Safety as a Helping Profession
I do sometimes wonder how or why some people get into the Safety Profession? Although thankfully in the minority, why do some safety people have such disdain for the “workers” (I dislike that dehumanizing label – see https://safetyrisk.net/the-dynamics-of-dehumanisation/ ) or think they have to burden them with convoluted systems and rub their hands together with glee when they catch them doing something wrong??? One of my partners in crime puts it down to a particular form of anatomical inadequacy but I wont go there now!
Anyway, I’ve been asked to republish by Dr Rob Long (see all of his recent articles HERE), it was first published at Xmas time 4 years ago and ends with a little true story at the end which restored my faith – ENJOY!!!!
When one thinks of a career in safety what is the focus? Where should I get training? What does that training teach? How does that training orient me for a career in safety? How we answer and act on these questions will probably determine what we think safety is.
For some people it is clear that the profession of safety is that of surrogate policemen. For them, a safety diploma or degree should be located in the Faculty of Criminal Science. For some the climate of police work, forensics and criminality captures best what they think safety is about. Tied into this perspective on safety is the idea that the safety profession is a legal undertaking. Safety training for some should be undertaken in the Faculty of Law. For some safety is all about the maintenance of legislation, regulation and legal compliance. The mentality that dominates such a mindset is bent of ‘catching people out’, punishment and the consequences of conviction.
In most cases the training associated with safety is tied to Faculties of Health Science. We should be able to understand the reasons for this, in many ways the real orientation of safety is as a helping profession, but somehow it doesn’t seem to sink in. Run though any safety conference program recently and you would be forgiven for thinking that the safety profession is anchored in the wrong faculty. Many don’t seem to link safety with the likes of nursing, teaching or community work. Rather, it seems that many people in the safety profession behave like ‘custodians’ of the Work, Health and Safety Act rather than carers of people. Sometimes the safety sector seems over populated with frustrated policeman and lawyers.
Sometimes it seems that safety should be anchored to Faculties of Administration. For some the work of safety is about the cataloguing, data entry and administration of systems and bureaucracy. No need to even own a pair of steel caps, as long as the paperwork is right, the job is done.
I had my way, I would put safety training in the Faculty of Education and I would make the mandated text, The Skilled Helper by Gerard Egan. Maybe, safety might even be better placed in a cross faculty with Counselling/Theology and the mandated text should be Thomas Merton The Care of the Soul.
It seems that many parts of the safety profession are consumed and frustrated with the behaviour of immature people. Unfortunately, blaming and labelling people ‘idiots’ or ‘dumb’ doesn’t help change much. Yet the foundation of all helping professions is establishing relationships, building communication, listening, developing empathy, educating, facilitating learning and influencing change. The principles that make the foundation of good school teaching and nursing are probably much more suitable as a foundation for safety professionals than the foundations of a law degree. Safety is essentially a person-centred and humanizing profession.
I was on a worksite the other day and the safety superintendent had just returned back to work from a heart attack. The site is heavy industrial gas and is a catalogue of high risk activity. If anything goes pear shaped on this site it will be front page of the papers the next day. If this site goes down, 2.5 million people will be without gas. As I walked the site and noted all the hazards and risks with staff I was captivated by the most amazing scene. There amongst the tangle of pipes and gauges was a small swallow’s nest. Rather than knock the nest down, the superintendent had grabbed an old helmet and cabled tied it above the nest as protection. I thought this captured so well the intent of the safety profession, that is: if I can care for a sparrow, I can certainly care for you.
So, in the peak before Christmas when our minds are so consumed with the final rush. When the distractions and pressures increase to meet unreal deadlines, the message is simple for all safety professionals. Care for each other.