Giving and Receiving Advice in Safety
It is no accident that the identity of the safety person is most often described as an ‘advisor’ If you are looking for work in safety (https://www.seek.com.au/safety-advisor-jobs) you will quickly see that this is the language used to describe the work of doing safety in an organization (https://safetyrisk.net/the-role-of-safety-advisor-in-organisations/).
Giving advice is the work of ‘helping’ (https://safetyrisk.net/the-advisor-as-skilled-helper/). Unfortunately, this is not how Safety wants to be identified or known. You will NOT find the language of ‘helping’ in the IOSH Competency Framework or the AIHS BoK. You will also see in the INSHPO OHS Capability Framework that the work of safety is described as ‘advisor’ even ‘trusted advisor’ (https://www.inshpo.org/storage/app/media/docs/INSHPO_2017_Capability_Framework_Final.pdf) (eg. p9, p21, p26). Unfortunately, all three bodies use the language of ‘professional’ when without an emphasis on ‘helping’ they cannot be. The language of ‘helping’ is essential in the identity of being professional (https://safetyrisk.net/not-a-professions-bootlace/). Without an ethic of helping, safety will never become professional (https://safetyrisk.net/a-professional-ethic-of-risk/).
It is important to understand that the business of advising gives power to the other. If you see a doctor, social worker, teacher, lawyer or nurse they also give helping advice but it is up to you whether you take that advice or chose to ignore it. Indeed, in medicine it is commonly accepted to seek secondary or alternate advice if you want. Professionals never project an ideology of control and power.
I recently had reason to see a doctor who ‘prescribed’ some medicine that had pretty challenging side effects and in discussion with the pharmacist and other doctors decided not to take the medication and sought alterative options. This is how advising works. If I chose not to take the advice of a professional the responsibility lies with me, not the professional, they have done their job.
In the AIHS BoK on Ethics there is no discussion on the foundational issue of power (https://safetyrisk.net/the-aihs-bok-and-ethics-check-your-gut/ ). There is also no discussion on an ethic of helping or advising. The issue of power is the starting point for any study of Ethics (https://safetyrisk.net/free-online-study-the-essence-of-ethics-in-risk/ ). How remarkable that this vital issue is not raised in the deontological (AIHS BoK) ethic of safety! There are so many omissions of vital ethical importance in this AIHS BoK Chapter that it makes it completely useless indeed, dangerous, harmful. Similarly, the IOSH so called ‘Competency Framework’ assumes and attributes power to the advisor, that the advisor doesn’t have. When it comes to Ethics, Safety doesn’t even get to the starter blocks.
So, how does one enact the role of Advisor?
- Advising starts with humility, approach ‘the other’ with powerlessness.
- Self-understanding anchored in surrender of power to ‘the other’.
- NOT controlling or ‘telling’.
- Ensuring an open ethical foundation.
- Learning the art of ‘helping’.
- Help others foresee the possible outcome of their choices.
- Seek to be the best inter-personal communicator possible.
- Understanding the limits of advice.
- NOT policing, forcing and controlling others.
- Facilitate trusting relationships, empowers advice.
- Resisting blame and seeking cause.
- Help others define their risks and choices.
- Engage, ‘meet’, care and listen to others.
- Maintain the broad transdisciplinary skill development.
- Offer information when asked.
People take advice from people they trust (https://safetyrisk.net/what-can-safety-learn-from-pastoral-care/ ). Trust is the foundation of why people accept advice.
So, this is what Advisors in safety need to work on, building trusting relationships so that when the moment comes people will accept the advice being offered. It is unfortunate that the current OHS Curriculum, AIHS BoK and IOSH Competency Framework don’t prepare safety people for the job of advising (https://safetyrisk.net/essential-preparation-for-a-safety-job/ ). Until, helping becomes central to the role of safety it can never become professional.