’t about the ‘objects’ of safety but the ‘subjects’ of safety? When will they learn to lead the safety sector that is not crying out for ‘more’ measurement but ‘less’ measurement? When will they lead a sector that is crying out for ‘less’ regulation not ‘more’ regulation?
There is value in accounting and measuring but not all risk and safety is measureable. For example, have a look at what the WHS Act and Regulation says about Due Diligence. Due diligence is neither objective nor quantifiable. The Act itself endorses the subjective nature of due diligence. The most common and repeated adjective in the Act is ‘appropriate’. Here are sections c) and d) of the WHS ACT:
c) to ensure that the person conducting the business or undertaking has available for use, and uses, appropriate resources and processes to eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking; and (d) to ensure that the person conducting the business or undertaking has appropriate processes for receiving and considering information regarding incidents, hazards and risks and responding in a timely way to that information (Part 2. Division 2.4)
The use of the word ‘appropriate’ is similar to the word ‘reasonable’ that introduces the definition of Due Diligence. Both ‘reasonable’ and ‘appropriate’ denote the subjective nature of Due Diligence. There is no quantifiable measure nor comparative measure to demonstrate what is safe or how diligent one is. Most of all, no amount of quantifiable lag and lead indicators guarantee a safe workplace. Many of the cultural characteristics (http://vimeo.com/118458068) of un-safety are non-measureable, unconscious and hidden in organisations. Yet the SIA and Safe Work Australia press on to attain the Holy Grail rather than focus on educative social psychological approaches to safety. They press on with a focus on ‘objects’, while the sector wants a greater focus on ‘subjects’. The SIA don’t even foster debate on this differentiation and have a history of blindsidedness to any debate that doesn’t fit in their paradigm. So much for open association. The SIA will never lead the sector as long as it is anchored in its mechanistic worldview and the binary nonsense of zero.
So, why should we be safe? What does the report say? Anything new? Anything different? No surprises here, the message is to be safe because it is a legal requirement and take reasonably practical measures, more hierarchy of control complete with a full selection of subjectivities. Even discussion on the subjectivities of risk perception (p.22) declare that critical risks are ‘hidden’ (p.24).
Everyone knows that a ‘safe and healthy work is good for business’ (p.39 – conclusion). The issue is not disagreement on this fundamental principle but rather the methodology of placing focus yet again on an accounting, regulatory, systems and engineering approaches to risk.