In the workshop on An Ethic of Risk (https://cllr.com.au/product/an-ethic-of-risk-unit-17/) we raised discussion about what were the most significant ethical dilemmas for safety people. Some of these were listed here: https://safetyrisk.net/the-aihs-bok-and-ethics-check-your-gut/ As the discussion eschewed it became clear that these ethical dilemmas were real, daily and profoundly upsetting.
Interestingly, no one was interested in global disasters or theories of prevention or accident stories, they were interested in the day to day compromises that put their job on the line. So, in the interests of an Ethic of Risk I will discuss three of these dilemmas.
The first and most profound ethical dilemma for safety people is the financial rewarding of KPIs for injury data. Everyone present in the workshop stated just how much pressure was applied to their reporting to NOT put an obstacle in the way of their executives and remuneration. Hence, without being intentionally unethical, the safety people in the workshop described how they had to practice: ‘data gymnastics’, ‘fudging’ data and under-reporting, so that senior executives were not made angry. All present in the workshop described how political pressure to not tell the truth had become an accepted cultural norm in the culture of safety.
The second real and problematic ethical dilemma for safety people from the floor of the workshop was about: ’speaking up’, whistleblowing and honesty regarding safety reality. Many expressed the view that most people who whistleblow or speak up get the sack. This is despite all the spin out in the sector about ‘stop the job’, ‘speak up’ campaigns and so-called protections for whistleblowers. There is nothing like a mortgage hanging over your head to help you remain silent. Strange how Safety is so noisy about zero but so silent about it’s consequences.
The third ethical dilemma was about isolation. Many talked about the way safety people are demonized and considered lepers in organisations because of the way the industry has structured itself around policing, regulation and pettiness (driven of course by zero). Many spoke of informal association in states and territories because they found no support offered by formal associations. Many felt lonely because their ethical concerns are simply not raised by associations or addressed within organisations unless the CEO happens to be unique and not tied to the KPI injury swindle.
The discussion in the workshop extended for over 2 hours with no real solution in sight because a fourth problem and that was a lack of ethical leadership. All spoke of having left formal associations because they received no help or support for their fee paid. Some had even been given the sack for simply challenging the ideology of zero. Some didn’t take work because they had to accept the title of ‘zero harm advisor’ where the word ‘safety’ had been deleted out of the company.
Unfortunately, the industry continues to be without a discussion on an ethic of risk.
Safety people remain isolated in their ethical dilemmas with the only help offered being one of a ‘shut up and think of England’ approach. The deontological AIHS BoK on Ethics leaves it up to you, you are innately ethical, check your gut and do your duty.