Whilst Safety counts injuries the workers compensation system multiplies them. This is the stark reality of what the worker’s compensation system in Australia does to people. The special investigation by Four Corners and the Fairfax Press found the system continues to be ‘immoral and unethical’ (https://www.abc.net.au/4corners/the-financial-scandal-and-human-cost-of/12496682)
The Investigation didn’t hold anything new for me. I have worked extensively in the compensation system and the purpose of the system is the health of the system not the health of workers. One of the great mythologies in the safety sector is the prioritization on systems. Safety doesn’t worry about how systems serve people it comes up with bizarre gobbledygook like ‘Resilience Engineering’ as if systems don’t contain people. Resilience cannot be ‘engineered’
In my time in the workers compensation system I set up a special return to work program called ‘WorkAssist’ in the Western suburbs of Sydney and all those on the program had been rejected by the system just like those documented in the Four Corners program. It seems to be a truism in Safety that when a brand is touted like iCare, that it means the opposite, a symbol that exacerbates the harm inflicted on those who are already on suicide watch.
One of the stark realities of the Four Corners Program was the centrality of numerics, the priority of targets and the dehumanization of persons as objects, sounds pretty consistent with Safety. The culture of the industry is one of counting, double speak and financial metrics, and strangely the more this is the focus the more expensive the system becomes.
When one explores the human side of harm and develops any empathy for persons or has a skerrick of ethics this industry can only be described as a ‘tragedy’. Of course the safety industry is yet to develop an Ethic of Risk or any work at all on the humanizing of persons. It is an indictment that here is nothing in the AIHS BoK on this critical issue. The AIHS BoK simply has no definition of personhood probably because this would stand in contradiction to the global mantra on zero and the criticality of counting targets. When your target is zero there can be no vision or leadership for the humanizing of persons.
The Program interviewed workers and executives in Regulatory positions and what follows is some of their statements:
“The decisions that I’ve seen in our investigations are not only unjust and unreasonable and wrong, some of them are downright immoral and unethical.”
“All these people have their snouts in the trough. It’s a disaster, unmitigated disaster.”
“You can just imagine how many people and organisations are circling around that pool of money and trying to make a buck out of it.”
None of this would surprise any practitioner on the ground. The system is designed to hide people as ‘clients’ and NOT get them back to work. Indeed, the system of workers compensation seems to actively harm people further. For example: In the WorkAssist Program I founded every person had already complex mental health conditions just by being dehumanized in the system. The toll of suicides related to the system is horrendous.
So, the calls will cry out to reform the system, yet another review. But the problem is not the system but the ideology/philosophy that underpins it. The problem is not the AIHS BoK but the ideology that underpins it. Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic is what happens when tokenistic behaviourist stuff is trotted out. A few people get sacked for bad behaviour, a review gets conducted and nothing changes. The deep-seated ideology of zero, objects, targets, numeric, metrics and dehumanizing remains and the vested interests with power continue as normal hiding behind the prioritization of systems over people. It seems once one leaves the safety system, health doesn’t matter.