The UnKnown Unknowns of Due Diligence

The UnKnown Unknowns of Due Diligence

imageOne of the challenges in understanding Due Diligence for safety people is clouded by the Dunning-Kruger Effect . Put simply, Dunning-Kruger explains a cognitive bias that all humans have in not seeing their own blind spots, particularly in relation to expertise. A recent article by Dunning helps explain the dilemma.

Let’s assume that a Health, Safety or Risk Management qualification is a generalist accreditation and that risk and safety work is a generalist activity. (Although I would argue that such are not supported by a generalist curricula in institutions).

When something goes pear-shaped in the context of the workplace the first port of call for a risk and safety person is to call in professionals with expertise. This is why engineers, lawyers, doctors etc. are often the second call after emergency services, ambulance, fire brigade, police and WorkCover. This is a good thing. Knowing what you don’t know is the key to teamwork and collaboration for the best outcome.

One of the reasons why Greg Smith and I co-deliver the Due Diligence module is because of the complementarity of expertise. I am not a lawyer, have never studied or practiced law or OHS law in depth even though it was the substantial aspect in my Masters in OHS. Sure I have been part of legal practices, courts and coronial enquiries in OHS and juvenile court, but I am not a lawyer. Similarly, Greg Smith is the first to tell you he has little expertise in Social Psychology, Education, Semiotics or Ethics. Together, we offer a comprehensive approach to the challenges of Due Diligence (

From my perspective Due Diligence is first and foremost an ethical orientation. How are we oriented to helping and caring for others in the processes of tackling risk at work? What can we do socially and educationally to help people at work effectively tackle risk? In face of the reality of fallible people and fallible systems, how ought we to think ethically about risk? What strategies are best for assisting people who tackle risk in the workplace, humanly and responsibly? These are the questions I consider in understanding Due Diligence. Whilst the WHS regulation may be a guide to Due Diligence it is incredibly subjective and vague regarding ethical responsibility and learning. The most common word in the Regulation on Due Diligence is the word ‘appropriate’. In other words, Due Diligence is something you work out in a social context according to the constraints and limits of that context, something like understanding ALARP. For me, Due Diligence is a social-psychological-ethical disposition. How are you oriented towards people and risk at work?

Greg Smith on the other hand concentrates in the workshop on case law and what actually happens when the courts test Due Diligence. He shows that many of the activities and bureaucratic processes that risk and safety people rely on are not a protection or help in court. Neither are these processes and bureaucratic tools a help in really managing risk anyway. His latest book Paper Safe ( gives a good taste of the kinds of matters Greg covers in the Due Diligence Workshop.

One thing is for sure, if someone is telling you that Due Diligence is some kind of formula for managing OHS systems or, that Due Diligence is some clear and objective safety process, they have absolutely no idea about Due Diligence.

One thing the workshop does focus on is the practicalities for exorcising Due Diligence. There is no point in doing training that blows the wind out of the sails of many misconceptions in safety about Due Diligence unless you can walk away with practical tools of what to do next. The workshop certainly delivers in this regard. Time is running out for registrations for the next workshop on 20,21 February.

All attendees receive complementary copies of both Rob’s and Greg’s books Risky Conversations and Paper Safe as well as a suite of practical take away tools in a neat wallet.

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.

4 Replies to “The UnKnown Unknowns of Due Diligence”

  1. Bernard, the subjectivity of decision making is what eludes an industry consumed with the myths of objectivism. One’s determination of unacceptability is based upon one’s ethic of risk. If one denies fallibility then anything that threatens zero must be deemed unacceptable. If one accepts vulnerability then any mistake is understood as a factor in learning.
    Of course what Safety hates is that the agenda for law and regulation is set by a profession and of course no profession would ever deny the realities of fallibility. So the legal professional ensure that the Act and regulation remain subjective not wedded to the non-sense of zero. What a challenge for regulators who now adore zero to come up against a real profession like lawyers who acknowledge fallibility. What a disappointment for Safety that it can’t make Due Diligence and ALARP fit their nonsense anthropology of risk. So, when all the fallible systems and fallible checklists are exhausted and people get injured, rather than moving forward with innovation, openness and transdisciplinarity, Safety crawls back into the BBS shell and decries the evils of subjectivity and builds a bigger fortress wall.

  2. Having attended the course myself I can highly recommend it. It has been extremely useful to me as a Risk Practitioner in being able to cut to core and understand and focus on the main hazard and controls and in turn encourage managers to do the same. Given the amount of noise there is in the safety world around numbers, metrics etc this course assists Managers in understanding why they are not true measures for looking at safety performance, instead why tools such as conversations, walks are.

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