Quiet Outrage inspires

Last year Professor Andrew Hopkins‘ contribution to occupational health and safety (OHS) was celebrated in Australia.  At the event, a publisher was promoting Hopkins’ upcoming autobiography.  The book is not an autobiography, it is better.

The book is called “Quiet Outrage – The Way of a Sociologist” and was released in March 2016.  Don’t be surprised if you have not heard of this new release.  The publisher, Wolters Kluwer, seems to have done next to nothing to promote this book even though Hopkins’ works have been a major seller for the company.  Hopkins writes that 90,000 copies of his books have been sold around the world – an extraordinary achievement for an Australian sociologist.

The book is slight at just over 100 pages and the language is clearer and cleaner than many of his other books, even though his bestsellers were very readable.  (Stay away from some of the books by some safety professionals as their writing style can be politely described as turgid)  In fact Hopkins prides himself on clarity of communication and devotes a chapter to its importance.  He is critical of sociological theories and concepts that may have a sound base but are described in such a way that the reader does not clearly understand the concept.  He does not say this but such disregard for the reader creates a disciplinary confusion by sounding clever and saying nothing.

Some authors produce writing and others provide reading.  Hopkins writes for the reader, not for his ego or professional tenure.

There are some chapters in this book, and I am only half way through, that speak so clearly with concepts directly related to my own work and my approach to safety that I had to complete the chapter before doing anything else.  The chapter on the “Seven Theses on Culture” is a standout and lances the pomposity of some of the safety culture spruikers.  Below are several of the theses Hopkins discusses (Get the book to get them all).

“Culture is a characteristic of a group, not an individual, and talk of culture must always specify the relevant group.” (page 84)

Hopkins’ discussion on what this means for describing culture as based on a collection of individual attitudes changes how organisational culture’s OHS context must be described and discussed. Hopkins says that by focusing on the individual

“what the company is seeking to do, without realising it, is to change the culture of groups outside the workplace.  It is most unlikely to be able to do this.” (page 84)

On the issue of leadership, Hopkins uses a topical example of railways and on-time running to explain another thesis:

“Organisational cultures depend on the structures that organisations put in place to achieve important outcomes.  These structures reflect the priorities of top leaders. The priorities of leaders in turn may depend on factors outside the organisation, such as regulatory pressure and public opinion.” (page 88)

This supports my contention that to truly change OHS, one must understand the broad sociopolitical context and, probably, some of the business economics.  Trying to change OHS in isolation will only be successful in the short-term and almost all companies are looking for sustainability and success.

This book may be best described as a professional biography.  It outlines some of his successes and at least one of his failures.  It allows Hopkins to express himself and discuss topics without a specific market or in relation to a specific topic other than his own professional, and personal, education.  I have driven back to his hotel one night long ago, have interviewed him many times and listened to him at many conferences and seminars but I never knew he was married or that he had children.  I only know now because they are thanked in his Acknowledgements.  But I never needed to know.  His marital status was  irrelevant to the ideas that I came to hear him speak.

I am yet to delve into the chapters of his early academic life and his familiarity with Marxism – a familiarity that any sociology student must experience as Marxism is a crucial sociological approach that waxes and wanes with fashion and, sometimes, age.

At last year’s celebration of his works I heard for the first time about his 1991 book on domestic violence (“Working for Change: The Movement Against Domestic Violence“) and his work as a journalist, both of which are discussed in this book.

“Quiet Outrage” provides a glimpse of the man behind the books who is passionate about sociology and making a difference – a difference that will, if it hasn’t already, saved lives.  The book is essential for OHS professionals and business leaders but just as important for sociologists who have not always been supportive of the pathways that Hopkins has chosen.

It’s worth finishing this article with a paragraph from his concluding chapter:

“Industry has much to learn from sociology when it comes to understanding the causes of accidents. The search for causes can easily get stuck at the level of immediate causation – the technical factors leading to the accident, and the contribution of front-line personnel – their carelessness, complacency, incompetence or apathy.  But if accidents are to be prevented, those in control must look to the more remote causes, and this is where the discipline of sociology comes in – identifying the organisational levers of change that can be used to make work safer. (page 115)

Kevin Jones



9 thoughts on “Quiet Outrage inspires”

  1. Great article. “I am a safety professional because I am angry that people are injured and killed at work. I am outraged and saddened that we do not learn the lessons from such incidents and am working to address this by raising awareness and continual improvement”

    1. Richard. It’s true we do carry Frustration regarding repeat events & I hear what we are saying here but in the spaces where I have been involved in a serious ACTUAL event I have not found outrage as an emotion just a deep sense of failure & sadness as I’m sure you have.

      The most profound examples of outrage I have experienced often relate to Near Miss/ hit events or a formal risk review wherein recommendations to remediate or rectify as identified in the recommendations are not implemented & not taken seriously. Where organisational change without change management has been a contributor but since it was indirect it was dismissed. When Management take a passive approach to potential risks it is certainly disheartening & Safety personnel feel outrage.

      The softer stuff also creates outrage in me. When intimidation, bullying & discrimination don’t bring outrage to the fore despite them being well proven to being part of a business culture and in direct conflict of the business vision & values. How many of you have seen workers throw PPE at the gate house staff as they leave or other subtlleties of subterfuge of identified controls. Grrrrr.
      I recall an incident where an operators personal photos of his 8 year old daughter where covered in graffiti & the response from Management was …. We’ll bring in a third party investigator. I was outraged by that response. In my mind it should have been an out the gate moment & everyone given a very explicit message about this heinous act.

      So as you see the failings of being outraged and taking action seem to be aligned to the culture of acceptance & toleration. A failure of individuals & organisations to demonstrate their commitment to their vision & values & to the principles of risk management. In the actual serious events or fatalities I have found them throwing all the resources they can muster into it. All too late as it turns out. Love. Celie

  2. I’m glad you have picked up on “outrage”. Every time a company or employer is found guilty of a WHS offence in Australia it is for failure to exercise the requisite care, that is, for negligence. It is this negligence that outrages me. But if outrage is to be productive, we need to be able to say what it means to take one’s duty of care seriously. I have found that an analysis of “the way we as an organisation do things around here” (organisational culture) is the most useful way to do this.

  3. Great stuff, I really like Andrew Hopkins and I think he is the most humble of all safety writers of late..he influenced some of my thinking early on and his ‘failure to learn’ views sticks with me to this day (as people know)…I will buy his book! and put with all his others…

  4. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I too have a deep interest in Andrews writings & philosophy. His passion for human connectedness inspires many. I am fortunate to have some of his books signed.

    “Outrage” is such a passionate word and one I notice is missing far too often in our dialogue & subseqient actions when it comes to wrongdoings.
    Thanks again

    1. Cecilia, thanks for reading.

      Hopkins called his book “quiet outrage” as it is the phrase a reviewer of an earlier book used and Hopkins felt this reflected his feeling s at the time. It is a lovely phrase.

      I came across Outrage as a formal concept through the work of Peter Sandman who discusses risk communication where Outrage is a feeling that needed to be addressed and countered in the communication of risks. In that circumstance outrage required a reaction where Hopkins sees his own outrage as a motivator. Alternate phrases could be anxiety or passion but outrage indicates a level of anger, which I think, in many ways, is missing from the OHS profession generally.

      It would be refreshing to hear a safety professional talk about the importance of injustice by saying “I am a safety professional because I am angry that people are injured and killed at work”. Sometimes we are too cautious and polite.

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