Ernst Young’s latest safety discussion paper

Ernst Young (EY) Australia has released a discussion paper about its “Plus One” strategy for occupational health and safety (OHS) and safety culture change.  Perhaps the curious and significant issue raised in the document is the way it considers that the “zero harm” era is over.

The document urges people to “build on the lessons of zero harm”.  Some would say that the most important lesson is that “zero harm” is bullshit but EY is almost taking “zero harm” as a fixed point in time, or rather a point in thought, from which progress in a new direction is possible.  That new direction includes:

  • “healthier, stronger, smarter, better trained people”,
  • improved productivity, efficiency, effectiveness, health and wellbeing,
  • “robust and strategic leadership”, and
  • “demonstrated return on investment”, and
  • “safety as part of total employee value proposition and business agenda”.

Investing in the health and skills of one’s workforce is obvious and a well-established business aim, and productivity and efficiency are also familiar.  Leadership is interesting as “robust and strategic” leadership is emphasised.  If Plus One is a new approach to OHS, the strategy implies that leadership has been less than robust and un-strategic.  Certainly, it can be said that Leadership has been gullible by its unquestioning embrace of “zero harm”.  And if our corporate leaders could be “sucked in” by zero harm, what does it say about their OHS judgement and understanding of OHS principles?

The “demonstrated return on investment” is not discussed in this paper but implies that EY will be applying measurement tools to the new Plus One approach.  It is likely that this will fit with and support the move to measuring OHS performance through leading indicators.  If this is the case, EY could be influential in the OHS sector, particularly if it builds on the elements already identified in recent Safe Work Australia publications.

One of the useful parts of this type of publication is the introduction of concepts to a new audience.  EY has slightly edited a table originally published in a Sidney Dekker book which contrasts the old view of safety with the new “safety differently” approach.  The attraction of the diagram is that there is a direct comparison between elements of OHS management.  This supports EY’s contention that there is a line of progress into modern safety management.

Another useful element is that it brings Hudson’s Maturity Model further into the mainstream.  Hudson’s model has provided much-needed context to safety culture by including different stages of growth and progress towards, and within, an organisational culture that accepts and integrates workplace safety.

It seems that Ernst Young, maybe more than their colleagues in the corporate business service sector, are trying to lead the discussion on safety management.  Such documents always include an element of marketing by displaying their expertise and their currency of thought, rather than selling their services.  It is a bit like saying “we know we are good, so let us help” rather than “we have a great product, buy it” but the existence of these types of documents reassures us that the corporate sector and its advisers are keeping up with current OHS research.  Hopefully this is also indicative of a trend rather than a fad.

Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones assisted EY in producing the document.

Categories accountability, business, culture, innovation, OHS, productivity, research, safety, safety culture, workplace, zero harm

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