At a recent seminar on managing serious workplace incidents, there was a brief discussion about how evidence is collected and controlled. The response from the panel was that one should always assume that conversations are always being recorded or have the capacity to be. A non-safety example of this appeared in The Age newspaper recently. It appears that someone recorded the Royal Australasian College of Surgeon’s examination process and the recording included discriminatory comments. Two examiners have been stood down and the College is investigating the examination processes.
This relates to incident and occupational health and safety (OHS) management because, in the case of a fatality, police will often be the first authorities on the scene and it is becoming increasingly common for police to wear cameras and other recording devices. This makes it possible for the police to be collecting evidence from the scene on their arrival, without the knowledge of others at the scene.
From a legal or damage control aspect this complicates the management of an incident site as the accumulation of this evidence is out of the company’s control. However, from the non-legal aspect, it’s a non-issue, or should be. One could argue whether such a recording is legally allowed or not but so what? That it simply exists is the issue.
Industrial Relations and Human Resources professions are much more knowledgeable about this area because of the centrality that private conversations have to their operations. OHS is far less private but almost equally exposed to the risk.
The capacity of everyone who has a recent model mobile phone with the ability to record conversations makes it even more important to have appropriate OHS management processes that reduce harm, do not increase harm, treat people with respect and civilly, and apply fair and natural justice. The community is past the point where the ethics of recording a conversation without the permission of all parties can be debated. Or rather it can be debated but the debates are now largely academic.
OHS should be improved through positive and constructive actions but the OHS profession, business owners and managers also need to accept the reality of “secret” recordings and the “risk of exposure” that will concern many people. Workplace safety has been built on the need to reduce and eliminate harm rather than reducing liability. The ability to secretly record conversation may complicate OHS management and may generate fear but it is also reinforces the importance of good work practices, respect, openness and transparency. Good and safe work practices is the best way to negate the power that these recordings may have.