CEO-speak and safety culture – losing track of what matters most

The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster has faded to become another safety leadership failure to be discussed in the OHS and risk management courses but some new research ($ paywall) in Critical Perspectives on Accounting provides a fresh perspective on BP’s safety culture and leadership prior to the major disaster by deconstructing the speeches of the the then-CEO, Tony Hayward.

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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. Continue reading “Quiet Outrage inspires”

“Safety is paramount”, “safety is our number one priority” = bullshit cliches

After a major incident or at an Annual General Meeting, it will be common to hear a senior executive state something like “Safety is our number one priority”.  This is unrealistic and almost absurd because even in the most worker-friendly company, the continued existence of that organisation is the real and ultimate goal.  Most corporate leaders believe these safety clichés because they think they reflect their own values but the statements are misrepresenting occupational health and safety (OHS) and need to be questioned.

Corporate leaders who say such statements are not hypocrites.  They are more likely to not understand the consequences of their statements.  If safety really is the number one priority, an executive should be able or expected to close the company if its work cannot be conducted safely.  If a company’s people are paramount to the success of the company, how does it handle an accusation of bullying against a manager?  Which of the people does the Board or the company choose to keep and which to lose?  Should it keep the “evil” sales representative because the rep is its most effective salesperson or sack the rep because he or she is abusive?

These are executive decisions that need to be worked through if any company is to develop an effective operational culture that truly values the safety of its workers.  It is vital that the reality behind the statements is analysed and acted upon, or perhaps such statements should not be uttered in the first instance.

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Through Wilful Blindness I begin to see

Put your hand over your ears and start saying La La La La La La La.  That is willful blindness (or, technically,deafness, but let’s not quibble).

Margaret Heffernan, author of a new paperback edition of  “Wilful Blindness  – Why we ignore the obvious at our peril“, discovered wilful blindness while researching the trial of the Enron executives.  Heffernan says that

“Judge [Simeon] Lake was applying the legal principle of wilful blindness: you are responsible if you could have known, and should have known, something which instead you strove not to see.” (page 1)

Heffernan’s book is not simply a new book on business management. Heffernan acknowledges that wilful blindness is not limited to a workplace, person or management theory.  She also says wilful blindness is not always a negative.  It is this breadth of approach to the topic that increases the worthiness of her book. Continue reading “Through Wilful Blindness I begin to see”

Latest Andrew Hopkins book focusses on engineering decisions

The latest Andrew Hopkins book steers clear of analysing corporate leadership, and this is a good thing.  Australian National University sociologist, Andrew Hopkins, has established an international reputation for his enlightening analyses of the failures of organisational culture in major disasters but his latest book, Disastrous Decisions: The Human and Organisational Causes of the Gulf of Mexico Blowout, purposely leaves leadership out.

This may disappoint many but Hopkins says that

“The critical role of top leaders in accident prevention cannot, however, be overstated.  It is they who must learn from major accidents and, unless they do, nothing can be expected to change.

There is one group of decision-makers that has received rather less attention in accident investigations: office-based engineers.” (page 8) Continue reading “Latest Andrew Hopkins book focusses on engineering decisions”

Safety leadership and culture require accountability

At the recent Safe Work Australia Awards, the Minister for Workplace Relations had a dig at “safety culture“, according to an article from the National Safety Council of Australia.   Bill Shorten said :

“It is not the systems or the fancy talk about culture that will save people’s lives.”

This has been interpreted by some as Shorten disparaging the advocates of safety culture.  I agree that safety culture can be used as a euphemism for “Act of God” and therefore take no preventative action but safety culture is not designed by Gods, it is designed and implemented by Chief Executive Officers and Boards of Directors, often under the rubric of “leadership”. Continue reading “Safety leadership and culture require accountability”