Rightly or wrongly, “Safety” has become one of the most despised words in industry. The debate over accreditation of the Profession has been simmering for too long and now it is time to bring it to the boil!
The Quest for Accreditation of Safety in Australia
by Dr Rob Long
I have been inundated recently, with emails and notes from people concerned about pushes for the accreditation of people employed in safety. People seem not so much troubled by the philosophical and social constructs of professionalization but far more concerned about the politicization of safety. The politics of safety in Australia is a nightmare, with a history of: intense fragmentation, ego fights, wasted member funds, incompetence, factional ‘clubbing’ and micro-thinking. Like the evolution of non-harmonisation, the safety factions demonstrate that none at present can provide leadership in safety. There is no one representative body for safety in Australia and probably will not be one for some time. I resigned from one such body last year after many years of nothing – no value, no engagement, poor service, no leadership, bucket loads of spin, falling membership, petty politicking, club mentality and micro-thinking. Until some body demonstrates a mature sense of leadership in safety this quest for accreditation will be more divisive than holistic. Even on Linkedin groups people have been angry about censorship and lack of debate on the issue.
So, in order to open up debate I have created an open Linking group on the issue called Accreditation in Safety (Australia) http://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=6697359&trk=anet_ug_hm . Anyone can join. I created this group as a place for open debate and if needed, caucusing on this issue should one body seek to leverage and monopolize for accreditation of safety in Australia. The membership of the group and nature of discussion will then become a demonstration to government of the real nature of this issue.
For those interested in the nature of professionalization itself, I have written on this several years ago and this has been re-published for your interest (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-and-risk-professionalisation/ ). Before we start going down any particular model of accreditation, there is much to learn from the study of professionalization and what other professions have learned by the experience. The by-products of professionalization in particular, require careful thought and discussion before the safety sector decides to wed itself to any particular model.
Any move for accreditation places another layer of ‘sunk cost’ into the safety industry mix, we should not enter this inevitable evolution lightly. We now have the PM of the UK declaring ‘war on safety’ because the level of nonsense maintained by vested interests in the safety industry in the UK. David Cameron rightly describes safety as ‘an albatross around the neck of British business’. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-i-will-kill-off-safety-culture-6285238.html) One only has to see the nonsense of the Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner (OFSC) in Australian building and construction to know we are already in the same place as the UK. Here we have a duplicate body in the OFSC for more than 10 years, self promoting it’s success with little accountability or valid assessment. The sheer volume of petty nonsense the OFSC propagates defies the imagination. The whole building and construction industry is united in one voice against this political instrument (instituted to tackle the unions by the Howard government) that adds no value to sensible safety and increases the costs of building.
One only has to look at the vested interests rolled out at safety conferences in Australia to see what dominates the trend in safety. No wonder Prime Minister Cameron is taking action to cap the legal interests in the industry, we could do with the same in Australia. Cameron states:
‘This coalition has a clear new year’s resolution: to kill off the health and safety culture for good … I want 2012 to go down in history not just as Olympics year or Diamond Jubilee year, but the year we get a lot of this pointless time-wasting out of the British economy and British life once and for all.’
Cameron talks about the ‘health and safety monster’, and safety people need to understand that the professionalization pathway is part of the Frankenstein process. As soon as we add yet another layer of control in safety we then need new legal processes (codes of conduct, malpractice etc) to manage the quality of the profession. Prime Minister Cameron wants to halve the regulations associated with safety and despises the mythical fear associated with safety culture. We would do well to look at the UK example before we start wandering down the accreditation pathway fuelled vested interests in a single body. Cameron stated:
‘Building our economy up to strength requires a real pioneering, risk-taking spirit – and today we are smothering it in bubble wrap and red tape,’ he warned. ‘This must stop.’
The only way to keep away from this trend in Australia is to ensure that the lovers of absolutes (zero ideologues), law and academia are kept away from making ‘safety’ the most hated word in industry. It is a shame that petty mindsets are most attracted to meetings, associations and regulation and, it is important for practitioners and others to come together in the discussion not just the few who enjoy legal power. Any discussion about the accreditation of safety in Australia requires diverse, open and mature discourse. Unfortunately, open discussion on this issue are not countenanced by petty politicking, factional territory creation and power seeking.
So, where does this leave us? What input can safety people have who are not part and don’t want to be part of an association in safety? Without some re-balanced political process the march of the vested interests will prevail. If this is so, we will find ourselves in a few years time trying to shed the monster embraced in a poorly considered process. Join the discussion on the Linkedin group and voice your concerns.