Whenever the question arises about improving the safety industry it is amazing to see what is invisibly declared off limits. Lets have safety improvement as long as no sacred rites or safety lores are questioned. Lets tinker about the edges, change the brand of cosmetics and fixate on stasis. So as a contribution to the great silence I would like to offer the following seven criticisms and three suggested actions for improvement.
- The first and most critical place to start is the WHS curriculum. There is nothing more narrow and mis-educative than the current WHS curriculum. The WHS curriculum as it currently stands is a record of everything of low importance to being a safety person in the workplace.
- The narrow worldview of the WHS curriculum is also supported by a similarly closed and narrow Body of Knowledge. With 75% of the BoK and WHS curriculum focused on objects not subjects the industry ensures that safety advisors begin in the workplace ill equipped to tackle the biggest challenges in risk associated with people at work. As long as the industry remains bogged down in a STEM-only worldview it is not likely that anything will change, especially the dehumanising nature of the industry itself.
- Next is the WHS Act and Regulation. The so called ‘model Act’ has been a disaster as has the recent Boland Review. If you want genuine improvement in safety you can’t go to the same worldview to seek such improvement. It’s like asking the church to reform itself from within, not likely, that took a secular Royal Commission and still some things have not changed.
- It is a truism that safety bureaucracy is insane, excessive and ineffective. It seems Safety is captivated by the mythology that more is better. Since when was obesity declared good?
- On that note there is probably nothing more crazy than the Federal Safety Commission. Invented by a liberal government to attack the union movement, nothing is more stupid or more costly to the.building and construction industry than the OFSC process. The duplication and insane bureaucracy of the OFSC has never been demonstrated to be of any value and yet every sausage of compliance must be mustered because it’s tied to government funding.
- Of course there is nothing more toxic for the safety industry than the ideology of zero. With the global mantra on zero the global safety industry can never return to the sense that humans are fallible and harm is inevitable. Captivated by the discourse of zero, Safety can only become more brutal, more delusional and less humane.
- As an outcome of STEM-only thinking has emerged a culture immersed in binary opposition, where any dissent or criticism is demonised. This stifles critical thinking and debate can only occur under the immovable mantra of zero. Because Zero is immovable there is simply no open debate because Zero has been deified through faith as the industry’s identity.
- The key to improvement in safety is a broadening of education and learning. There is nothing less educative than the safety enclave writing for itself, back slapping with Zero high fives in a Hillsong convention. One of the best ways to improve safety is to read, write and engage outside of the safety enclave.
- Another way to improve Safety is to focus on helping. Until Safety understands itself as a helping activity it will never act professionally or ethically. The safety industry is not likely to move unless it becomes much more interested in Ethics and Politics.
- Finally but not least is that improvement in safety will not be possible unless the industry begins to understand itself socially and psychologically. Such a focus must move from the mechanical to the personal, from the numerical to the social and from the mathematical to the poetical. How strange that an industry that supposedly ‘cares’ about harm to humans spends so much time and energy on objects.
The question about improvement always begs the need for vision and there can be very little vision from anything anchored in fear, zero, compliance and stasis. The only way to develop a vision for safety is to step outside of the common paradigm. Vision comes from imagination, critical thinking and teleological insight. This is where hope is anchored, in envisioning what can be, not more of the same.