Managers often say that we shouldn’t let the Good suffer in the pursuit of the Perfect. And there’s a bit of a parallel there between occupational health and safety (OHS) principles and the legislative requirement to achieve safety only as far as is reasonably practicable. So the aim is the Perfect and the practicable is the Good. But one of the traps of this sort of thinking is that you can’t establish what is the Good without first understanding what is the Perfect.
Many companies manage health and safety only to what is “good”, to what is compliant, to what is practicable, as that’s all that they believe they are required to do under OHS law. After a while companies and executives manage OHS to the extent so frequently that they forget what constitutes the Perfect. They forget the main aim of OHS legislation, which is the elimination of harm in the provision of safe and healthy workplaces.
Within this safety management process is the intention to do what is right. But what is Right and what is Good varies depending on which end of the production line you work at. It varies with what employers are willing to pay workers and what workers expect to be paid. Personal economics affect and sometimes determine what is the Good and what is the Right.
Most companies and executives would seek clarity on these matters, if they ever consider them (and they should as this is part of the Environmental Social Governance), from lawyers, as if legal advisers are the determinators of Right and Good, when they should only be determining what is legally required or what is compliance. The contrast between the moral and legal imperatives is the cause of the extremes of bereaved families seeking justice and executives minimising their personal liability
Workplace health and safety has only recently accepted sociologists into their mainstream thinking. More recently still have emerged organisational psychologists. What has not emerged is the safety philosopher whose role would be to discuss OHS in moral terms that everyone understands or, at least, contemplated.
The closest I have seen anyone come to this role has been some of the Industrial Chaplains who used to visit construction sites. These chaplains would walk the site, talking to workers, sometimes performing welfare checks, sometimes following up after the return to work of an injured or distressed worker. OHS professionals may be called on to perform similar roles at their own workplaces but OHS professionals are not always a comfortable fit; neither are Health and Safety Representatives. Workers see hidden agendas with these roles, where an Industrial Chaplain was usually seen as discrete, independent and trustworthy. Many people first experienced Chaplains at high school, others at hospitals especially maternity hospitals, from personal experience.
When we are communicating workplace health and safety, we need to be clear on the standards we expect, the standards our workers or contractors have promised to deliver and the cooperation on which safety, production and service delivery relies. We need to think a little more deeply about what we are saying and what our audience is hearing, and to do so, we need to think about the meaning of occupational health and safety.