Emergency service organisations, like the military, are susceptible to accusations of bullying due to the hierarchical command structure on which they are based.
For decades this type of structure has been seen as a requirement for efficient emergency response or other activities under tight timelines and high expectations. It would not take much to perceive one’s supervisor saying “move it, move it, move it” or similar, over time as a repeated insult and, being repeated, an instance of bullying.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is reporting on claims by the former president of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade Board (MFB), Adrian Nye, who was stood down in April 2010. The ABC says Nye has accused the MFB of having a culture of bullying.
CEO Graeme Fountain has called in KPMG to investigate Nye’s claims.
There is sufficient evidence to suggest that the hierarchical command structure is no longer compatible with contemporary expectations of respect, health, safety or wellbeing. Bullying claims have been rampant in the emergency services in Australia for some time. – the New South Wales Ambulance Service, Victoria’s Rural Ambulance Service, New South Wales Fire Brigades. And the issue is not restricted to Australia with similar issues being noted in England.
This workplace hazard seems to be less prevalent in the United States but the US fire services seems to have a different culture to that in Australia. US fire fighters seem far more “heroic” in that they are more likely to risk their personal safety for that of others. Australian emergency services are more cautious and deter high-risk action wherever possible. As a result of the US approach to high-risk actions, there is a stronger camaraderie in those emergency services than is evident elsewhere.
The different approaches to workplace bullying between the US and elsewhere was noted recently by Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute. In a podcast (podcast 16) he mentioned how Europeans see workplace bullying as clearly under the control of the employer where America is more likely to see it as a personal issue or even a personal failing. This is a useful differentiation when thinking about bullying and the emergency services.
In some ways, it seems like it is Victoria’s “turn” for a bullying inquiry into its emergency services but with so many inquiries in the same type of industry over similar issues, it must be time to undertake a broader cultural study into emergency service OHS. Just as importantly we must be seriously prepared to follow where the inquiries go and not be frightened to embrace cultural AND structural change so the social respect that emergency responders currently gain is not lost.