Paper Safe is not Due Diligence

Paper Safe is not Due Diligence

Next Due Diligence Workshop: Due Diligence Workshop Sydney 20,21 February 2019

I met Bob yesterday, a Construction Manager deeply shaken by an incident that happened on site with the possibility of multiple fatalities. Like many incidents in building and construction, he was lucky.

The culture of the building and construction industry has been in the spotlight again because of the Opal Tower fiasco . The same old themes appear: tight time frames, short-cuts, tight margins, poor supervision and skills shortages. Despite all the tokenistic ‘investigations’ into the culture of building and construction nothing changes. An example is the Getting Them Home Safely Report to date none of the critical recommendations regarding culture have been addressed. This was followed by yet another so called ‘safety culture’ enquiry that investigated a narrow idea of culture and of course, nothing will change. In this inquiry critical cultural issues from the Getting Them Home Safely Report were not addressed. What really resulted was more policing and all this does is more deeply entrench the culture that exists.

Bob is typical of Construction Managers flooded with excessive paper work and bombarded with many generic forms that are simply meaningless. The tyranny of ‘tick and flick’ continues to boom. In the case of this incident with Bob all the paperwork was in place, as it is in most incidents I have investigated in the industry. All the fixation with being Paper Safe ( ) made absolutely no difference to the nature of the task on Bob’s site nor the way it was performed. Indeed, the focus on paperwork was a significant distraction from the need to attend to culture on site.

One can attend to all the paper-based requirements for Due Diligence and yet not exercise the meaning and purpose of Due Diligence.

The Due Diligence Workshop presented by Greg Smith and Dr Rob Long ( tackles the meaning and purpose of Due Diligence beyond paperwork. Greg and Rob look at what really happens in court and how Due Diligence is most commonly NOT exercised in the industry. This is because the mythology of being Paper Safe continues to plague building and construction. Most often exacerbated by Tier One zero harm organisations.

Despite thorough analysis of SWMS in building and construction ( much mythology remains.

IN 2015-16 Safe Work Australia commissioned the National Research Centre for OHS Regulation (NRCOHSR) at the Australian National University to conduct research to examine the use and effectiveness of SWMS and plans, in safety in building and construction. The Report (Feb 2017) and had four major findings (p.iii):

  1. SWMS are used for the purpose of legal and corporate risk management (‘covering backsides’), which undermines their primary purpose as a tool to help to ensure that high risk work is carried out safely
  2. SWMS contain information that is not required by the WHS Regulations or advised in the construction code, which adds to their length and reduces their usability

  3. SWMS are used for work that is not high risk construction work, as defined in the WHS Regulations, and

  4. workers are not consulted in the preparation of SWMS, contrary to consultation requirements of the WHS Act.

This idea that paperwork ‘covers backsides’ still persists in the industry. Greg and Rob discuss this in their Risky Conversations series (

3. PAPERWORK from Human Dymensions on Vimeo.

Much of the mythology in risk and safety about paperwork is maintained through a regime of fear, usually fear based in ignorance. When you worship the tyranny of zero, paperwork will grow exponentially. Zero is the hero of focusing on ‘petty pissy risk’.

In a quick examination of some of the systems Bob felt compelled to do, I recognized that 50% of it was not required either by regulation of legislation. Indeed, the generic risk management industry promotes itself and people fall in hook line and sinker thinking they are exercising Due Diligence. Greg Smith states clearly that when it comes to court this generic paper work as well as the nonsense of matrices etc are his ‘go to’ in the prosecution process.

In my discussion with Bob we talked about having a non-paper-based understanding of risk assessment and looks at a number of non-paper-based systems that better help to manage risk. Could it be possible to undertake informal, casual risk assessments that don’t need to be documented? Especially for risks that slip through the cracks. Of course!

The truth is, we do informal risk assessments all the time but most often don’t have a systematic way of doing them in this informal way. These are provided in the Workshop.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

Latest posts by Dr Rob Long (see all)

Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

2 Replies to “Paper Safe is not Due Diligence”

  1. Not going into the zero debate which is just another silly slogan used in safety, (not as offensive as “think of your family”), the issue is so called safety professionals have perpetrated the myth on the workforce that by completing the process, whatever version of paper based risk management system, will keep you safe. Evidence by the number of organisations that include the risk management process in site inductions.

    They imply that by documenting all the hazards and identifying all the controls you will be safe. What they never communicate to the workforce is that “SWMS, JSA’s etc are fiction , imaginary works on how we think work will be completed. This is the fundamental problem, implying this false sense of security. In reality the workplace is constantly changing and we would better served to develop our workforces how to identify these changes and respond to them and drive into safety professional that what happens “on the actual job” should be where attention and focus is (not saying stand over like a policeman)- trouble is this is a hell of a lot harder to do for the common safety professional.

    To me paper safety system issue is the same issue you find in workplace training, where trainers think that once the trainee completes the trainer that’s the finish line (safety professional once the risk assessment is completed everythings under control) without focuses on ensuring that you get learning transfer to the job.

    When you think of professional development in both fields, the institutions responsible all have finish lines for qualifications of course completion. If and how you transfer your knowledge into the workplace is none of our business, we got our money now off you go.

  2. Good comments John, thanks you for your sense-able thoughts. One doesn’t hear much in the risk and safety sector the idea of life-long learning (Read Claxton for example) that is an essential part of the professions. Such language is certainly a part of teaching, nursing, social work and law. Indeed, the language of ‘learning’ itself is synonymous with risk which is why perhaps we hear little of the idea of life long learning in the sector, and I don’t mean training or academic learning. If the sector is going to do better at recognition of prior learning (RPL) as a mechanism, it certainly needs a transdisciplinary Body of Knowledge, that it doesn’t have.

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