The most successful program we have delivered over the past 20 years has been the Safety Observations and Conversations program. It has been delivered globally to nearly every industry one can think of to tens of thousands of people at every level of work.
The program is now being delivered by Matt Thorne and Andrew Thornhill.
The program is highly engaging, interactive and practical, focusing on skill development and risk maturity. If you want a demo or more information then contact: email@example.com
One would think that the ‘art’ of conversation and observation would be easy after all, most people can see and talk. However, in risk and safety this is a mammoth challenge. In an industry renown for its focus on controls, hazards and behaviourism (https://safetyrisk.net/understanding-safety-incentive-schemes-a-question-of-balance/) developing effective skills in observation and conversation is challenging. Particularly because so much has to be un-learned before one can learn the art of conversation.
The foundation for effective conversation is discovered in relinquishing agenda particularly, the quest to control. This is NOT how people in safety are taught how to engage others indeed, there is no skill development in communication of any substance in a safety qualification.
So, to start, a new disposition has to be founded and a new language developed. This involves the rejection of behaviourist language and the power and superiority associated with controlling others.
If one seeks to be a ‘helper’ rather than a ‘controller’, then the start is developing skills in Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR). This means suspending the judgmentalism that is common in safety so evident in propaganda like the Bradley Curve and a host of safety discourse that demonises workers as if they all want to hurt themselves.
Once one gains a more respectful disposition the next step is to work hard on open questioning. In all of the programs we have run in safety conversations we rarely find anyone in safety who knows the art of open questioning.
It’s hard to ask open questions when you carry an assumption and disposition to control others.
It is always amusing to read behaviourist safety discuss controlling others and its fixation on ‘behaviours’ when none of those espouse such methods would want the same inflicted on themselves.
It’s amazing how BBS is always good for other people.
The next step in shifting disposition is a reoriented ethic. Unless one shifts away from this nonsense deontological ethic espoused by the AIHS (https://safetyrisk.net/the-aihs-bok-and-ethics-check-your-gut/) one simply won’t have the right frame of mind to approach an observation or conversation. Nothing is more destructive to an ethic of helping than this Kantian nonsense of pure reason and superior rationality (https://ndpr.nd.edu/reviews/morality-for-humans-ethical-understanding-from-the-perspective-of-cognitive-science/).
So, there are many hurdles to jump before a person indoctrinated with the safety worldview (https://safetyrisk.net/the-safety-worldview-and-the-worldview-of-safety-testing-due-diligence/ ) can turn away from the burden of behaviourism to become effective at observations and conversations.
When it comes to conversation, any language that views persons as objects, culture as a ‘product’ or people as hazards (https://safetyrisk.net/the-enemy-of-safety-humans/ ) and ‘factors’ in a system, is a 3 second ‘turn off’. People can smell a patronising, superior controlling disposition at 3 paces. What follows may be talking but the purpose is tokenistic and never involves any real connection to reality.
Certainly, no worker trusts anyone who comes to them smelling of BBS.
If you want to really stink the workplace out then ensure that conversations are measured.
The number of engagements and interactions on site about safety are meaningless unless such interactions are skilled helping conversations.
I was once brought into a large Tier One organisation to help the 24 executives improve their observations and conversations about risk and safety, this included visits on site and coaching. After a few sessions in the classroom, we ventured out to site and without exception every engagement was a disaster. None were able to relinquish power or control. None were able to listen and exercise UPR. None could suspend their agenda and empower ownership to ‘the other’.
If you don’t have the right disposition and skills to undertake an effective observation and conversation then it’s better NOT go out and do so poorly.
A lousy observation and conversation session sends risk and safety in organisations backward for years.
Nothing is more detrimental to safety ownership than the kind of policing and bullying common to regulators.
Without trust there is no truth telling (https://safetyrisk.net/investigations-and-truth-telling/).
Nothing is more destructive to safety than fraudulence (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-fraudulence/).
As we observe all this noise about ‘conversation’ and observation’ in safety, we need to scratch well below the surface to see what is really going on. As the saying goes ‘talk is cheap’, the real test is observing What Works! (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/it-works-a-new-approach-to-risk-and-safety/).
If some of the basics explained in this blog are not present in the process espoused then whatever is going on is NOT conversation.
The art of right disposition, resilience, trust, listening and helping can never be ‘engineered’.
I think one of the reasons for regulators missing the mark is they seem to employ a fairly large percentage of ex-police or similar types. Whilst the basic principles according to the WHS Act(s) for an inspector and a copper seem to align, the approach in applying those principles should be very different. In the first instance an inspector should be looking to assist the workplace with their compliance to the legal requirements not enforce. Unfortunately they (some) seem to relish the power they wield and just think they can lazily enforce and walk away and their job is done. Helping takes more effort, plus here in Queensland the government seems hell bent on enforcing instead of helping with WHS so the inspectors are actually encouraged to just fine and prosecute. Sad times.
Rob Long says
Jason, good comment and also lots of ex-army and personality types that anchor to behaviourism, engineering and indoctrination in compliance. Yes sad times.
But don’t hope for any change soon from any of the associations. They too are anchored into a politik of zero and territory making that adores compliance and has no cognizance of critical thinking.
There is also the huge problem of the WHS curriculum that simply continues to mis-educate the sector so that nothing improves.