On the evening of Monday the 10th of February I attended the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) “Ethics and Professional Practice BoK (Book of Knowledge) Chapter launch (‘forum’)” It was a disappointing turnout with the room barely half full for such an important topic, the creation of a Code of Ethics for the Risk and Safety community can have far reaching consequences.
When I go to a forum, I want to be challenged, I want my mind stretched, I want to leave the room mentally exhausted and invigorated. I want something new! I was disappointed.
The evening got off to the usual start for these kinds of events. The speakers came and went, discussing their ethical dilemmas, but of note were the third and fourth speakers.
The Third speaker was Peter Johnson, a consultant who has been with the AIHS (formerly the SIA) since 1987. Peter’s talk was notable because at a time of crisis in his career the SIA, and the regulator failed him terribly. The upshot of the incident is that when he was at his lowest physically and mentally the “professional body” that should have been there to support him only could manage to tell him to proceed in a course of action that was consistent with the Act. No delving into the issues that were driving him to this point. No-one supporting him with his situation. He had to hire a lawyer at the time when he need help most.
It is all possibly this might not have gotten to this point if the South Australian and Queensland safety regulators had made a territorial call on the original incident, instead it was held in limbo and not investigated. Great for the company, bad for Peter as six weeks later another incident occurred triggering similar events.
The fourth speaker was Martyn Campbell, the Executive Director of SafeWork SA. Martyn’s talk was slightly different, he talked about ethics of being the regulator, consequences of being seen to be biased towards potential transgressors and recording even an offer of a cup of coffee. What was demonstrated here in Martyn’s narrative is that a lack of ethical consciousness can pursue rules to the detriment of human community. Unlike the narrative of the BoK that assumes that all laws and rules are ethical! Apparently, there is a rule for the regulator that states that even a cup of coffee requires policing and reporting, a clear sign that the regulator lives in an unethical culture of distrust.
The most startling part of the evening was a comment from Martyn where he communicated a case currently under investigation where they were trying to charge a consultant, who only had a cert IV in WHS, for claiming he could do things beyond his capabilities. The ramifications of this will be discussed in future blogs. But the comment that jarred me was, and here I am paraphrasing, “we have consultants in our crosshairs”.
Veiled threat? Ethical approach to people who do not have a direct qualification to enter AIHS? A bad attempt at “Professionalising” the industry, because there was a quick sales pitch to join the AIHS to avoid things like this. I never respond positively to threats. You don’t. No-one does. Again, very disappointing.
So apart from these four speakers at the launch, the ethical dilemmas that were described came across more as “war stories”. Everyone took the correct mode of action. Liken it to the “Mock Trial” for WHS scenarios, great theatre, but no real learnings to take away, other than don’t “be ethical”. Disappointing.
So, I left feeling as if we had not had a discussion, engagement or talked about ethics. Given there was no place in the forum for questions about the BoK, I will list my questions here.
- If a company has a zero harm policy, how can a Risk and Safety employee be ethical when someone is injured?
- Is it ethical to have a system that can punish people, but not have a system to support people?
- Is it ethical to have a forum where there is no discussion?
- Is it ethical to write a “Book of Knowledge” on ethics, promising it will have updates, which in itself makes it an ‘arse-covering’ exercise?
- Is it ethical to have a system of punishment inside the AIHS without knowing who will be doing the punishing?
- Is it ethical to be a Risk and Safety employee inside an organisation without the organisation having stated their ethic?
- Is it ethical to deny human fallibility?
- If I do not indicate at the traffic lights in a company vehicle, am I unethical?
- Is it ethical to have a system of ethics devised by one person from ethics, based in accounting, coupled with multiple people from the Risk and Safety field?
- What by-products or trade-offs does the imposition of ethics on the industry have on those not able to join AIHS?
- Is it ethical not to have a transdisciplinary approach to ethics?
At the end of the day, the “cross hairs” of the AIHS seemed to have rotated 45 degrees to a biblical cross and formed a crusade in the shape of a membership drive. Al in all, disappointing.