Fluffy Ethics and Safety

imageThere is nothing quite like a good façade to make sure nothing changes. Trot out some spin, drop a few definitions and Bob’s your uncle.

The best way to test fluffy ethics is to investigate the rigor in topics of interest and discussions of ontology, worldview, paradigms and methodology. A sure indicator of fluffy ethics comes when the language of ethics and morality are made inter-changeable (such as in the AIHS BoK on Ethics). Nothing is worse for developing an ethic than confusing morality with ethics. Both words have a completely different etymology and meaning and when understood Phenomenologically (Heidegger, Ricoeur ) can bring out a rich understanding of why there is such dissonance between what actions people theorise about and what they do. Definition is the foundation of thinking critically about actions and wisdom.

You can’t shy away from it. Any discussion of ethics, morality, justice, hermeneutics (theory of interpretation), politics and wisdom must be philosophical. Unfortunately, the avoidance of philosophy is something Safety does really well. Ignorance and confusion are the standard faire for Safety under the assumption that the subjectivities of risk are objective. Delusional.

You can also detect fluffy ethics when a position is not defined or owned. This masking not only helps hide the importance of philosophy but also masks real agendas and values. Doing so always helps maintain the status quo, in this case – zero.

In a real profession Ethics are front and centre in any curriculum, this is the case for: Law, Teaching, Nursing, Social Work, Medicine and host of helping professions. In the world of Safety compulsory mis-education, there is nothing.

If you don’t know how to think critically about ethics then you would have no coherent response to the thinking of Archbishop Coleridge (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-16/child-sex-abuse-catholic-church-confession-mark-coleridge/11872452). In order to understand Colleridge you need to understand his approach to ethics through the Catholic attachment to Aristotelian and Aquinas natural Law ethics. Otherwise, one just argues from emotivism (MacIntyre discusses the problems with emotivism in his work on After Virtue). You can’t get by on fluffy ethics.

When you don’t know how to think critically about ethics then you would have no coherent response to the thinking of the brutalism of the Government’s Robodebt strategy (https://www.mamamia.com.au/centrelink-robodebt-death/).

When you don’t know how to think critically about ethics then you would have no coherent response to the thinking of Climate Denial (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2016/01/09/why-climate-change-is-an-ethical-problem/Z).

Emotivism is what one ends up with when one is fed on fluffy ethics. And on a diet of fluffy ethics Safety is able to campaign on the unethical discourse of zero.

Fluffy ethics doesn’t help anyone make connections between ethical theory and moral action so we end up with binary nonsense that drives poor thinking and brutalism in the name of safety. Harming people emotionally, physically, mentally and socially in the name of decreased injuries is immoral. Telling fallible people they must be perfect is unethical. Brutalising people in the name of good is what you end up with when numeric are made the definition of safety. This is what the BoK on Ethics doesn’t address and leaves one with and nothing educative to help safety people think and act professionally.

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.

10 Replies to “Fluffy Ethics and Safety”

    1. When all you have is ‘do the right thing’ or ‘common sense’ you truly have fallen for the simplistic view, such a delusion is blown away by the next accident. Ethicists know the richness of the linguistic difference between ethics and morals just as safety people make a distinction between risk and hazard. Those not in the safety world confuse the two, similar to those with a poor knowledge of ethics. The only trouble is, safety people are told by their training, like engineers, that they know everything.

  1. The use of ethics and morals synonymously is a cunning stunt which renders the entire AIHS BoK publication on ethics and professional practice somewhat meaningless. This political chicanery is yet another example of intellectual cowardice and obedience to the orthodoxy, which enables the Australian Institute of Heinrich and Skinner to disguise the dichotomy of the Friedman doctrine versus securing the health and safety of people at work.

    Abortion is legal and therefore medically ethical, while many people find it personally immoral. Fundamentalists, extremists, and even mainstream theists all have different ideas about morality that impact each of our lives, even if indirectly through social pressures or legal discrimination.

    1. Bernard, there are a host of matters hidden by making the terms interchangeable even though the document doesn’t do so. The language as it is used in the BoK makes a distinction in use so I don’t know what they were thinking. Closer to home, whilst ALARP is required under the Act and Regulation and one is expected to comply, the subjectivities of the concept and of all risk assessment includes moral interpretation by the user. This puts the user in an ethical dilemma between a requirement under the Act but no certainty in how to enact it. and so the user ends up with all these gobbeldygook numbers to which they attribute meaning that get quickly blown away in court because a lawyer understands jurisprudence. Another example is that organisations make it ethical (systemic) to award KPIs for safety numerics and yet the dynamic of that KPI encourages immoral behaviour. If the behaviour harms people then the law will quickly judge the KPI as unethical despite the fact that the organisation has made it legal. Of course, neither the AIHS or the BoK tackle this dilemma with integrity yet it is a glaring problem in the industry.

    1. When all you have is ‘do the right thing’ or ‘common sense’ you truly have fallen for the simplistic view, such a delusion is blown away by the next accident. Ethicists know the richness of the linguistic difference between ethics and morals just as safety people make a distinction between risk and hazard. Those not in the safety world confuse the two, similar to those with a poor knowledge of ethics. The only trouble is, safety people are told by their training, like engineers, that they know everything.

  2. The use of ethics and morals synonymously is a cunning stunt which renders the entire AIHS BoK publication on ethics and professional practice somewhat meaningless. This political chicanery is yet another example of intellectual cowardice and obedience to the orthodoxy, which enables the Australian Institute of Heinrich and Skinner to disguise the dichotomy of the Friedman doctrine versus securing the health and safety of people at work.

    Abortion is legal and therefore medically ethical, while many people find it personally immoral. Fundamentalists, extremists, and even mainstream theists all have different ideas about morality that impact each of our lives, even if indirectly through social pressures or legal discrimination.

    1. Bernard, there are a host of matters hidden by making the terms interchangeable even though the document doesn’t do so. The language as it is used in the BoK makes a distinction in use so I don’t know what they were thinking. Closer to home, whilst ALARP is required under the Act and Regulation and one is expected to comply, the subjectivities of the concept and of all risk assessment includes moral interpretation by the user. This puts the user in an ethical dilemma between a requirement under the Act but no certainty in how to enact it. and so the user ends up with all these gobbeldygook numbers to which they attribute meaning that get quickly blown away in court because a lawyer understands jurisprudence. Another example is that organisations make it ethical (systemic) to award KPIs for safety numerics and yet the dynamic of that KPI encourages immoral behaviour. If the behaviour harms people then the law will quickly judge the KPI as unethical despite the fact that the organisation has made it legal. Of course, neither the AIHS or the BoK tackle this dilemma with integrity yet it is a glaring problem in the industry.

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