Diagnosing Safety

imageRecently, a large International company requested that I design a diagnostic to assess HSE competence including knowledge and skills associated with HSE and Social Psychology (SPoR). It was an interesting request because I was Project Officer in 1995 to the National Key Competencies experiments in Australia in the training sector. The Key Competencies emerged out of the Finn, Mayer and Carmichael review (https://researchers.mq.edu.au/en/publications/a-postfordist-reworking-of-australian-education-the-finn-mayer-an ) and became known as the ‘Mayer Key Competencies’. Interestingly the drive for ‘competencies’ was associated with Gramscian Marxism that thought that all labour could be quantified, measured and ‘utilized’, interesting times. It was essentially a worldview of utility applied to Education and was heavily funded at the time by a Labour Government. So, it was interesting with such a background to be asked to design a HSE competency diagnostic.

When I was asked to develop this diagnostic of HSE and SPoR by this company I was careful not to be drawn into similar delusions of measurement and quantification as I experienced in the 1990s. It is a strange phenomenon this desire to measure everything even Art (https://dramaaustralia.org.au/assets/files/NAAE-pubs-the-mayer-key-competencies-and-arts-education%20(1).pdf ). Needless to say, this 1990s fad ended out being a disaster, it became an unmanageable monster. Moreso, it is impossible to quantify any of the qualitative skills required to be a good teacher. When one applies the logic of atomism/reductionism to any task one ends up with micro-data the size of an oil tanker. Not dissimilar, the typical Hazard Register in safety (that safety people think must be maintained) but is completely meaningless (https://vimeo.com/166158437 ).

It is a strange fixation, this need to want to measure and quantify everything so it can be ‘used’. Utility, should not be the only criteria for judging effectiveness. Strangely, the most important things in life, those things we live for, cannot be measured. So, here is the key question. Can you quantify the key HSE competencies of a safety person? Of course not, but there are some interesting indicators one can ‘diagnose’ that can help provide feedback to safety people about their skills, knowledge and disposition in their occupation. When it comes to skills and knowledge in SPoR, it was interesting to see how much of SPoR was being enacted intuitively by safety people without much exposure to SPoR education. So, I took the opportunity and designed an HSE-SPoR interactive diagnostic for this organization.

Over a six month I surveyed safety people and researched what the industry believed to be HSE core competencies and then did the same in SPoR and developed a simple interactive diagnostic. After the initial testing phase of a sample of safety people at executive level with considerable International experience, the results were not surprising but James Reason would be pleased. Most of the reductionist and behaviourist safety knowledge that was concocted in the 1990s is still considered the foundation of safety competence (and also still evidenced in current WHS curriculum and AIHS BoK – https://safetyrisk.net/isnt-it-time-we-reformed-the-whs-curriculum/ ).

It became clear through the diagnostic that Safety has not moved very far from its original engineering foundations. What emerged in the diagnostic was a belief in many concepts that have no substance or value to actually helping people be safe. Ah, but a great emphasis on being Papersafe (https://safetyrisk.net/paper-safe/ ).

As an interesting exercise let’s look at the commonalities the diagnostic revealed. Safety people believe the following as valuable HSE knowledge:

· Unsafe Act and Conditions

· Violations

· Following procedures

· Legislation, regulation, codes and standards

· Compliance

· Rules (Life saving Rules)

· Barriers

· Hazards

· Behaviours (BBS) as culture

· Systems

· Error

· Shortcuts

· Matrices

· Hierarchy of Controls

· Just Culture

· Zero, safety First

· Human factors

· Measurement – LTIs, TRIFR etc

· Policing PPE

· Leadership

Despite the opportunities provided in the diagnostic no reference was made to any of the following, considered essential to an SPoR view of HSE:

· Learning

· Community

· Social

· Helping

· Paradox

· Ambiguity

· Trade-offs

· Unconscious

· Heuristics

· Habit

· Wisdom

· Homeostasis

· Resilience

· Mutuality

· Power

· Education

· Mimetics

· Coaching

· Ethics, morality

· Ecology

· Personhood

· Servant-leadership, service

· Listening

· Humility

· Presence

· Empathy

· Bias (psychological and social)

· Collaboration

· Open questioning

This is only an example from the small sample but gives a significant insight into the gaps between HSE knowledge and skills and knowledge that is the focus of another worldview/discipline. What the diagnostic demonstrates is that Safety has a long way to go if it ever wants to be professional.

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.

6 Replies to “Diagnosing Safety”

  1. ……” If our tractor turned the long furrows of our land it would be good. Not my land but ours. But this tractor does two things – It turns the land and turns us off the land. There is little difference between this tractor and a tank. The people are driven, intimidated, hurt by both. We must think about this.” John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath (Chapter 14, Page 161)

  2. “Technique has penetrated the deepest recesses of the human being. The machine tends not only to create a new human environment, but also to modify man’s very essence. The milieu in which he lives is no longer his. She must adapt herself, as though the world were new, to a universe for which she was not created. He was made to go six kilometers an hour, and he goes a thousand. She was made to eat when she was hungry and to sleep when she was sleepy; instead, she obeys a clock. He was made to have contact with living things, and he lives in a world of stone. She was created with a certain essential unity, and she is fragmented by all the forces of the modern world.”
    ― Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society

  3. ……” If our tractor turned the long furrows of our land it would be good. Not my land but ours. But this tractor does two things – It turns the land and turns us off the land. There is little difference between this tractor and a tank. The people are driven, intimidated, hurt by both. We must think about this.” John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath (Chapter 14, Page 161)

  4. “Technique has penetrated the deepest recesses of the human being. The machine tends not only to create a new human environment, but also to modify man’s very essence. The milieu in which he lives is no longer his. She must adapt herself, as though the world were new, to a universe for which she was not created. He was made to go six kilometers an hour, and he goes a thousand. She was made to eat when she was hungry and to sleep when she was sleepy; instead, she obeys a clock. He was made to have contact with living things, and he lives in a world of stone. She was created with a certain essential unity, and she is fragmented by all the forces of the modern world.”
    ― Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society

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