Ethics & Safety

Ethics is gaining an increased level of attention in the safety profession in Australia but remains way behind other professions and the business community in general.

The UK’s Ethical Corporation Institute has made available a “pubcast” with one of the authors of a report entitled “Best Practices for Designing Effective Ethics Programmes”.  The report itself is only for sale so I recommend you gain as much information from the podcast as possible or request a summary.

Howard Whitton
Howard Whitton

Interestingly a world-class ethics expert has returned recently to Australia after many years on the international stage.  Howard Whitton will be conducting a workshop in Melbourne on 30 March 2009 concerning “Managing Ethics and Values: Beyond the Code of Conduct”.  Below is an article I wrote about a seminar I attended early in 2008

Kevin Jones, BA, FSIA

Howard Whitton is one of those Australians who are obscure but when brought to one’s attention you feel guilty that you did not know of him. I first heard Howard speak at an ethics seminar in Melbourne in early 2008.
I attended from curiosity because the safety profession, by and large, in Australia has paid lip-service to professional ethics, and still does. I attended an Ergonomics Society conference almost ten years ago in Sydney where one of the speakers, a member of the society, spoke about professional ethics. Apparently that it was the first time that the Ergonomics conference had ever “discussed” ethics.

Other organizations profess to have an ethics procedure but this is shrouded in secrecy making it difficult for members to know the ethical parameters of a profession. Professional ethics come from open and active discussion of issues such as conflict of interest, confidentiality, whistleblowing, rather than developing a few sheets on professional conduct and thinking the process has ended.

Howard’s presentation in Melbourne surprised. It was in plain English, and overwhelmingly relevant. Howard had a professional film scenario that he based his presentation on. The film involved all the elements of a road construction program from political pressure, safety compliance, environmental considerations, resource allocation, and personal choice. It showed the decision-making processes that safety professional frequently face themselves or have an active role in. It was a microcosm of the project manager’s contemporary role.

The moments I remember are when bones are discovered in the construction project. This echoed the need to manage a project in sensitive environmental areas. One of the workers takes photos of each stage of the project as a hobby, without realizing the photos could be evidence. The project manager is already working within the project parameters when a political (undocumented) element appears that substantially affects the project.

I had half-expected a dry academic discussion and ended up in a fascinating safety-themed debate. If there was one SIA seminar that I would attend this year it would be one of Howard’s workshops being held in late-March in Melbourne, prior to the Safety In Action Conference.

For those members who, like me, weren’t aware of Howard Whitton, I would strongly recommend you look at the online resources listed below.

According to the Ethicos website:

“Following a career as a public servant in Australia, Howard has worked since 1999 in 11 countries as a specialist consultant on Public Sector Ethics, Conflict of Interest, Whistleblower Protection, institutional integrity systems, ethics codes, disciplinary investigations, and training/capacity-building in ‘Ethical Competence’, both for public services and international organisations. After completing a three-year term at the OECD’s Public Governance and Territorial Development Directorate in Paris, Howard was asked to serve as one of two independent specialists helping to establish the new Ethics Office for the UN Secretariat. Since 2006 Howard has been Team Leader on various Ethics/Integrity/Anti-corruption capacity-building projects for national governments, UN specialist agencies, and international NGOs.”

Lucky for us Howard is spending some time at home in Queensland.

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