Understanding Violence at Work
I read with interest today a guide on work-related violence from the South Australian regulator. Unfortunately, the guide doesn’t really get to the guts of what violence is about Safework Australia . This is the problem when regulators view the world of safety only through their prism and paradigm. Like they so often do with other concepts like culture (eg. NSW regulator non safety culture survey ) we end up with the promotion of regulator agenda masked as somehow helpful guidance, laced with legal-biased fear, more policy and fuel for more systems. Then in attempting to map out the minutia of possibilities, the regulator floods the sector with more mechanistic, rather than humanistic, strategy to manage something. This is not to say that some parts of the guide are not helpful but rather, we must be more holistic in how we address risk and safety or we will continue to get bogged down in a regulator-only vision of the world.
SafetyCulture OHS News (http://content.safetyculture.com.au/news/) promotes the guide in an article stating ‘there are two types of work-related violence’. The assumption of this binary statement totally misleads any chance of a sophisticated discussion on the issue, creating a blindness to a more holistic understanding. The guide adopts a narrow definition of violence (which of course is hidden and not defined) and provides no holistic sense of understanding of the fundamental ethical problem violence poses to leadership (PCBU). In the end a forensic definition of the world enables the delusion of objectivity but it disables leadership. It doesn’t take long in this guide to take the focus off subjects and place all the focus on objects, perpetuating further the continued mythology of ‘safety as hazards’. Within the scope of the guide’s definition of violence such serious violence such as bullying, abuse, discrimination and sociopathy get no mention. This is how binary and forensic definitions let people off the hook. Rather than focus on personhood, we now focus on activity and regulation. The trouble is, when one gets to court, defining violence is subjective not objective, violence is always expressed socially and contextually. The guide has checklists, an assessment tool and recommendations for developing workplace policy. In this way the attention of the reader is focused on end points not starting points (dispositions and orientation, belief, attitudes and values). Maybe if a policy has to be developed it should start with the fundamental values of the organisation. The real driver of violence is cultural not mechanical.
Violence is not just about activity. Violence is about the fundamental ‘violation’ of what it is to be human and a person. How can one develop a policy and response to violence if one doesn’t discuss what and who is being violated? This is where the word comes from. Why not start with some core values and when they are violated we can better judge what violence is. When one ‘violates’ what it is to live in community, humanize others, practice empathy and compassion, then one can easily act violently to another. Rather than place our focus on acts, we need to first focus on dispositions and orientations. We can focus on acts of abuse or the misogyny that drives it. As long as we omit discussion of underlying dispositions (culture) and focus only on acts and hazards we won’t shift the real cultural discourse on violence. So whilst the regulator believes in some mechanistic formula of hazards, risks and controls about violence, the guide should take the focus of culture and cause. The mechanistic worldview may enable prosecution but it disables ownership, adaptability in judgment and contextual decision making.