The Power of Safety

The Power of Safety

Latest Article by Dr Rob Long from www.humandymensions.com

Those who insist on no mistakes will be crucified when they make a mistake. Those who demand zero tolerance will be flogged when the tables are turned. There is no grace and kindness for the bully when the tables are turned. The fantasy of disconnectedness breeds its reward. The myth of risk aversion breeds the misery of superiority and control. The challenge of relationships and person-centred safety is the fullness of life, living and learning.

Bullying boss shouting and pointingThe information we pick up is often far less important than the way we pick it up. We learn a great deal not by what is done but by how it is done.

Last week I was on a site where a Foreman, focused on efficiency, undid years of goodwill and positive culture in one poorly considered decision. In a quest to rectify some people exploiting the system he decided (without consultation) to impose stricter rules on time keeping. People were employed to work 8 hours, no more no less. So he decided to undertake surveillance of people’s leaving time and give notice to each person, through their supervisor, of their breach. In a mechanistic world, such a Tayloristic method may be tolerated, but in a people-centred world, such a method is intolerable. On one night, I saw people outside the swipe card machine debating the time between iPhone, watch, clock on the wall and clock outside the wall. Everyone was waiting seconds because the last person to be ‘pinged’ was 3 seconds short. Yes, they received a warning for being 3 seconds short of the regulated time. You couldn’t write something more nonsensical if you designed it for a soap opera. BTW, the person the Foreman pinged was 15 minutes early that shift.

This is the kind of nonsense one gets when one loses sight of people and has a focus on ‘things’ and mechanistic approaches to work. I was also at the meeting where opposition was raised about this surveillance regime and the management were reeling in defence. Was this for real? What if one person has a shorter shower? What if others worked harder than others in that time? What if some people ate faster than others? What if some people walked faster than others? What if people worked through lunch? There were as many variables as there were people in the room. What a nightmare, that a Foreman could lack such insight into the human condition. Soon came the comment about morale and trust, gone! It would be great if I could say this story was made up, but it was true, I witnessed it with my own eyes. All the evidence is there in the research, a low morale actually decreases efficiency and makes workplaces less safe.

The problem with efficiency-focused management is that it seeks mechanistic systems to engage people not relational mechanisms to engage people. Nothing is more devastating to safety than mistrust, disrespect and surveillance. The more people feel ‘policed’ the more they are disempowered to safety ownership, the workplace is only safe when the policeman is about. In such a system all the power sits with the Foreman, people are disempowered. Then when people become lethargic about safety, work to rule or disinterested in the organisation, the Foreman berates the workers for their attitude and the morale spirals down in rapid decent. Then we notice that housekeeping falls off, pride in work decreases, bickering increases and a host of indicators of poor morale. Ah! More policing is needed, because the little children must be controlled and nothing is more troublesome than little children who don’t conform.

The first thing leaders in safety need to understand is the dynamic of power. Those with power need to understand it, and what its exercise creates in those who feel powerless. Those who overpower others with the safety card need to be very careful of the by-products of such action. Those who dominate others ‘for their own good’ need to know that the way safety is done, can total undo the message of safety. There is no place in safety for ‘safety bullying’. Overpowering others with the threat and might of the Act, for the ‘good’ of others, is still overpowering. Unless safety is conducted with mutuality and respect it is not likely to be that successful. If people resent safety and safety bullies, then the good of safety has become evil. Safety people need to be mindful of their power and ‘facilitate’ maturity in risk and ownership in safety or it will always be safety ‘over’ others rather than safety ‘with’ others. It doesn’t matter whether the safety bullying is metered out by the regulator, union or company, it is still bullying. It is not what is done but how its done, this is how we really learn.

Safety is a process not an end point, this is why goal setting in safety is important. Safety is a process not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination. This is why zero is so dangerous.

We are more ‘companions’ on a journey than policeman and villain. Those who demand perfection, will be judged by that perfection. Those who set absolutes will be judged by those absolutes.

Those who insist on no mistakes will be crucified when they make a mistake. Those who demand zero tolerance will be flogged when the tables are turned. There is no grace and kindness for the bully when the tables are turned. The fantasy of disconnectedness breeds its reward. The myth of risk aversion breeds the misery of superiority and control. The challenge of relationships and person-centred safety is the fullness of life, living and learning.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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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.

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