The AIHS BoK and Ethics, Check Your Gut!

One of the best ways to be ethical about ethics is to declare your worldview/methodology (ethic) from the outset. It is from one’s ethic (methodology-ontology) that one’s method emerges. In my case whenever I undertake education and learning modules such as the recent modules on Transdisciplinarity and Ethics (https://spor.com.au/home/one-week-intensive-2-modules-february-2020/) I make it very clear that my bias is one of an Existentialist Dialectic. I also make it very clear that there are many other competing worldviews (and I map them, see Figure 1. Mapping Schools of Ethics) and that most people construct combinations of these (unconsciously), eclectically. Unfortunately, people either don’t know their worldview (ontology) or don’t disclose it when they develop discussions on knowledge, learning and ethics. This is the case with the AIHS BoK on Ethics.

Figure 1. Mapping Schools of Ethics (Download here: Schools of Ethics 2 )

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One thing is clear from analysis of the BoK on Ethics is that its worldview is one of Deontology (https://miami.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/the-problem-we-all-have-with-deontology; http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/introduction/duty_1.shtml) enacted in Masculinism and Utilitarian method. These are not declared in the BoK but are hidden in the text. We can see this even with a simple analysis of language. The most important and repeated language in the BoK is about ‘duty’ (21 times) clearly connected to Deontology and Kantian ethics. Of course, the language of ‘wisdom’ appears nowhere yet the language of ‘obligation’ appears 30 times. The language of compliance appears 10 times and yet the importance of relationship appears 5 times and uncertainty 4 times. There are many comparisons like this that show that the ethic of the BoK are Deontological, Masculinist and Utilitarian. It’s all about power for the professional. For example the language of ‘humble’ and ‘humility’ appear nowhere in the text! Yet the virtue of respect and an orientation of humility are considered by many to be essential to act professionally and engage in discourse with others.

However, we need to do more than just a word search, although language, symbols and grammar are often indicative of an ideological disposition. There are many other indicators in the BoK on ethics that signal alarm bells for an ‘Ethic of Risk’. The elephant in the room for the global safety industry is the ideology of zero. Here we have a publication, a so called ‘body of knowledge ‘ for WHS, and there is no mention of zero! This is despite the fact that zero is now the global ideological mantra (http://visionzero.global/node/6) for an industry consumed with counting, numerics, metrics and the disease of paperwork! Indeed, it is clear the BoK on ethics is anchored to the INSHPO declaration and framework, all informed and shaped by the ideology of zero!

It doesn’t matter what words, systems or structures, procedures or language, symbols or gestures one choses, all carry an implied ethic. There is no activity, mantra or position that is neutral or objective. All humans carry a bias that ought to be declared as an essential to being ethical, also an essential to any safety investigation. Hiding one’s ethic is essentially dishonest and therefore unethical. Such is the nature of the BoK on ethics.

The Deontological ethic of the BoK is clear in discussion about the certainty of objectivity. Therefore if knowledge is certain then duty can be certain. Yet, in the BoK itself this is quite contradictory. We are told on p.31 that humans are biased and subjective yet on pages 18, 32, 55 and 82 we are told that safety people can be objective with ‘facts’. Similarly, by not raising the most important and contentious ideology in the industry – zero, there is a fundamental dishonesty in hiding such a discussion. The implications of hiding zero in a discussion on ethics for the industry is significant and yet the BoK is silent on such. So, zero has nothing to do with being professional! What an amazing silence, for it is zero that drives: numerics, data obesity, fixation on minutia, metrics, counting and connected paperwork and associated ethical problems of: ‘tick and flick’, flooding, fake and dishonest recording, underreporting, blaming and attributions of safety to numerics.

When we were working through the SPoR module this week on an Ethic of Risk we had a number of safety people in the room when we spent some hours critiquing the AIHS BoK on Ethics. What came out of the discussion with safety people in the room was their concern that the very fundamental ethical dilemmas of being a safety person receive no mention in the BoK. The discussion (Figure 2. Discussing Ethics and WHS) raised issues that people considered critical for day to day moral dilemmas for the safety person for example, challenges with:

  1. Uncertainty with ALARP and subjectivity
  2. Speaking up and whistleblowing and authoritarianism
  3. Privacy and mental health
  4. Ambiguities with Due Diligence and inadequate legal knowledge
  5. Lack of holistic training in critical parts of safety work eg. pastoral care
  6. Conforming to the power of superiors and demands to be unethical about: data, reporting, recording and time
  7. Dishonesty associated with ‘turning a blind eye’, prioritizing risks, politicizing risk and dissonance in performing professionally
  8. Power and policing and dissonance with care and understanding others, particularly with mental health issues
  9. Bullying, and demands to be brutalizing in ‘enforcing’ systems, procedures and controls
  10. KPIs linking safety to performance, payment of reward for under-reporting and incentivizing dishonesty

These and many more issues were raised as ethical challenges that served as compromises and pressures on the ability of safety people to act professionally. None of this is discussed in the BoK on Ethics.

Figure 2. Discussing Ethics and WHS

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There is so much missing from the BoK on ethics, so many issues of a critical nature to safety people for acting professionally that are not discussed. No mention at all of the challenges of heuristic, implicit thinking as an ethical dilemma with accountability yet, gut thinking is framed as the final step in ethical decision making at section 9.1! No mention of the challenges of social psychological influences and the nature of responsibility. Yet, profound admissions in the text of the that Safety has no remedy for its Machiavellian character and unscrupulous culture! Also an admission that there is no plan for education and learning in ethics in the WHS curriculum! (p.30, 31) Yet, ethics is the soul of professionalism! (p.1). Indeed, the concept of learning gets scant mention within the admission that safety people are not qualified for what they do. Of course, the issue of learning poses a significant moral dilemma for safety, especially in its quest for stasis and objectivity through the ideology of zero.

We also learn in the text of the BoK that safety people are somehow (and naturally) ethically committed. Somehow magically, safety people ‘have an inbuilt desire’ (p.9) (read natural law ethics) to know how to act professionally and ethically without any learning about ethics. What??? What an assertion after already admitting that the industry is entrapped in an ethic of an unscrupulous Machiavellian culture (p. 22, 27).

I’m trying to keep this blog short so just one more issue and in connection to a model for ethical decision making in section 9.1, what an amazing linear model. Here is the model for objective ethical decision making starting with ‘gather the facts’ (what are they?) and finishing with ‘check your gut’. Well, you can’t get any more contradictory than that and without any discussion of gut (implicit) knowledge in the text. So, your gut tells you whether something is right or wrong, the ultimate in a deontological ethic. Rightness, handed down from god and wrestled in the human unconscious and conscience (not discussed in the text). So, in the end I guess one doesn’t need a curriculum on ethics if one is innately morally qualified and simply needs to ‘check the gut’ to get it right.

Good luck.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

51 Replies to “The AIHS BoK and Ethics, Check Your Gut!”

  1. Of all the people in charge of producing this “Book of Knowledge” , only one of them claims to have experience in Ethics. And this person works in the School of Accounting. Peer review from a School of Law. This must surely colour how people write about a subject.

    1. Matthew, this amateurish production speaks volumes about the industry and its culture. There will be no change till it drops zero.

  2. Firstly, a public congratulations to the many highly professional contributors to this BOK chapter, which draws very widely on on the issue of ethics from sources around the world, and references an extensive range of reading from very highly regarded writers on ethics. This is an important body of work for health and safety people, because its existence means that there will be many more reflections and discussions about ethics and its role in practice. Secondly, you’re getting way behind-the-times on ‘zero’. Your pet hate has virtually gone away, and you’re baying at the moon. ‘..the industry’ (I assume you mean the profession) is quite diverse, and I suggest that in that diversity it resists trite one-liners. It has now literally been years since there has been widespread usage of the old marketing term ‘zero harm’ in Australia (which is an excellent way to impart in a broad context, the basic idea that no amount of harm is ok) and it was never really the MOST common approach anyway. The profession broadly understands that a marketing term does not necessarily make a health and safety program. But back to the issue! – The conversations about ethics begin. Of that, I am very happy. I suppose in observing those discussions, I will have to live with reading the self-aggrandizing crap well as the good stuff.

      1. The Queensland regulator has been locked into zero harm for 20 years as was highlighted by the Brady Review. Hardly some by-line or behind the news concept. The AIHS are still signed up to it and hope that the elephant in the room would shrink. It isn’t, if anything it continues to dominate the global safety sector.

    1. David, Happy to provide a detailed critique at any time. Happy to debate the BoK on ethics at any time. Happy to demonstrate the depth of the zero ideology across the safety sector globally at any time.

      The BoK itself does the best condemnation of the sector regarding ethics, with no vision for its inclusion in the curriculum or development of ethical competence for the industry. A shame it was never honest about its bias or intentions.

      1. I love how ‘ethics is the soul of professionalism’ p1. Of the BoK on ethics but is in no curriculum in WHS and got no mention in the Boland curriculum review. Dies that mean Safety has no soul?

  3. Let us not even mention the International Labour Organisation’s Triple Zero Campaign. “The Vision Zero Fund (VZF) brings together governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations, companies, and other stakeholders to jointly advance towards the vision of achieving zero severe and fatal work-related accidents, injuries and diseases in global supply chains.”

    https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/how-the-ilo-works/departments-and-offices/governance/labadmin-osh/programmes/vzf/lang–en/index.htm

  4. But wait there’s more, straight from the AIHS website (22/08/2018)..…….

    At the conclusion of the event, the International Security Association will launch its VisionZero campaign in Australia. This is the first global campaign to improve safety, health and wellbeing at work; acknowledges that no-one from any nation should lose their life at work.

    https://www.aihs.org.au/events/safety-governance-how-informed-your-board-about-managing-damage

    1. They still think that the only negativity toward zero is that it is unachievable – they don’t seem to understand the harm being caused by the methods that are being used to try and achieve it

      1. Neither do they understand it as a symbol or ideology, even though they confess it as so. No comprehension at all of the nature of human unconscious or how symbols work, no idea about the nature of belief even though they talk all the time about belief in zero as the case with this latest AIHS webinar. No understanding at all of binary entrapment and binary opposition, nor that their worldview is locked into behaviourism, cognitivism and materialism. No idea that there are disciplines and worldviews outside of their own that have nothing to do with ‘opinion’ or simply wanting to be contrary. Without such understanding the only recourse is to politicize critiicism, reject learning, close dialogue and put your head in the sand, a perfect approach to non-learning fostered by zero!

  5. I have always said – do something and you leave yourself open to criticism (but the discussion is often worthwhile); do nothing and there is a vacuum. Thanks to all for contributing to the discussion which was initiated and provoked by the OHS BoK chapter on Ethics and Professional Practice. We are obviously achieving our aim of raising the awareness and discussion around ethics on OHS practice.

  6. The current toll for mine dust lung diseases across Queensland exceeds 130 victims and the AIHS/SIA failed to provide any submissions to the Queensland parliamentary inquiry into black lung or provide any official representation at the numerous public hearings.

    This was raised with the AIHS/SIA on several occasions and the reason proffered was a lack of technical expertise yet somewhat paradoxically it operated a remunerative scheme covering certification of OHS professionals.

  7. One of the most unethical things for safety is the way KPIs for safety incentivise and motivate dishonesty. None of this in the BoK on ethics but a major problem for the sector.

  8. Firstly, a public congratulations to the many highly professional contributors to this BOK chapter, which draws very widely on on the issue of ethics from sources around the world, and references an extensive range of reading from very highly regarded writers on ethics. This is an important body of work for health and safety people, because its existence means that there will be many more reflections and discussions about ethics and its role in practice. Secondly, you’re getting way behind-the-times on ‘zero’. Your pet hate has virtually gone away, and you’re baying at the moon. ‘..the industry’ (I assume you mean the profession) is quite diverse, and I suggest that in that diversity it resists trite one-liners. It has now literally been years since there has been widespread usage of the old marketing term ‘zero harm’ in Australia (which is an excellent way to impart in a broad context, the basic idea that no amount of harm is ok) and it was never really the MOST common approach anyway. The profession broadly understands that a marketing term does not necessarily make a health and safety program. But back to the issue! – The conversations about ethics begin. Of that, I am very happy. I suppose in observing those discussions, I will have to live with reading the self-aggrandizing crap well as the good stuff.

    1. David, Happy to provide a detailed critique at any time. Happy to debate the BoK on ethics at any time. Happy to demonstrate the depth of the zero ideology across the safety sector globally at any time.

      The BoK itself does the best condemnation of the sector regarding ethics, with no vision for its inclusion in the curriculum or development of ethical competence for the industry. A shame it was never honest about its bias or intentions.

      1. The Queensland regulator has been locked into zero harm for 20 years as was highlighted by the Brady Review. Hardly some by-line or behind the news concept. The AIHS are still signed up to it and hope that the elephant in the room would shrink. It isn’t, if anything it continues to dominate the global safety sector.

  9. Of all the people in charge of producing this “Book of Knowledge” , only one of them claims to have experience in Ethics. And this person works in the School of Accounting. Peer review from a School of Law. This must surely colour how people write about a subject.

    1. Matthew, this amateurish production speaks volumes about the industry and its culture. There will be no change till it drops zero.

    1. They still think that the only negativity toward zero is that it is unachievable – they don’t seem to understand the harm being caused by the methods that are being used to try and achieve it

      1. Neither do they understand it as a symbol or ideology, even though they confess it as so. No comprehension at all of the nature of human unconscious or how symbols work, no idea about the nature of belief even though they talk all the time about belief in zero as the case with this latest AIHS webinar. No understanding at all of binary entrapment and binary opposition, nor that their worldview is locked into behaviourism, cognitivism and materialism. No idea that there are disciplines and worldviews outside of their own that have nothing to do with ‘opinion’ or simply wanting to be contrary. Without such understanding the only recourse is to politicize critiicism, reject learning, close dialogue and put your head in the sand, a perfect approach to non-learning fostered by zero!

      1. I love how ‘ethics is the soul of professionalism’ p1. Of the BoK on ethics but is in no curriculum in WHS and got no mention in the Boland curriculum review. Dies that mean Safety has no soul?

  10. I have always said – do something and you leave yourself open to criticism (but the discussion is often worthwhile); do nothing and there is a vacuum. Thanks to all for contributing to the discussion which was initiated and provoked by the OHS BoK chapter on Ethics and Professional Practice. We are obviously achieving our aim of raising the awareness and discussion around ethics on OHS practice.

  11. The current toll for mine dust lung diseases across Queensland exceeds 130 victims and the AIHS/SIA failed to provide any submissions to the Queensland parliamentary inquiry into black lung or provide any official representation at the numerous public hearings.

    This was raised with the AIHS/SIA on several occasions and the reason proffered was a lack of technical expertise yet somewhat paradoxically it operated a remunerative scheme covering certification of OHS professionals.

  12. Let us not even mention the International Labour Organisation’s Triple Zero Campaign. “The Vision Zero Fund (VZF) brings together governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations, companies, and other stakeholders to jointly advance towards the vision of achieving zero severe and fatal work-related accidents, injuries and diseases in global supply chains.”

    https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/how-the-ilo-works/departments-and-offices/governance/labadmin-osh/programmes/vzf/lang–en/index.htm

  13. One of the most unethical things for safety is the way KPIs for safety incentivise and motivate dishonesty. None of this in the BoK on ethics but a major problem for the sector.

  14. But wait there’s more, straight from the AIHS website (22/08/2018)..…….

    At the conclusion of the event, the International Security Association will launch its VisionZero campaign in Australia. This is the first global campaign to improve safety, health and wellbeing at work; acknowledges that no-one from any nation should lose their life at work.

    https://www.aihs.org.au/events/safety-governance-how-informed-your-board-about-managing-damage

  15. Firstly the disclosure: I am a Board Member of the AIHS and I volunteered to be the Board Champion for the release of the BOK Chapter on Ethics and Professional practice. I’m grateful to the members that voted for me and my Board colleagues who entrusted me with this task.

    As I read the comments it strikes me that they fall into two buckets:
    1. The chapter is poor quality
    2. The AIHS is broken because it won’t formally disavow ‘Zero’

    My view is that this chapter has the potential to take the profession forward in ways that no other chapter has to date. The discussions that I facilitated at both the Sydney and Melbourne were energetic, they focus on key ethical challenges that professionals face and were genuinely developmental. The chapter may not be perfect but it’s clearly written, it deals with issues that we all commonly face, it provides an entry into a domain of knowledge and practice that may people need.
    Accepting for a moment that the premise is correct. Then that issue is at heart an ethical one. The development of the chapter therefore provides a mechanism for a more nuanced discussion about positions that the Institute takes.

    Richard Coleman
    GM HSE
    Laing O’Rourke

    1. Richard, thanks for your contribution and especially acknowledging your identity and connections. I think you have identified 2 of several issues with the BoK on Ethics although much could be written on many other chapters of the BoK too and their worldview. In the case of this particular chapter on ethics it is also problematic because the writers do not acknowledge their own deontological bias and present such a closed ethical paradigm as somehow endorsed as normative. It also endorse some extremely naive notions associated with safety people as somehow innately ethical and making decisions by the gut. Much more could be written about such problems and what such discussion endorses.
      If the industry is to be professional and act professionally it must be far more transparent with such worldviews and own them with some form of justification or, at least acknowledge other worldviews and their validity. It is also interesting that this chapter acknowledges that ethics is ‘the soul of professionalism’ yet it arrives years late and is not chapter 1? Indeed, an indictment of where ethics sits within the industry.
      Having developed and taught ethics in several contexts I was amazed at the nature of the paper and how narrow its focus, I think Safety needs to step much further outside of its closed discipline if it is to develop something more professional. Having said that, I acknowledge the developmental discourse the AIHS attaches to the BoK and hopefully the AIHS value criticism from outside in that nature that it offers a constructive and valid approach from outside of its camp. If the AIHS is to value critical thinking as a mark of professionalism it must learn to embrace such risky conversations.
      The issue of zero is of course much more profound and significant that just a goal or number, from another worldview it is understood as a shibboleth and ideology that now controls the industry so much so, it cannot let go of it. Indeed, it holds the power of a religious artefact and now defines all that is taboo to its boundaries. This sustains the nature of binary oppositional discourse and the identity by poles of such opposition jeopardizing conversation, debate, criticism and dissent. The binary oppositional view of zero unfortunately limits learning and engagement, demonsising politically any criticism.
      The omission of discussion of zero in the BoK is very significant also because zero ideology proclaims there is no other ethical view. There are of course other worldviews to zero but none of this is a discussed in the BoK, quite a significant oversight given the global industry is now deeply wedded to it.
      At this stage of my working life I only work with organizations who will devolve from zero and work with far more humanising discourse and language about risk. I have found such an approach brings great relief from the associations and by-products of zero toxicity.
      Thanks for your open note and happy to discuss or meet personally should you be in canberra some time.
      Rob

  16. Whenever I watch major sporting events on television I often notice the beguiling advertisements from major sponsors which promote:

    a( Gambling
    b) Fast food
    c) Soft drinks
    d) Financial services and credit

    It’s not too long before I hit the power button on the remote and pick up a book recommended by Dr Long

    I also notice several sponsors on the AIHS website include recruitment agencies. Indeed most health and safety practitioners will have many horrific war stories regarding their interactions with these organisations and their professional ethics, especially privacy and confidentiality.

    Birds of a feather.

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