The sinister solipsism of iSafety – Welfare or warfare?

The sinister solipsism of iSafety – Welfare or warfare?

It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen

George Orwell 1

The totalitarian miasma of George Orwell’s dystopia has besieged society. Indeed,…….Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past. Since the late 1990s Australia has enthusiastically embraced an uncouth American culture of greed, materialism and celebrity worship with resplendent game show aesthetics, which is supplemented by the politics of precarity, control and suprasurveillance. Most of its veritable institutions such as the ABC Television and the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, which once offered some degree of wisdom, discernment or enlightenment have since been eviscerated or even abolished. Free market fundamentalism or neoliberalism, which deifies the Friedman doctrine places an inordinate emphasis on the holy trinity of privatisation, diminution and deregulation. It extirpates good governance and renders organisational codes of conduct and the concept of corporate social responsibility somewhat meaningless. Any skerrick of egalitarian reform has been relegated to an object of disdain, commodification and disposability. Democracy amidst the plutocratic merger of state and corporate interests has merely degenerated into government versus the people. Moreover, welfare means warfare and another Orwell maxim resonates…….War is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength. 222

In 2004 the federal government under John Howard, a staunch neoliberal acolyte and advocate of trickle-down economics, reluctantly ratified the International Labour Organization Convention C155. After attaining control in the senate it abolished the autonomous National Occupational Health and Safety Commission. This relinquished the fundamental tenets of independence and effective tripartite consultative arrangements and scuppered the harmonisation of workplace health and safety legislation. 2326

National uniformity eventually transpired under the Australian Labor Party through Kevin Rudd, a treacherous narcissistic prima donna who publicly renounced socialism as an arcane 19th century doctrine shortly before the 2007 general election. It ultimately occurred via the Safe Work Australia Act 2008 and ratification of the Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety. However, following intensive lobbying from the Australian Federation of Employers and Industries through Garry Brack and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry under Peter Hendy, it was used as a trojan horse and degenerated into a symbolic ritual. Nonetheless, the former prime minister was recently rewarded with life membership of the Australian Labor Party although expulsion or rustication would have been a more condign option, especially following the disastrous home insulation program, which involved the deaths of four young workers. 2739

Harmonisation effectively absolved duty of care on behalf of many corporate behemoths and after almost two decades the chimera of national uniformity resembles a dog’s breakfast. Indeed, Safe Work Australia in its role as a national policy body is effectively a captured agency with superficial independence. It assists with delivery of a Dickensian workplace relations system amidst an unfettered neoliberal maelstrom and its current strategy is merely a string of humpies strewn together across estuarine mudflats. This is reinforced by a unilateral laissez faire doctrine with a malevolent freedom to harm and abrogation of moral responsibility. It has systematically undermined the entire occupational health and safety framework and compromised its legitimacy and integrity. 4045

Meanwhile, several states have implemented additional safety legislation covering mining, mineral and energy resources, which is often administered by alternative statutory authorities. This race to the bottom generates a potential conflict of interest and significantly increases the risk of regulatory or policy capture. Indeed this was emphasised almost three decades ago by Lord Cullen during the public inquiry into the 1988 Piper Alpha oil rig disaster, which claimed the lives of 167 people. 4653

Harmonisation and national uniformity is further obfuscated across several jurisdictions via a minefield of complicated and vexatious industrial manslaughter legislation, which peddles more blame and fear on the carousel of culpability. It is fraught with convoluted legal technicalities covering the burden of proof pertaining to negligence and recklessness. Moreover, it undermines the effectiveness of existing legislative arrangements and the act is not culpable unless the mind is guilty. 5458

Many grieving families often discover the theatre of law has little to do with discovery of truth or realisation of justice and much like health care, the standard is now determined by how much you can afford. Furthermore, the concept of closure is a fallacy and the only parole for bereaved dependents is death or dementia, which reinforces the Cicero dictum…….More law, less justice. 5962

Free market policies, values and practices with an inordinate emphasis on the privatisation of public wealth, deregulating economic activity and abolishing social protection networks have infiltrated every commanding political and economic institution across the country. Global commercial power has usurped national politics and a crepuscular culture of lawlessness prevails in a totalitarian state with a ruthless and hegemonic pursuit of wealth. Indeed as many refugees or indigenous communities can attest, you do not have to be behind bars to feel incarcerated. 6368

The ubiquitous tentacles of free market fundamentalism have extended into the tertiary education sector. It permeates the Safety Institute of Australia Occupational Health and Safety Body of Knowledge and work health and safety curricula. An extreme preoccupation with scientism, structuralism, positivism and statutory legislation disregards the inherent subjective nature of risk. It has generated a tyranny of bureaucracy in an otiose attempt to square the circle via one objective brain and rational decision making, which disregards our 3.14159 recurring subjective minds and any concept of discernment, collective unconscious, satisficing heuristics or arational thinking. 6982

This has created an alarming resurgence of atavistic accident theory, which is supplemented by the black box psychology of behaviour based safety and other sinister and rather narrow behaviourist concepts, which include human factors, safety culture and neuroscience. This undermines morality and progressively erodes common law rights and it is worth reiterating the loose legal philosophy of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall……Do what you think is right and let the law catch up. 8393

The cultural theory of risk is based on a central ontological assumption that risk is a socially constructed phenomenon and there is no epistemological superiority between laity and scientific knowledge systems. Expert wisdom often contains many cunning streetwise elements whilst technical information, especially standard operating procedures typically disregard the pragmatic reality of life outside the laboratory and invariably protect the writer. Science is a traditional endeavour that systematically attempts to integrate universally perceptible phenomena into an entirely rational relationship. Moreover, the scientific method teaches us nothing else beyond how facts are related to and conditioned by each other. Indeed, one can attain the purest and most complete knowledge yet remain unable to reconcile this wisdom with the goal of human aspirations. This was succinctly summarised by Albert Einstein….Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source. 94101

The response from Safe Work Australia and the Safety Institute of Australia with its cohorts of micturating sycophants has been somewhat abysmal and often futile. Both establishments embarked on a mechanistic discourse of protective stupidity, predictive policing and thoughtcrime, which reflects the authoritarian binary ideology of zero tolerance. Irrespective of how the message is promoted pornography is pornography. It is repeatedly inculcated by statutory authorities and was even endorsed at a World Congress just a short cab ride from the Four Floors of Whores in Singapore’s notorious Orchard Towers. It is putting lipstick on a pig and the Parmenides philosophy prevails…Ex nihilo nihil fit. The asinine shibboleth of Vision zero furtively blames the victim on the carousel of culpability and denies fallibilityForget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything that’s how the light gets in. 102117

The current neoliberal authoritarian regime is underpinned by a gig economy using contingent labour via vulnerable migrants, underemployment and franchising with the spectre of eugenics looming on the horizon. This race to the bottom is supported by regulatory or policy capture with indentured servitude, peonage and social atomisation. It places an inordinate emphasis on individualism, commodification and disposability amidst a barbaric frenzy of casino capitalism with a winner takes all ethos. 118134

Most project sites adopt a brutal compliance and enforcement ideology using suprasurveillance via paramilitary Tonton Macoutes with ubiquitous iPhones and a gunny sack full of gotcha mousetraps. It typically involves the use of electronic behavioural safety checklists littered with pejorative militaristic descriptors such as line of fire, eyes on path, eyes on task or situational awareness. These are frequently supplemented by indoctrinating inductions from a zero harm zombie, which often feature a video with the Pecksniffian vice president of safety extolling corporate social responsibility. This is usually complemented by iAuditor Apps and an iCAM or TapRoot auto da fé conducted by an accredited witchfinder general. It is supported by artificial intelligence and big data and inculcated via patronising warning signs with repetitive Ingsoc Big Brother propaganda. Indeed safety is a choice you make and the foreboding verse from The Hireling and the Slave by William J. Grayson resonates: 135151

For these great ends hath Heaven’s supreme command

Brought the black savage from his native land,

Trains for each purpose his barbarian mind,

By slavery tamed, enlightened, and refined;

Instructs him, from a master-race, to draw

Wise modes of polity and forms of law,

Imbues his soul with faith, his heart with love,

Shapes all his life by dictates from above

 

 

The consequences are quite evident via a resurgence of black lung with a rapid onset of progressive massive fibrosis amongst many coal miners throughout the Bowen Basin in Queensland and across the Appalachian coalfields in the United States. Since 1970 black lung compensation claims in the US have exceeded $45 billion. It amounts to many hospitals and other public health infrastructure and the performance can only be described as mediocre at best. In Queensland there are currently 99 confirmed cases of mine dust lung diseases although it enigmatically disappears in New South Wales coal mines. However, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and the gig economy with contingent labour hire and exploitation of vulnerable workers may be masquerading reality. 152159

Evidence from public hearing transcripts during the Queensland parliamentary inquiry into black lung provides numerous examples of intimidating, inhumane and mercenary leadership and the harrowing plight of many abandoned victims and their distraught dependents. Meanwhile, the International Labour Organization Convention C176 Safety and Health in Mines remains unratified. 160164

More recently a middle-aged Queensland stonemason succumbed to silicosis and almost 100 tradesmen throughout Queensland have been diagnosed with the disease. Some victims are categorised as terminally ill and an additional 800 potential casualties are undergoing diagnostic testing at a cost of approximately $1.5 million. Many patients will require lung transplants and it will place enormous strain on a struggling public health system. A senior physician has predicted the problem will escalate and the crisis could be become much worse than asbestos related diseases. 165167

Any estimation of expenditure covering workplace injuries and diseases requires consideration of an extensive range of direct and indirect parameters and it is quite a convoluted exercise. However, since 1993 the allocation of costs endured by incapacitated employees has increased by a staggering 157% with a corresponding decrease of 88% for employers. It suggests other exogenous risks such as the gig economy, contingent labour hire and the exploitation of vulnerable workers may be formidable neoliberal weapons in Abaddon’s powerful arsenal as welfare transforms into warfare and loss is socialised….When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die. 168174

Despite prolonged and rigorous efforts since the early 1990s multiple fatalities from working in or on confined spaces recur with an alarming frequency. Moreover recent tragic deaths on construction sites at Box Hill in Melbourne and Macquarie Park in Sydney provide further evidence of the ineffectiveness of Safe Work Australia strategy and its current legislative arrangements….………..No matter how beautiful your strategy, you should occasionally look at the results. 175182

The primary objective of any neoliberal government is to extirpate social protection mechanisms and the merger of state and corporate power has merely developed a suitable framework to enable and expedite the process. This was repeatedly reinforced via the illegitimate daughter of Satan during her alliance with Ronald Reagan using the monotonous sophism…..There is no such thing as society and complemented by a repetitive war cry…There is no alternative. It destroys communities of practice and incidental learning and unlike the enormous profits generated in a free market or laissez faire economy, shit typically runs downhill. Indeed……..An educated, healthy and confident nation is much harder to govern. 183192

A recent extensive review of model Work Health and Safety legislation confirms the framework is operating as intended and the harmonisation objective remains strong. It is pure Bernaysian propaganda, which was endorsed by the Safety Institute of Australia and many of its hapless bedwetting acolytes. Moreover, the words of Mark Twain resonate……It is much easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled. 194197

As the Commonwealth prepares for a federal election and a disenchanted electorate reaches for its baseball bats, the next government must cut the head off the snake and abolish Safe Work Australia. It must be replaced by a truly independent statutory authority that remains free from excessive ministerial influence. References to health and safety must be removed from its departmental title to sanitise the lingering stigma and any remaining panjandrums or deadwood relocated to the Woodlawn bioreactor near Tarago. The authority should be incorporated into Senator Doug Cameron’s portfolio and there is no shortage of suitable candidates to appoint as the inaugural chairperson. Several eminent professionals spring to mind, which include Gillian Triggs, Tim Costello, Allan Fels or Greg Combet. 198204

The Safety Institute of Australia should rebrand itself as Safety inAction to reflect its inertia and contemplate on its pitiful performance and incessant Orwellian doublespeak following a prolonged bout of internecine bickering and disunity. The organisation’s annual gala trivia ball could even be relocated adjacent to Sydney fish markets at Pyrmont to disguise the malodourous stench of cognitive policy capture and its sinister endorsement of zero harm ideology…….Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see – Strawberry fields forever. 205210

Meanwhile inside the Canberra bubble in the land of milk and honey, the current model legislation is operating as intended and…It is easy to write the history – all the eye witnesses are dead. Moreover, the lyrics from a classic track by the late Burl Ives resonate:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jx3lYqTAlnE

Oh, the buzzin’ of the bees in the cigarette trees

The soda water fountain

Where the lemonade springs and the bluebird sings

In that Big Rock Candy Mountain

In the Big Rock Candy Mountain

The cops have wooden legs

The bulldogs all have rubber teeth

And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs

The farmers’ trees are full of fruit

The barns are full of hay

I want to go where there ain’t no snow

Where the sleet don’t fall and the wind don’t blow

In that Big Rock Candy Mountain

Point me out the happy man and I will point you out either extreme egotism, selfishness, evil – or else an absolute ignorance

 

Graham Greene – The Heart of the Matter 211214

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    One Reply to “The sinister solipsism of iSafety – Welfare or warfare?”

    1. Unfortunately Bernard, the safety industry thinks that safety is politically neutral, neither is there any study of politics in the safety curriculum. Of course, such naivety spreads to other areas of the industry eg. ethics, semiotics etc – that exemplifies just how much the industry contributes to the very things they say they want to avoid. Indeed, Greg Smith presents wonderfully on this safety paradox showing just how much common myths and delusions make up what is normalised in the industry.

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