What a timely and insightful book on the safety industry, recently released by Rosa Carrillo (https://carrilloconsultants.com/product/voices-from-the-resistance/).
OHS Voices from the Resistance is a book that documents the malaise of an industry that harms its own people psychosocially whilst at the same time, drawing in well-meaning people to ‘help’ others in risk.
What a strange industry that draws people in, with a passion and vocation to ‘help’ and support people in tackling risk, then only to discover that the occupation of safety is NOT about this.
A vocation is about what some might name as a ‘calling’, this is an inner drive from personality, disposition and worldview that says deep inside: ‘this is where you are meant to be’. An occupation is just the job of safety, the work one is expected to do.
This is a book that captures the problem of separation of vocation and occupation in safety.
When Rosa first invited me into her conversation about this dilemma, I thought how needed her voice is. Rosa gives voice to a major problem for an industry that is yet to educate its people holistically. Most of what is contained in the safety curriculum does NOT prepare safety people for their job.
This book brings to light this problem through its many first-hand interviews and testimonies from safety people about the nature of their work. These testimonies and interviews from safety people demonstrate a fundamental disconnect between what safety people wish they could do and what the industry demands they do.
However, this disconnect is not just between and within the organisations and what managers demand of safety people. It also demonstrates a fundamental disconnect between safety associations, regulators and the safety curriculum, with what front-line safety people want to do but are forced to do.
It is clear that safety people know and experience this disconnect but many in positions of authority do not. It is clear these people in management do not understand safety as a ‘helping’ or ‘caring’ profession. This puts many people working in the safety industry into dissonance. They entered the industry to care and help only to discover they are expected to count and report injury rates and police the regulation.
Rosa’s interviews and testimonies show that a majority of safety people understand themselves as helping and caring ‘professionals’. But this is not is what is expected of them, neither does their safety indoctrination (not education) provide the ethic, skills or foundational expertise to be a helping/caring professional.
Many of Rosa’s interviewees express a sense of despondence and will to leave the industry. Or, have already exited the industry. This is because of this profound disconnectedness between their vocation and occupation.
Sadly, these are good people who have much to offer the industry. This leaves a cohort that carry on with what is expected of them (counting injury rates and policing regulation) who begrudgingly do as they are told.
The book opens with Rosa’s statement of ethic, a wonderful example to many who might write a book but never disclose their bias. Rosa’s ethic resonates with me as she states:
‘I am disturbed by the stories here that people are being hurt. These are the voices of people who continue to do “the right thing” even as they operate in a broken dysfunctional system’.
‘The practitioners were saying that they wanted to help and cared about people. When I learned that the words caring and helping are not part of any formal description in the OHS occupation, I wondered if those traits were part of the reason for their lack of status. Culturally they are considered feminine traits. Since most women sit far below men on the hierarchy of power, could this lower status extend to people that exhibit the characteristic of caring? I feel overwhelmed by this thought’.
The title of Rosa’s book uses the word ‘resistance’ and yet many in the safety industry feel powerless against those with power to make a difference. Rosa also describes her book as ‘a journey’ into the struggle of safety people. The many testimonies and stories in the book support this struggle between the powerful and the powerless. Indeed, I envision Rosa’s book as part of that call for resistance.
This book of truth-telling and testimony is a powerful book that the whole industry needs to read especially, for those in positions of power who continue to parade their ignorance and lack of ethic in the myth of zero. (95% of all safety practitioners in our Zero Survey declare that the ideology of zero is nonsense and laughed at by workers on the front line).
This book doesn’t simply deconstruct an industry that dehumanises its own people but rather offers recommendations in the final chapter of the book that offer positive, practical and constructive ways forward. These recommendations are:
- Encourage research and raise awareness of the socio-psychological influences that impact the mental health of OHS practitioners
- Update the definition of OHS in regulatory, educational and professional associations to reflect the reality of the modern workplace
- Update the OHS curriculum to meet organizational needs
- Contribute to the alignment of the OHS practitioner’s identity, vocation and role
- Improve OHS internal working relationships, especially cross-group communication and collaboration
- Help organizational leaders become better employers
These are discussed in a way that offers hope to the many voices of resistance in OHS. These recommendations provide a positive way forward for an industry that seems happy to wave to its best people leaving out the back door.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Safety was able to join the likes of teachers, nurses, community and social workers as a ‘helping profession’? But alas, such is a long way away from the kind of brutalism that safety people are expected to dish out.
However, this book gives me consolation and a dream that one day Safety might become a helping profession:
- Hopefully Rosa’s book can do more than just offer hope but give practical advise the powerful in organisations who are yet to appreciate what a helping profession could do to the conduct of safety in their organisation.
- Maybe Rosa’s book can prompt the Associations to move away from the delusions of engineering, behaviourism and checklists to enable safety people to be helpers, listeners and carers for those who struggle with the challenges of risk in their work.
- Perhaps the curriculum developers might reconsider the work of safety in the light of the helping professions and ditch the fixation on regulation and balance this with a focus on persons?
Some of these expectations and recommendations are ‘low hanging fruit’, they would not take much to change. Yet, all require a will and desire to understand what is really going on in the safety world. Rosa’s book paints this picture very clearly.
Possibly, if the right people read this book (https://carrilloconsultants.com/product/voices-from-the-resistance/) some things may change. You certainly couldn’t read OHS Voices from the Resistance and be happy with the status quo.