The Building Safety conference this weekend had one or two underwhelming speakers but these were overshadowed by some brilliant presentations, and by brilliant, I mean challenging. I had no indication of what was to come from the presentation by Dr Dean Laplonge on gender. His presentation has caused me to begin to reassess my own (male) perceptions and those of the safety profession.
The title of this article is a Monty Python reference where a professor from England joins the Philosophy Faculty of the University of Woolloomooloo. He is inducted into the faculty by being told the rules and he even has his name changed to Bruce. This sketch is a good example of humour through hyperbole but over the decades this sketch has become more disturbing as, amongst others, it shows a gender perspective of the early 1970s that, in some industries, still echoes.
I was reminded of this sketch as Laplonge talked about his experience with gender issues in the oil & gas, mining and construction industries in Australia and Canada but I could have easily considered the Lumberjack Song.
Dean Laplonge was critical of gender being misunderstood in male-dominated industries like construction. It has been misunderstood as an issue of simply increasing the number of women in a workplace. Yet, it could be argued, that more sustainable cultural change may come from a new perspective on gender being accepted and applied by the dominant gender demographic – men.
His presentation needs time to seep into our assumptions and attitudes and demands reflection. He stated that one cannot talk about OHS in a male-dominated workplace without including gender, yet in the construction industry incidents are investigated without even considering gender as a possible contributory factor. Laplonge identified the following traits in male-dominated industries:
These may be admirable traits but to show these elements male workers often take excessive risks and perform unsafe acts. Safety is often seen as a threat as it contradicts this risk taking.
We have often thought of these workplace attitudes as a cultural element when what we really mean is it is a gender trait, but we do not have the words, or readily understand, the necessary concepts.
Laplonge mentioned several case studies in his presentation, several that are available as case studies on the Factive website. The following case studies are highly recommended. I am embarrassed to admit that I see elements of my own work and attitudes in them.
- Women are not men tamers.
- Communicating Safety Rules.
- Men Behaving Badly.
- The De-Masculinisation of Safety Observations.
It has been a long time since gender was widely discussed across society and this had usually come from a feminist perspective originating in the 1970s and 1980s. I read a seminal sociological text in my university days, Gender At Work, but had not considered applying some of those findings into the safety context. I will be revisiting it.
Laplonge’s presentation was an eye-opener to the presence of gender in many of the attitudes and approaches we apply to safety management. SafetyAtWorkBlog articles have touched on gender issues in the past, particularly in relation to workplace bullying, but I hadn’t realised the significance of the gender theme. I don’t believe that gender issues are a major element of workplace safety but they certainly exist and need to be acknowledged in our forward planning and investigations. I look forward to the journey