I have had numerous people contact me in the last few weeks about issues of resilience, pastoral care, helping, mental health and wisdom for the workforce and more broadly for families and community. One person contacted me and stated: ‘we need the heart of wisdom at this time’. Hmmm, ‘the heart of wisdom’, you won’t hear that spoken about in the WHS curriculum.
Unfortunately, all the safety training in the world doesn’t make one skilled in any the above. WHS training makes no attempt at, nor uses any of the language of: care, helping, wisdom or resilience in describing the identity of safety. Rightly or wrongly, safety is still generally considered: policing people by rules, regulation and checkers of bureaucracy. Unfortunately, the education of the caring professions is a foreign land to the island of Safety.
If you are a safety person wishing to expand your role into the areas of community care, family counselling, pastoral care or ‘attending’ to the extra-work needs of employees then, the best option is to delegate your concerns to your Employee Assistance Program (EAP), Safety is not educated in the disciplines of care and helping. If Safety wishes to understand the nature of the caring professions it would need to jump into a transdisciplinary approach and embrace professions that simply don’t think in Zero There is simply no denying it, Zero is the global mantra for safety (http://visionzero.global/node/6 ). However, Zero is anathema to the caring professions.
· The first role of a caring profession is to focus on the person and personhood (see SPoR Handbook p27-32). Unfortunately, the focus of safety is on hazards, counting and injury recording. This subject-object dichotomy couldn’t be more pronounced than in the embodiment of zero, the global mantra for safety.
· Caring professions don’t identify themselves in counting and don’t define safety as the absence of harm. Indeed, caring professionals accept the reality of harm and fallibility and, work on the betterment of relationships and personhood when people find themselves in harm. Safety simply denies harm exists. Ah, for The Love of Zero (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/for-the-love-of-zero-free-download/ ).
· Zero is the mantra of intolerance and judgment and naturally precludes the essentials of counselling/helping, these are: tolerance, acceptance, trust, care and helping, the essentials for pastoral care.
· The fourth action caring professions focus on is listening and not ‘fixing’. Unfortunately Safety has the opposite focus – telling and fixing.
· A focus on ‘fixing’ naturally precludes Safety from a disposition of helping. The evidence is really quite stark. Do a casual search of the OHS Body of Knowledge (https://www.ohsbok.org.au/bok-chapters/) and look for the language of care, helping, listening and wisdom. Look at the order of interest in how the chapters have developed and what has been a priority and its certainly not ethics, care and helping. Then look at the volume of chapters dedicated to hazards and systems? What is even more remarkable is the absence of any chapter on zero in the AIHS BoK, especially in the chapter on Ethics. One cannot be ethical or professional if your ideology is zero. All the peak bodies in safety in Australia are signed up to zero.
· Caring professions withhold judgment, an essential in listening. This is known as Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR). When the focus is behaviourism anchored to zero then judgment and blaming must be your trajectory. We see this in the darling of Safety – The DuPont Bradley Curve. Hmmm, and where has DuPont ended up??? (https://safetyrisk.net/dark-waters-the-true-story-of-dupont-and-zero/). The natural trajectory of zero and the denial of fallibility is hiding, denial and its reward is hypocrisy and contradiction. It’s such a strange truism for an industry that when safety comes first, people come second.
· There ain’t no compassion in Zero!
The positive alternative is when Safety accepts a transdisciplinary approach (https://safetyrisk.net/the-value-of-transdisciplinary-inquiry-in-a-crisis/) to persons and it views the workplace holistically. The positive can come when Safety disposes of zero and shifts its focus to people.
What Covid has amplified and brought to the surface more than ever is that organisations need a transdisciplinary approach to persons in crisis and an understanding of holistic ergonomics (https://cllr.com.au/product/holistic-ergonomics-unit-6/ ). If Safety needs anything over this period of Covid it is a complete overhaul of the WHS curriculum and what is considers essential knowledge. And nothing is more certain that won’t come from STEM.
Rob it is interesting to watch the response from executive leadership. I get the impression that many feel compelled to do something to ‘fix’ the situation. Whether it’s ensuring the work from home checklists are done, or reminding people they can access the EAP, or engaging a mental health program recommended by another executive. These top leaders say ‘well it can’t hurt to’ do something to be seen to be fixing, that’s what great leaders do right? Wrong! It’s times like this that critical thinking and by-products trade-offs need to be discussed. Unfortunately that takes time, and time is sometime scarce.
Yeah I’m not seeing a lot of consultation, compromise or asking as part of all those “good” things that are being done to us by our executive leaders – I wonder how they will manage the transition back into workplaces?. I’ve seen some really good, humble, empathetic videos from leaders showing the struggles they are having with working from home like all of us with kids etc
Rob Long says
What comes into my inbox and through phone calls is such a profound struggle for Safety to cope with all that is going on with Covid. many safety people being drawn into strategy groups by managers expecting that safety people will know what to do about holistic well being etc. I don’t think many know what comprises a WHS diploma nor what the knowledge is for the safety industry. It would be hard fathom something so different from a nursing or teaching degree, in safety there is simply no basis from which to develop an holistic approach to crisis or personhood focused wellness. If one does have those skills then they come from outside of safety or through life experience. However, once this is over I think all will just go back to brutalism.
Rob Long says
So true Rob. There is nothing like a crisis to amplify dynamics that normally remain hidden. The unfortunate outcome of some of the things happening like posters and easy strategies is that people know that its tokenism. It’s not about actually doing something but about being seen to be doing something. If an organisation has not been working on a relationship focus with employees over time it certainly isn’t going to be able to enact something helpful during a crisis. You can only build on something you have, you can’t cobble together trust, helping, caring or wisdom off the back of a postage stamp. So, without those foundations, that simply don’t exists in safety, then tokenism will result.
Thank you Rob Long. It is so refreshing to hear you speak about the importance of relationships, trust, caring and a trans-disciplinary approach to safety. As a safety professional that finds it essential to go to the gemba and speak to the frontline about their realities and how i can help, i am very much interested in building up these skills that are not at all taught or advocated for by the WHS Profession. Do you have any suggestions on books or learning materials i can get a hold of as i look to grow in this crucial area, instead of waste my time with incident data, useless risk assessments and embarrassing workplace inspections? Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.
Thanks Lucas – excellent feedback. I’m sure Rob will be in touch really soon
Rob Long says
Thanks for your inquiry Lucas, maybe email might be better than this limited space. The sky is the limit when it comes to reading in the non-safety space. It also depends where you are at on your journey. email@example.com