In Australia, safety management is being progressed most obviously through sociology and the work of Andrew Hopkins. But perhaps it is possible to cut through some of the commercial “safety culture” twaddle by looking at the work of philosophers and the concept of phenomenology. As any modern student seems to do instead of reading the original, look to the movie.
In his conference paper, Douglas compared the positive and negative safety cultures to the blue and red pill choice that Morpheus offers Neo. The blue pill workplace culture has some of these characteristics:
- “Bureaucratic methodology
- Policies and procedures driven from the OHS department not operations
- Technical impenetrable language
- Hypercritical of operations as cavalier and uninterested in worker safety
- Oddly, given the expressed goal of worker safety – engagement is focused more up the chain of command than down.
- Further, workers are treated like “Safety heretics” – living organisms of anti-safety
- Complaining, embittered, resentful and isolated from production
- Office dwelling
- The bunker mentality ………….”
The red pill culture characteristics include:
- “Observant, listening and committed to the floor
- Develops process and its documentation (policies and procedures), reduces cycle time, promotes safety and ensures it is drawn from the language, experience and skills of the floor
- Shares safety knowledge and skills with the floor and respects the input of workers and supervisors
- Provides feedback to the floor about the progress of their efforts
- Celebrates success with the floor when parts of the process are complete
- Develops key lead indicators that are measurable, understandable and open to the floor and at a higher level to management
- Openly engages production with a focus on business performance that opens the door for information sharing and assessments for capital expenditure and changes in production process
- Assists line and operations managers to understand safety issues……….”
Andrew Douglas is a lawyer who purposely challenges safety professionals to think about what they do, why they do it and the way they do it. This type of speaker is all too rare at OHS conferences.
At today’s conference there were many nodding heads in the audience for Douglas’s presentation, which used his paper as a catalyst rather than a reiteration of the paper. I could not help thinking that it would be those safety professionals who did not nod, those who stared at Douglas and focussed on his words who would be the professionals that I would approach for a conversation or opinion. I am not overly interested in “nodders”.
Douglas also did several things that are increasingly rare at safety conferences. He provided a paper and not just a copy of his PowerPoint slides. Those who only provide slides do not understand why people attend conferences. Many of us want to learn new concepts and techniques, not to have our professional egos collectively stroked.
The other decision of Douglas was to draw upon information sources that did not use icebergs or pyramids or Swiss cheese but still illustrated his points.
Douglas lost the audience a little at the three-quarter mark. His presentation was leading in a controversial and challenging direction but ended with the empowerment of workers, the importance of consultation and the need for trust – concepts already familiar to the audience.
Douglas knew the constitution of his audience. Too many OHS conference speakers talk as if the audience know nothing about safety, and come across as condescending and insulting. It is a very reasonable assumption that those attending an OHS conference know the basic concepts of safety so one should take this as a given and talk to one’s peers and not treat the professionals as children.
In summary, the most benefit comes from a combination of Andrew Douglas’ paper and many of the thought processes mentioned in his presentation. His opinions were fresh, grounded and valuable.
Kevin Jones has recently completed several chapters in an OHS book of which Andrew Douglas is the chief editor.