It was the SIA until someone wanted to swing from the Chandelier

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.

https://media.giphy.com/media/U4VXRfcY3zxTi/giphy-downsized.gif
Matt Thorne

Matt Thorne

Executive Director at Risk Diversity
Risk Diversity coaches and mentors Companies and People to understand Leadership, Culture and Risk, helping them to humanise and harmonise their systems.
Matt Thorne

Latest posts by Matt Thorne (see all)

Matt Thorne

35 Replies to “It was the SIA until someone wanted to swing from the Chandelier”

  1. Matt, I’m sure the metaphor of ‘crosshairs’ captures the ethos and ethic of the regulator well. Fear and policing, rarely work.

  2. Matt, I must agree with your comments, sitting along side you I was very disappointed in the lack of opportunity to discuss the issue of ethics, although I think the questions you raise would have been excellent though probably unwelcome.As for the consultant in the cross hairs, I have met many a consultant with limited WHS qualification, but years of experience managing people and working in a multi discipline role who are excellent consultants. I also know a few well qualified consultants that I wouldn’t give the time of day. As for the reporting of coffee offerings, I would be offended as an inspector or even when I was a WorkCover WHS Consultant to have to report that an employer offered me a cup of coffee, if fact I would be surprised if I wan’t offered a coffee, it is called hospitality and politeness. Does SafeWork SA have such little trust in its Inspectors?
    The good relationship you develop with an employer provides a much better opportunity to influence them. Sitting down over a cup of coffee breaks down barriers and opens up conversation, the most powerful item in the tool bag for WHS people.

    One other question could be is it ethical to refer to the WHS Consultant as a professional, when compared to professions such as Doctors, Lawyers and Accountants, are we not better referenced as para-professionals?

    Agree also that Peter Johnson’s presentation was excellent, he is a very good operator with a lot of experience.

  3. The Brisbane launch was akin to being in a studio audience for an episode of a formulaic commercial television game show such as The Chaser.

  4. Is it ethical to have an executive director with a state regulatory authority that is attempting to prosecute a WHS consultant and the executive director is also an alternate director with an organisation that operates a remunerative professional certification scheme?

  5. Dear Matthew,

    Your comments regarding the veiled threat to WHS consultants are most interesting. The AIHS recently provided a submission to the Queensland parliament covering the Resources Safety and Health Queensland Bill 2019.

    It was nothing more than a sales pitch that promoted its remunerative professional certification scheme.

  6. On the note of unethical conflict of interest, try an accreditation board in direct connection to the AIHS that has no arms length independence to the peak body.

  7. The Brisbane launch was akin to being in a studio audience for an episode of a formulaic commercial television game show such as The Chaser.

    1. Bernard, aside from the metaphoric attempts at humour, all you’re really doing is having a go at a large body of health and safety people who are trying to extend knowledge and understanding of ethics, by creating forums in their region to discuss them. I say congratulations to all of them. Did we inadvertently step into your special space, or is this just more of the general nastiness? Formulaic? These comments strings are an exercise in what that means – they get more and more nasty as they go, and really, for what ? Each state and territory ran an event, they were different everywhere. But they were all a chance for health and safety people to design a discussion to talk ethics. And, there are some very capable people in those groups I am certain – through I don’t personally know many of them. It;s real health and safety people, talking about something important. You guys act like NOBODY outside your circle knows anything – or what they know is wrong. From where I sit, the arrogance is blinding.

      1. Happy Valentine’s Day,

        I’ve been called and accused of much worse things by far better people.

        A close relative recently succumbed to asbestosis and deaths from many industrial diseases such as mesothelioma, black lung and silicosis are indeed quite nasty, excruciatingly painful and often very lonely. Moreover, it was quite a harrowing experience seated next to a black lung victim in the gallery of the Queensland parliamentary annexe during a public hearing back in March 2017.

        The frail elderly gentleman with a cocktail of blood and excessive pleural fluid gurgling inside his lungs struggled to breathe and required assistance from several CFMEU members before describing his horrendous plight to the coal workers pneumoconiosis select committee.

        Maybe that’s why there was no official representation from the AIHS/SIA at the numerous public hearings held in Brisbane and throughout regional Queensland. Furthermore, the Queensland parliamentary inquiry into black lung and its extended terms of reference covering exposure to other occupational respirable dusts such as silica failed to receive any formal submissions from the AIHS/SIA.

        The current toll for mine dust lung diseases across Queensland exceeds 130 victims and almost 300 tradesmen across Australia have been diagnosed with silicosis.

        The disingenuous and sinister excuse proffered by you and the former AIHS/SIA chairperson for its impassive response was a lack of technical expertise yet the organisation operates a remunerative professional certification scheme. Was it arrogance, complacency, political chicanery or just plain apathy? There was very little evidence of care or compassion.

        The opposite for courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow – Jim Hightower

        In September 2019 a Queensland parliamentary inquiry included a public briefing and hearing for the introduction of the Resources Safety and Health Queensland Bill 2019 to establish a revised regulatory framework.

        On this occasion the AIHS provided a written submission, which included a shameless and somewhat mercenary promotion of its mediocre services with the presumptive solicitation of its remunerative professional certification scheme…….. “The Institute considers that encouragement or even legislative reference to the preferred use of certified OHS professionals would improve the quality of safety outcomes.”

        It is redolent of regulatory or policy capture, which is a byzantine calumny that is simple to identify and categorise but quite difficult to prove. It is easily repudiated, elusive and rarely leads to any significant punitive action unless blatant political corruption is evident. This occurs via a labyrinth of complex processes, which include substantive legislation to favour specific business interests and self-serving biases with ideological motivated behaviour. Moreover, it is so much easier to deceive people than it is to convince them that they have been fooled and the classic lyrics from Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues resonate….You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

      2. Hi David – I would desperately love someone with a different worldview to write an intelligent article for this site. Many years ago, I even offered good money for someone to write an article to support the zero harm approach to safety – no response. I understand some may feel intimidated but I promise that any adversarial comments will be deleted. That is my challenge to you – prove to me that SOMEBODY outside of our “circle” knows anything (I am very certain that they absolutely do) and can clearly and confidently articulate that. If that is too much then perhaps encourage them to comment on one of the articles you have taken exception to. Again, I promise a fair debate

  8. Is it ethical to have an executive director with a state regulatory authority that is attempting to prosecute a WHS consultant and the executive director is also an alternate director with an organisation that operates a remunerative professional certification scheme?

  9. Matt, I must agree with your comments, sitting along side you I was very disappointed in the lack of opportunity to discuss the issue of ethics, although I think the questions you raise would have been excellent though probably unwelcome.As for the consultant in the cross hairs, I have met many a consultant with limited WHS qualification, but years of experience managing people and working in a multi discipline role who are excellent consultants. I also know a few well qualified consultants that I wouldn’t give the time of day. As for the reporting of coffee offerings, I would be offended as an inspector or even when I was a WorkCover WHS Consultant to have to report that an employer offered me a cup of coffee, if fact I would be surprised if I wan’t offered a coffee, it is called hospitality and politeness. Does SafeWork SA have such little trust in its Inspectors?
    The good relationship you develop with an employer provides a much better opportunity to influence them. Sitting down over a cup of coffee breaks down barriers and opens up conversation, the most powerful item in the tool bag for WHS people.

    One other question could be is it ethical to refer to the WHS Consultant as a professional, when compared to professions such as Doctors, Lawyers and Accountants, are we not better referenced as para-professionals?

    Agree also that Peter Johnson’s presentation was excellent, he is a very good operator with a lot of experience.

  10. Matt, I’m sure the metaphor of ‘crosshairs’ captures the ethos and ethic of the regulator well. Fear and policing, rarely work.

  11. On the note of unethical conflict of interest, try an accreditation board in direct connection to the AIHS that has no arms length independence to the peak body.

  12. Dear Matthew,

    Your comments regarding the veiled threat to WHS consultants are most interesting. The AIHS recently provided a submission to the Queensland parliament covering the Resources Safety and Health Queensland Bill 2019.

    It was nothing more than a sales pitch that promoted its remunerative professional certification scheme.

      1. Happy Valentine’s Day.

        Each auditor general will be notified although I strongly suspect the response will be a similar and familiar patronising disposition of unaccountable power. Indeed, in the current era of casino capitalism society cares for the individual only so far as he is profitable.

        Should they pursue the matter I am quite happy to reach out with the preparation of a pro bono publico resignation or retirement speech for your current sinecure with the AIHS. I will keep it succinct and include a summary of significant achievements via the traditional formulaic script:

        a) Tell your audience what they want to hear
        b) Tell ’em
        c) And tell ’em again

        I will endeavour to restrict most of the narrative to two-syllable words to ensure subscribers to other Australian workplace safety blogs and their editors or redundant hacks are quite capable of interpreting the content.

        However, it will almost certainly encounter a significant endogenous cultural impediment. Substantive evidence suggests the AIHS steadfastly refuses to listen and most of its Pecksniffian and obsequious acolytes either don’t read or are incapable of perusing an alternative book without moving their lips.

  13. Matt, Thanks for an easy to read and entertaining, yet thought provoking article. It appears to me (subjectively) that ethics is becoming a new buzz word, not only in safety, yet with few people understanding the real concept of ethics. To add to your list of questions: “Can it ever be ethical to have a final answer on ethics, or will it forever remain a debate?” I believe there is so much of philosophy in ethics (as a field) that it should never be reduced to a final answer or solution. Today’s ethical solution may be a problem tomorrow.

    1. Whynand, you are right but this was neither discussed in the BoK which is profoundly focused on duty in a deontological ethic. The naivety of the chapter is astounding. His good that all safety people are innately ethical (read natural law ethics) and simply invoke their god ordained ontology via the gut!

  14. As ever, the work of the AIHS provides a rich vein of opportunities for criticism. Why? Because we do things – and are trying to build something. Matt, you got the opportunity to go to this ethics event, drink what you appear to think was coolade free of charge, and listen. You ALSO had the chance to speak in the meeting – discuss or challenge the issues – because that’s what these discussions are all about – but did you say one word? That armchair critic approach is everywhere on this site, amongst the book-selling and the Chris Hemsworth ads. I’m sure its easier to slip into this forum where a small group of people congratulate each other as they tear down anything not related to their own world view, and provide virtually nothing constructive in the process. Aside from regular misrepresentations of others and what is said, this and virtually every article on this blog site follows the model of tearing somebody or something down. Sometimes that’s the sole purpose of the article – at other times, the special addition is the onsell of a product. The self-aggrandizement and group bullying including social media trolling of people that who do not agree, is appalling. Matt you misrepresent of concepts and ideas of the speakers and BOK, and especially your casual misrepresentation of Campbell’s comments is factually, morally and ethically wrong. Also, trite headlines are one thing but the SIA/AIHS name change is simple (and I made the change so I can speak to it): We wanted ‘health’ in our name, to better reflect who we already are as a profession. 30 years late – but hey – better late than never. Making up a story about it doesn’t make it true. And Rob regarding your comment about AOHSEAB: -1. we auspice the education accreditation body because it does not yet have the economy of scale to pay for itself. If we didn’t, it would not exist. 2. It’s independent governance board holds the power of formally delegated and independent responsibilities, is demonstrably independent; and 3. That boards goal, supported by the Institute, is to meet the International standard for accreditation bodies (2/3rds of such bodies do not) and become fully independent as soon as they can be. But hey- let’s not let the truth get in the way of a good story shall we ?….. I am certain the Institute through the work of the thousands of health and safety professionals that guide it, will continue to do more to grow and develop this profession – so you’ll be getting more fuel for whatever it is you think you’re doing. Go for it. I can tell you one thing: you’re certainly not building anything.

    1. Happy Valentine’s Day,

      Despite repeatedly baying at the moon about zero harm ideology and advocating a transdisciplinary approach maybe I should use the sinister Schumpeterian term of creative destruction. This aligns much better with the prevailing free market fundamentalism and devastating neoliberal maelstrom, which has swept across most western democracies since the 1970s. Indeed, during times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.

    2. Thanks for chiming in David – I’m really pleased to know that people like yourself are reading, whatever the reason. As Harry S. Truman once said: “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”

      I apologise for the ads – they are a necessary evil to help pay our hosting and other costs as we have no mmebership fees and DO NOT get commisions from book or product sales and I doubt we’ll ever get sponsorship from any Peak Bodies or Tier 1s – LOL. We have limited control over what ads Google serves up as they are algorythmically contextualised based on the content and the reader’s personal search habits.

    3. David

      I think when offering criticism it’s important to have evidence and resist emotive response. Just as zero is not a ‘global by-line’ and a ‘pet hate gone away, and you’re baying at the moon’, neither does this site sell books or lack constructive practical and positive support for the industry.

      One of the great things about this blog-site is it does things. It offers constructive and positive insight into risk and safety work. One of the reasons the site is visited so often (over 250,000 a month) is because people in the industry are looking for support, constructive help and ideas that are lacking elsewhere. This is why everything that is offered on the site is free. There is no product sale on the site, its all for free download. I know of no other service in the safety industry that offers so much productive support for free as this site.

      Far from tearing things down, this site provides thousands of materials for help and support more than any other source. For example, just in my free books downloads exceed 25,000 and more will be on offer this year. Risk and safety people clearly want such material and help. Similarly, the International and National companies using materials from this demonstrates how constructive this site is. So, this site is not about ‘tearing down’ but rather ‘building up’. It is a highly accessed site for education and learning for safety people.
      http://www.safetyrisk.net

    4. David

      I think when offering criticism it’s important to have evidence and resist emotive response. Just as zero is not a ‘global by-line’ and a ‘pet hate gone away, and you’re baying at the moon’, neither does this site sell books or lack constructive practical and positive support for the industry.

      One of the great things about this blog-site is it does things. It offers constructive and positive insight into risk and safety work. One of the reasons the site is visited so often (over 250,000 a month) is because people in the industry are looking for support, constructive help and ideas that are lacking elsewhere. This is why everything that is offered on the site is free. There is no product sale on the site, its all for free download. I know of no other service in the safety industry that offers so much productive support for free as this site.

      Far from tearing things down, this site provides thousands of materials for help and support more than any other source. For example, just in my free books downloads exceed 25,000 and more will be on offer this year. Risk and safety people clearly want such material and help. Similarly, the International and National companies using materials from this demonstrates how constructive this site is. So, this site is not about ‘tearing down’ but rather ‘building up’. It is a highly accessed site for education and learning for safety people.

    5. Good Morning David,

      My apologies for not responding to your post prior to today, Valentine’s Day is also my wedding anniversary and my wife and I were spending it together, surrounded by our seven kids, enjoying the miracle of love and family.

      Any assertion that I am an armchair warrior is a fascination. I went to the meeting seeking participation. Dave, you were not there. My observations were made from my firsthand experience. Your emotive third-hand comments are factually wrong.

      The agenda for the so-called ‘forum’ was not set up to facilitate discussion about ethics. It was structured to questions to particular “moral dilemmas” given by the presenters. As I had nothing constructive to add to their stories, I didn’t.

      My recollection of Martyn Campbell’s comments, as someone who was at the function, is entirely correct. Please make me aware of where I have not stated the facts, and which morals and ethics I have transgressed by offering something you do not agree with.

      The post presentation discussions were held in the hallway outside the room provided, where there was neither seating nor facilitation of introductions. I had discussions with people and left at 6:05pm.

      I am in Melbourne next week and I am happy to discuss any of my unanswered questions about ethics, if you are happy for me to buy you a drink.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below