The challenge of compliance is also a challenge to critical thinking, this is one of the many paradoxes in risk and safety. When we comply or an organization seeks compliance this is all well and good only while things stay the same. When things change and adaptability is required to keep safe, then compliance becomes a hindrance and cause of a new problem.
Similarly, a SWMS, Checklist, investigation method or risk assessment process designed under one context doesn’t necessarily ensure things are OK if any unforeseen circumstance comes along. The reality is, a compliance culture is not what we want (https://safetyrisk.net/you-dont-want-a-compliance-culture/).
Of course, when anything goes wrong the investigation assumes that things go wrong because of non-compliance, that’s how many of the investigation methods on the market train people to think. Using swiss cheese assumptions, looking for the missing linear links rather than assume that work flow is messy and non-linear.
Compliance thinking relies on a range of assumptions about human decision making and personhood, none of which are considered by a behaviourist-cognitivist industry.
In reporting on events we observe that independent thinking is deemed a problem in hindsight bias. The report will then show how workers varied from compliance or were non-compliant so the report finds that there needs to be greater vigilance on compliance across the board. Even in the latest inquiry into deaths in QLD ((https://www.news.com.au/national/breaking-news/qld-mining-deaths-no-aberration-expert/news-story/a5b88e9f43ced0c7971f5345015efcec), we observe the various biases of investigators who bring the same old assumptions to the table For example: Prof Cliff stated: “They should all be avoidable, with our current level of mature safety culture and effective systems,” he told AAP. Hmmm, if we have a mature safety culture and effective systems, why did something go wrong? See what I mean?
So, there are now calls for a ‘reset’ (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-10/queensland-mine-deaths-emergency-meeting/11294770?pfmredir=sm). What will most likely happen will be a reset back to what is known: systems, behaviourist assumptions, hazards, WHS management paperwork and more training; all under the assumption that mistakes happen because of wrong programming on the compliance merry-go-round. When so much is infused with emotive sunk cost (‘it’s a safety crisis’) and political juggling for territory, not much will change.
The trouble is this. The more vigilance and driving for compliance the less workers will be made adaptable, flexible and critical in the way they tackle risk. It will make workers more fragile not anti-fragile (Taleb). Could this be one of the reasons why there has been a spike in fatalities? I bet no one has asked that question! It couldn’t possibly be that all of the excessive systems in the industry are actually a cause of problems.
Unfortunately, the behaviourist-cognitivist mindset already evident in the QLD mining context cannot think out of the old box (https://safetyrisk.net/when-things-go-wrong-lets-do-more-of-the-same/). The assumptions about human anthropology are the same. Humans are sill understood as brains-on-bodies and nothing could be further than the truth. The research ignored by the industry’s love affair with behaviourism is also part of the problem.
What the investigation will do, will backward fit the old box behaviourist anthropology on the context and develop findings that validate their assumptions about how humans make decisions. This can already been read into this situation even by who is called in an as ‘expert’ and the discourse surrounding commentary on the events.
In all of the commentary there is this talk about ‘safety culture’ without definition as if anyone knows what that is. Oh, that’s right ‘what we do around here’. More behaviourism. Zero harms leadership seems to be going really well in Queensland (https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/construction/articles/zero-harm-at-work-leadership-program).