Common Sense is Remarkably Uncommon

imageIn my various jobs that I have had throughout the years I found myself working for Woolworths, a major supermarket chain in Australia and New Zealand with various arms including Liquor, hotels, insurance and variety stores Woolworths had a simple saying to promote how we were thinking about solutions to problems. Inevitably a manager would say, “but this is just common sense”, to which the reply was always “it is remarkable how uncommon, common sense is!”

Now knowing this doesn’t actually get you any further in solving your problem. So how do we make sense of this paradox? How does Risk and Safety understand what is common, what is specialised, what is not known? How do you start to entertain the thought of saying to your Boss, there is stuff I do not know? United States Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld famous quote underlines these problems

Many organisations spend much of their time concentrating on the what the job is about. While this is necessary, frequently there are jobs and tasks that do not change. We spend lots of time thinking about the things that make up jobs. How much time do we spend on the biggest variable of all? The Person? How do we make sure the person is the most important factor in work? released the curriculum details of the new “BSBWHS512 – Contribute to managing work-related psychological health and safety” In here we see the “Knowledge Evidence” that must be provided for people to be deemed competent in the module. What confuzzles me is that the curriculum demands the practitioner to be aware of the problems, but offers no solutions beyond allocations of roles, hazards and risks and data resources.

The following questions spring to mind

· Is Safety being sent into combat the demons of mental health armed with a 5 day diploma?

· Should someone with a Psychology background be doing Psychology?

· Is Risk and Safety ready for this?

· Is legislation ready for this?

· Are the courts ready for this?

· Is Reasonably Practicable suitable in this scenario?

· How would any safety practitioner be able to categorise psychological risks in order of importance?

Mental Health is important; no-one will argue this point. Bullying in the workplace and policies and procedures around them all tell us what bullying is. It is rare that these policies tell us what we want! Try telling your kids that their rooms are messy! They will agree! They will not then clean said room, because we haven’t told them what we want!




Matt Thorne

Matt Thorne

Executive Director at Risk Diversity
Risk Diversity coaches and mentors Companies and People to understand Leadership, Culture and Risk, helping them to humanise and harmonise their systems.
Matt Thorne

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3 Replies to “Common Sense is Remarkably Uncommon”

  1. It’s amazing ing how pervasive these mythologies are in safety. The language of common sense is perhaps the worst, creating this strange idea that people by magic ought to know what to do at all times and in all circumstances. I’ve only ever heard this silly language used to blame people for not having knowledge about something that the speaker determines should be known by everyone. Such an idea contradicts all be know about education, learning, training and fallibility.
    Thanks for the post.

  2. I am awaiting for “Clean Your Room” to appear as the beguiling slogan at the next major safety conference, which will be littered with Jordan Peterson acolytes.

    1. I shall never forget going to listen to Deming speak in the early 90’s (just beore he died). Near the end, some self-righteous safety person stuck up a paw and asked “what if people just don’t want to listen to what I tell them”. Deming rose to his feet (he was a very tall man) and boomed: “sounds like you need to clean up your backyard first son”. I’m sure that snotty nosed kid wet his pants but hard to tell with a dark suit

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