Focus on ‘Meeting’ people, not legislation – a path to risk maturity

Focus on ‘Meeting’ people, not legislation – a path to risk maturity

image‘Due Diligence’ seems a buzz term in health and safety in Australia at the moment. I’ve heard many refer to ‘due diligence’ and it’s six steps, as the answer to what we have long been searching in health and safety. Many believe that it provides the clarity and an objectivity that we need in order to ‘meet’ legislative requirements. But does it really, and further, what does a focus on ‘meeting’ legislation, mean when it comes to ‘meeting’ people?

Many of the requirements of ‘due diligence’ are subjective. For example, there is a strong emphasis on terms such as ‘appropriate’ and ‘reasonably practical’. For this reason, it is not possible to state categorically whether an organisation ‘meets’ it’s legislative requirements.

What is more useful than considering ‘compliance’ in relation to ‘due diligence’ and legislation, is to consider organisational cultural maturity and in the context of risk and safety. Organisations that are mature in their approach to risk and safety understand that it is a focus on ‘meeting’ people, rather than ‘meeting legislation’ that is most effective. So what does this mean in practice?

I’ve worked with a number of organisations where the conversations began at ‘due diligence’ and compliance, however quickly turned to maturity and understanding culture. When we conduct a review of ‘due diligence’ or culture in an organisation, our approach contrasts the traditional path that typically includes a policing of process, systems and hazards. While these aspects are necessary and important, mature organisations know it is a focus on people and culture that is required in dealing with risk, not just hazards and objects.

While ‘due diligence’ requires a management system to be in place, mature organisations know that they are required to go beyond an approach that focuses on systems. They know that you have to have a supportive culture and a level of leadership in place that not only embraces the implementation of the system, but also understands how people work within the system, and how people work together in ‘sub-cultures’ throughout the organisation. So you’d think that our peak legislative bodies would be a good starting point it comes to understand what’s required wouldn’t you?

Unfortunately, the State regulators (for example WorkCover NSW and Queensland) guidance material on what ‘knowledge’ we need to have is developed at a very basic level that most mature organisations exceed anyway. The regulators suggest a focus on low-level activities (e.g. investigate current industry issues through conferences, seminars, industry groups, newsletters).

I recently attended a national summit in Melbourne where a senior executive from the States health and safety regulator talked about what they were doing in relation to safety culture. The slide that she spoke to on culture (page 8 of the slide pack) included only numbers; LTI’s, claims and days off work. When this is how the regulators talk about culture, is it any wonder that most in the industry seem fixated on measuring and talking about safety culture only in terms of numbers? Is this really the ‘knowledge’ we need to have about health and safety?

This is not particularly useful in supporting either us as individuals, or our organisations, to mature in our approach to risk and safety. When ‘knowing’ in risk and safety is focused only on measuring injuries, how can this lead to maturity? How can this be part of ‘due diligence’?

So if the regulators information on what ‘knowledge’ means when it comes to risk and safety, what else do we need to know?

While understanding and having ‘knowledge’ of newsletters laws and systems may have some limited use, I also argue they can be dangerous as they can distract people from truely ‘meeting’ each other. When considering a definition of ‘knowledge’ it may be more useful to explore this further by understanding epistemology. That is, the study of knowledge and its recognition that ‘knowledge’ is far more complex and detailed than an understanding of legislation, Codes and similar matters as outlined by WorkCover NSW in their publications.

It is for this reason, that we need to explore beyond the basic six steps of ‘due diligence’ provided by the Regulators and consider further and more mature ways for Officers may to demonstrate ‘knowledge’ of WHS matters.

A great model to prompt thinking and discussion on this is the Safety and Risk Maturity Matrix. The Matrix outlines a journey to maturity, that importantly includes systems, but also recognises that one cannot be mature in risk and safety unless there is a deep understanding of people and culture. (see the video below) So what else do mature organisations ‘know’?

Mature organisations ‘know’ that safety is a ‘wicked problem’. That is, it involves the complexities of human decision-making and judgment. They know that focusing on systems and compliance (the red part of the Matrix) leads to over regulation and ‘flooding’ which means that people revert to intuition and gut feelings when making decisions (i.e. non-rational in the unconscious as outlined by my friend Hayden Collins). This type of thinking enables people to cope without overloading their conscious minds. So what does it mean if our goal is for our organisations to mature by focusing beyond the traditional approach of systems and hazards?

Mature organisations ‘know’ that ‘meeting’ people rather than on ‘meeting’ legislation is a much more effective way to deal with risk.

Does your organisation focus on ‘meeting’ people or legislation?

As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and comments


Author: Robert Sams



Human Dymensions Risk and Safety Maturity Matrix from Human Dymensions on Vimeo.

Rob Sams
Rob Sams
Rob is an experienced safety and people professional, having worked in a broad range of industries and work environments, including manufacturing, professional services (building and facilities maintenance), healthcare, transport, automotive, sales and marketing. He is a passionate leader who enjoys supporting people and organizations through periods of change. Rob specializes in making the challenges of risk and safety more understandable in the workplace. He uses his substantial skills and formal training in leadership, social psychology of risk and coaching to help organizations understand how to better manage people, risk and performance. Rob builds relationships and "scaffolds" people development and change so that organizations can achieve the meaningful goals they set for themselves. While Rob has specialist knowledge in systems, his passion is in making systems useable for people and organizations. In many ways, Rob is a translator; he interprets the complex language of processes, regulations and legislation into meaningful and practical tasks. Rob uses his knowledge of social psychology to help people and organizations filter the many pressures they are made anxious about by regulators and various media. He is able to bring the many complexities of systems demands down to earth to a relevant and practical level.

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