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 )
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:
- Uncertainty with ALARP and subjectivity
- Speaking up and whistleblowing and authoritarianism
- Privacy and mental health
- Ambiguities with Due Diligence and inadequate legal knowledge
- Lack of holistic training in critical parts of safety work eg. pastoral care
- Conforming to the power of superiors and demands to be unethical about: data, reporting, recording and time
- Dishonesty associated with ‘turning a blind eye’, prioritizing risks, politicizing risk and dissonance in performing professionally
- Power and policing and dissonance with care and understanding others, particularly with mental health issues
- Bullying, and demands to be brutalizing in ‘enforcing’ systems, procedures and controls
- 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
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.