Safety as Policing
One of the principle factors recognized by the World Congress on Safety 2017 was the problem of ‘safety as policing’. The Congress recognized that the strategy of ‘policing’ doesn’t work and is ineffective (p.10). It states:
‘The OHS Professional’s role should be reconceptualized as a continuous improvement expert … as opposed to the current conceptualization of the role as just a problem solver or enforcer.’
How surprising then to read the Government Response to the Independent Review of Occupational Health and Safety Compliance and Enforcement in Victoria Report (http://www.ohsreview.vic.gov.au/independent-ohs-review) that is framed and primed with the discourse of policing safety. You can download the report here
One of the wonderful suggestions from this report proposes that the regulator deliver on the spot fines for safety infringements. What a progression we have made in safety in making the regulator the cop on the beat. Goodness me and pass the me the dumb down serviette. What a great engagement strategy (http://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/203665/COR-Stakeholder-engagement-framework-2016-08.pdf).
Everyone knows and all the research testifies to the ineffectiveness of on the spot fines to change culture (https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/system/files/documents/1702/on-the_spot_fines_and_preventative_ohs_behaviour_-_research_report_archive.doc, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1335046 ) indeed, rather than change culture such a strategy corrupts culture. What happened to any the sense of education for change? How can on the spot fines improve the culture of safety? Where is the evidence that such a strategy works?
Clearly such an approach raises a heap of money but ask any dumb down hero of toward zero how their campaign is going, clearly on the spot fines don’t work. Numbers in TfNSW are not going toward zero but away from zero, well done (https://safetyrisk.net/nonsense-goals-and-language-on-display/). Hey, I’ve got a good idea, lets bring back convict transportation and do that again? I know, lets prohibit alcohol and see how that goes? I know, lets have a ‘war on drugs’ and see how that goes? One thing is clear, when you don’t know what to do about safety bring in yet another punitive measure and revisit it in 10 years time and wonder why it didn’t work.
One thing is for sure, when your language and discourse is about enforcement and zero you instantly give up the moral and educational high ground.
You probably won’t read Foucault (https://zulfahmed.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/disciplineandpunish.pdf) but there is a reason our prison system is full and why punitive approaches to culture change don’t work. I have worked in that system for several years and when you are on the inside everyone knows the only escape from the cycle of crime and stigma is education. Indeed, such an approach ignores all the research into social reproduction (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_reproduction ) and the hidden curriculum (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hidden_curriculum ).
What the Social Psychology of Risk tells us is that we don’t seek help, education and engagement from the policing agent. You don’t seek a helping hand from the hand that hits you. Safety will never get to be a profession if this is the trajectory advocated by government and the regulator. Indeed, this approach is a direct contradiction of the ethic of professionalism.