I’m just not that into safety anymore

by Rob Sams on October 29, 2014 · 65 comments

in Rob Sams

I’m just not that into safety anymore

IMG_0857I have spoken with a number of Managers over the past few months who have argued with me that ‘safety’ in our workplaces means that we must do everything we can to control people so that they do not hurt themselves at work. These people have said to me, “we can’t let dangerous things go untouched”; “we can’t let people make choices that may lead to them being injured” and “doing everything that is reasonably practical means that we have to have systems, and people have to follow them”.

These conversations typically end with something like “the law says that we need to provide a safe workplace, I’m not going to jail and risking my house just because someone doesn’t follow a rule. All your fluffy stuff about motivation and decision making sounds fine, but I’ve got to follow the law, so I’ll stick with implementing procedures, thanks anyway.”

If this is what ‘safety’ is all about, I’m just not that into it anymore.

If being ‘safe’ is all about controlling people in our workplaces, we need to be aware of the trade offs for controlling people’s behaviour and actions. We need to be aware that this stifles learning, and is demotivating for people who no longer have control over the decisions they make.

The need to control and fix people also creates relationships that are rigid, yet we want flexibility and mature judgment. The more we seek to control others the less we create ownership, and the more we create co-dependence and as we know co-dependence is a mental health disorder. The truth is that as we become rule focused, we shift away from empathy and become focused on compliance. Those who are attracted to compliance, rigidity and control tend not to be able to create wholesome relationships based on mutual respect and understanding. Instead, controllers ‘command’ others, ‘dictate’ to others and rarely listen. Anyone who treats another as an object will only use and abuse others and will never be respected in a mutual way.

So why is it that ‘safety’ has turned into an industry that is about control, rules, and process and less about people?

When I started in ‘safety’ in 1993, my motivation was pretty clear, I wanted to work in an industry that was all about people. But ‘safety’ seems to have changed over the years. Being in ‘safety’ now is often seen as being the ‘fun police’. So often people in safety are forced into policing and inspection roles, asked to report to management on violations and non-conformances. They are often asked to report on ‘safety numbers’ and trends. Then, when they provide this information, there is usually much debate and discussion about definitions of things like incidents and frequency rates. I know that these things frustrate many of my friends and colleagues in ‘safety’.

So many of the people I know that work in ‘safety’ got into it because they care about people, they are nurturing and kind people, they are engaging and passionate. Yet, the realities of their role mean that they rarely get to work with people and share this passion and kindness. They become known in their organisations as internal regulators, and people take a different view of them. For example, a friend wrote to me recently and shared this story:

When I introduce myself to people they usually ask the standard question; “so what do you do?” When I tell them I’m a Safety Advisor, it’s really not often that I get a positive response. Most of the time people’s faces change, and not in a good way. Their eyes scan me as though I am a different breed of a person. Sometimes they even step back slightly as if I’ve got some sort of highly communicable disease. Often they’ll say something like “oh, you’re one of those people”. Or “and you seriously enjoy that?” Or “that has got to be one of the worst jobs in the world” or “how do you enjoy all of that paperwork?”

Safety Advisor from an International Organisation, 2014

I find this sad and disappointing, but I’m not surprised. It is hard when you are in a traditional ‘safety’ role to get away from the rigour of systems, process and control. It is expected of you, and even when you second-guess the value of this approach, it’s often easier to continue, than to try to break the nexus and change thinking. So how do people in ‘safety’ deal with these frustrations and concerns?

My friend who wrote to me, enjoys our regular catch up’s every few months where we share ideas, experiences and feelings. When they express frustrations and concerns, I don’t feel the urge or need to ‘fix them’, I don’t have to provide solutions. I just listen and ask questions that help them think through options , they need to decide what works best. For me, this is what being a friend is about, I demonstrate that I care without having to solve their problem. So sharing your thoughts with a friend who will listen, rather then solve, can be a great way to work through frustrations and concerns.

Another thing I have found to help is that, along with a number of other friends and colleagues, we’ve formed what we call a ‘Thinking Group’. A small group of us get together every 6-8 weeks and allow ourselves time to ‘think’. During these catch up’s we don’t solve problems, we don’t develop new procedures and we don’t review trends. We just pick a topic or two, and without any specific agenda, we share our thinking. This is a great way to step outside the busyness of everyday life, and away from the constant control and process of our ‘day jobs’, and use our imaginations.

I find that these are two great ways that help with deal with frustrations and concerns.

So if you can ways to work through your frustrations, what might you be able to do differently to change the way that your organisation sees ‘safety’ and limit your frustrations and concerns?

For a start, one of the methods that I have adopted is that I no longer tell people that I work in ‘safety’. I don’t want people to think that I’m interested in controlling people, policing people and reporting violations. I don’t want people to conjure up an image that I like to walk around with a checklist telling people what they are doing wrong. I don’t believe this is how you improve safety.

Instead, I tell people that I enjoy learning about how people make decisions & judgments. My work is to share this learning and help people to discern risk themselves, not for me to do it for them. My work is to coach people and ask questions, not to control them, so that they can realise themselves that they may be in danger. My job is to motivate people by providing good information in a way that helps them learn, not just nod and understand, which is typical of how ‘safety’ training is often done. My job is to value people, their views and opinions. This often involves me helping them to think clearly. Sure there are procedures, risk assessments, investigations, however all this is done thinking first about the people who are going to be involved, not just what the law says.

My jobs is let to people have control of their own decisions.

I wonder, if you are one of those people like my friend, who are frustrated with how ‘safety’ is viewed, whether you might be able to change the way that you go about your job? If you switched controlling to supporting, would people view you differently? I’d love it if the next time my friend goes to a party that people would appreciate what they do and, even thank them, rather then alienate them.

For me though, I’m just not that into safety anymore.

Editors note: Plenty of us feel the same way as Rob, we welcome your thoughts below………

Rob Sams
Rob is an experienced safety and people professional, having worked in a broad range of industries and work environments, including manufacturing, professional services (building and facilities maintenance), healthcare, transport, automotive, sales and marketing. He is a passionate leader who enjoys supporting people and organizations through periods of change. Rob specializes in making the challenges of risk and safety more understandable in the workplace. He uses his substantial skills and formal training in leadership, social psychology of risk and coaching to help organizations understand how to better manage people, risk and performance. Rob builds relationships and "scaffolds" people development and change so that organizations can achieve the meaningful goals they set for themselves. While Rob has specialist knowledge in systems, his passion is in making systems useable for people and organizations. In many ways, Rob is a translator; he interprets the complex language of processes, regulations and legislation into meaningful and practical tasks. Rob uses his knowledge of social psychology to help people and organizations filter the many pressures they are made anxious about by regulators and various media. He is able to bring the many complexities of systems demands down to earth to a relevant and practical level.

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  • Andrew Lane

    Hi Rob, really enjoyed the post and found it to be a little bit of affirmation. Not three days ago I sent an email to a colleague who is doing the same role as myself but in another location which reads, “As to injuries and incidents, you need to keep on top of these. Not from a point of wrapping people in cotton wool but from a store culture perspective. In a store where there is a real sense of belonging and clear lines of communication incident and accident levels are low and even more importantly genuine. The relationship the “Risk Manager” has with the team is so important. You need to be a leader but also a friend, a manager and also a great listener, a co-worker and a confidant”. I tell people I’m a coach.

    • Rob Sams

      Hi Andrew, thanks for the feedback and sorry for the delay in replying. Yep, a friend, and good listener sound like a good start to me. So many people believe you need to be the complete opposite (see for example Gab’s comment below about ‘Slammer’ – oh dear!).

      I’m not sure about the comment about incident and accident levels belong low and this being a result of belong and clear lines of comms though. When we measure/evaluate/assess how well we manage risk and safety by using accident rates (or any lagging indicators), I worry about how that impacts how we think in the non-conscious (which is where we do a lot of our thinking). What do you think about this?

      Cheers, Rob Sams

  • Gabrielle Carlton

    Hey Rob this post has evoked some great feedback and thinking about what is it all about. I loved this article as I have stated earlier I just wanted to add more based on some of the comments I’ve read. It’s so good to hear that people understand that the policing mentality just doesn’t work. Interestingly there are still people who believe that it is all about just that. I had a conversation with a colleague and a friend the other day who is a WHS Manager. She was telling me about a new WHS ‘facilitator’ that was engaged. This person felt that facilitation was all about ‘slamming’ people. This new person was actually quoted saying ‘good ’cause I love slamming contractors’!!! WOW I was astounded that someone would think this is good safety. When I hear this I definitely feel the same…’I’m just not that into safety anymore’! I’m into people and understanding them.

    • Rob Sams

      Hey Gab, I how can someone who enjoys slamming also claim that they work in a field that cares about people’s wellbeing. Tosser!

      I’m with you mate, I’m sooooo into people and understanding them, and it’s so good to be part of this great community that Dave has established with so many other like minded people. Cheers, Rob

  • Deanne Boules

    Hi Rob, Great Article!! and so true…I have been working in safety for a number of years now having started my safety career as an Inspector with WorkCover NSW before transitioning into private industry in Senior Safety Leadership roles and now into my current role where I spend a lot of time working with safety professionals (and senior leaders in organisations) trying to help them understand that a safety professionals role should not be about being the ‘safety police’ and that there is so much more to safety then just ‘catching people out’. Gone are the days when safety was about the big stick, catching people out and punishing them when they have ‘done something wrong’ it just doesn’t work anymore. All it does is give safety people a reputation for being the ‘fun police’ as you highlighted in your article. For me I see the safety professionals role as being a ‘leadership role’ regardless of what level they are in the organisation. If safety professionals can communicate effectively (and I don’t mean just quoting legislation and standards to people, to me that’s one of the first mistakes a safety professional can make because people just turn off), engage and influence all levels of the workforce, drive and lead change, etc. they don’t even need to talk specifically about safety to get buy in from people. Hence why my focus has changed in recent years, I started studying Psychology (1 year to go) and have studied Neuroleadership and brain based coaching…when I look at the philosophy behind these methodologies I believe that this is the future of safety engagement and how we can shift the perception that safety professionals are ‘compliance officers’, ‘fun police’ etc. to highly valued and respected professionals within organisations and we proudly say that we are ‘safety professional’ without cringing for fear of what people will say.

    • Rob Sams

      Hi Deanne, thanks for the feedback, appreciated.

      It’s interesting that I now look at what I call ‘traditional safety’ and the various degrees, courses and training offered is focused on legislation and objects (hazards, science and the like). Very few focus at all on understand people and how we make decisions and judgments. Like you, I’ve started studying psychology, although my focus is on social psychology and how that impacts on risk. Fascinating stuff isn’t it?

      Sorry for the delay in replying to your comments, it’s great to see you contributing on the Blog and being part of this great community which encourages sharing, learning and most importantly making mistakes and taking risks as an important part of learning.

      Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts and comments on the forum, and if you are keen, maybe even writing an article one day. Cheers, Rob Sams

  • Gaynor Renz

    Hey Rob Sams!!! An excellent article. Love Mr Safety Potato Head having a hissy fit in the graphic as well. It’s true that it is often expected of safety people to be the compliance officers – as you’ve put it, the “fun police”. I believe that some people thrive in that role. I know that many of us show empathy and really care for the people we work with but I have to say that I have met some safety advisors that I would NOT describe as being terribly caring or nurturing. I think the safety profession unfortunately attracts some to the role of “Safety Officer” because they enjoy the opportunity of being a cop on the beat. Not ALL safety people by any means, but probably some of those who have just unsubscribed might be in that category.
    One of these particular advisors I can even remember giving a big “BOO YAH!!!” when she was able to catch someone out for not having the right PPE (safety glasses). She even did a “dance of joy” (once she got around the corner of course). She truly believed she was doing her job well if she could catch someone out doing the wrong thing. I am not making this up but once, when walking on a mine site, I was pulled up by my safety colleague for crossing the road at an angle (“jay walking”) and said that I needed to set a good example to the troops.
    At every opportunity I have said to workers “I am not a cop” and meant it. Like you and others who have contributed here, I say I am there to work with them to keep them safe. At every opportunity I tell the people I work with that I will do what I can to take their safety concerns seriously and have them addressed.
    Who was the author in education who coined the phrase that we need to catch the children “doing good” in the classroom? (Dr Rob Long will definitely know! Please help out Rob). Same applies out in the field if we want people to respect the work that we do in the safety realm.

    • Dave Collins

      Welcome Gaynor! I have worked with plenty of auditors who delight in catching people doing the wrong thing – I wrote about it a while ago: http://www.safetyrisk.net/how-to-do-a-safety-audit-properly/
      Whenever I was being audited we would just leave stuff for them to find, meanwhile leading them away from important stuff whilst they reveled in the euphoria of their success! How they sleep at night I do not know!

      • Rob Sams

        Hey Dave, I just read your Blog on auditing, how damn true for some. I love the approach you take. I’m sure they sleep because they feel they have done their bit to control people, that’s what they live for

        • Dave Collins

          Thanks mate – forgot about that one – reckon I’ll dust it off and polish it a little and republish it :-)

    • Rob Sams

      Hey Gaynor, nice to hear from you and thanks for the feedback. Yep, I believe that there are a lot of good people out there in safety, I just hope that we can move beyond having to feel like we need to ‘fix’ people and ‘keep them safe’, and instead continue to focus our attention on helping people to discern risk themselves.

      I’m sorry, I don’t know of the education author, but I’m sure Rob Long will know. Hoping to see you at Uni in the morning to discuss further. Hope you are well.

      Note: Hey Dave, Gaynor is one of the gang doing the post-grad in social psychology and risk, I agree great to have her join in the discussion

      • Rob Long

        Actually not sure who said this but it came out of the child-centred movement most associated with the educators of the 1970s, John Holt etc (How Children Fail) in the tradition of Dewey and R S Peters. Being child-centred is about not being system-centred or outcome-centred or process-centred. All common to the freeschooling and de-schooling movements. safety could learn a lot from this stuff.

  • Rob Schroder

    I had a conversation today with my site team on a falling safety culture on site. Their answer was to more stringently police the wearing of safety glasses. Well that upset me….a lot…. and I objected but could not articulate my reasons very well.
    If only I had read this blog earlier. Rob you have put it so succinctly and in a manner that I was not able to during my discussions today. Time to reschedule the safety culture conversation I think. Thanks!

    • Dave Collins

      Thanks for your positive feed back Rod – really interested in how you reckon you might address the issue now? Cheers

      • Rob Sams

        Thanks for the feedback Rob, this wasn’t a hard one to write, it is based on the many dissuasions I’ve had with ‘safety’ people who are fed up with being looked at like aliens on site. I, like Dave, would love to hear how you will address this with the gang at work. Great that we are having conversations about this, Dave has created such a good forum for us to build a community to share our thoughts and ideas in a ‘safe’ environment

  • Len Collie

    How succinctly has Rob put the thoughts of many safety people. Quite a long time ago the safety game was about safety and at least seemed to be about helping people decide what was best from them. It would seem to me that others, seeing that safety was finally making some in roads, albeit slowly, that their hobby horses could gain momentum from jumping onto the band wagon. Suddenly, Quality Management started to direct that “the written system was the answer” Formatting, wording and process took precedence over the things that really mattered. “Risk Managers” from the Insurance/ Governance industries then wanted to steal some of the limelight using “you’ll go to jail or lose everything financially” as a tactic. And let us not forget the “Best Practice” theorists. By the way, who actually sets ‘best practice’. Is there a Worlds Best Practice regulatory group that we can send our systems to for some sort of grading? Anyway I digress a little. In my humble opinion, even Human Resources, unable to manage the growing bullying and harassment issues, following years of no support to manage some of these bullies and harassers out of the business, threw their hands up and covertly threw management of the issue it into the Safety arena.

    Soon Company executives were so inculcated with this risk adverse waffle, that they not only demanded this from within their own organisation, but even today use their systems to gauge whether or not someone else’s systems (contractors) were acceptable or not. More demanding, more controlling.

    Where is the trust, that those who know how best how to perform a job should be able to express it in their own words, rather than have some safety person who has little or no real experience in the various jobs that they are reviewing tell them that they are wrong.

    We as a profession, if you can call us that, have let this happen to us and our industries. Blame the academics, blame the risk adverse insurance industry, blame whoever, but blame yourself first.

    It is time to stand up and be counted. Say no to some of this tripe that is being pushed down our throats. Stand up and be morally counted. Their is nothing wrong with our industry – it is about people – real humans with dreams and hopes for their future. It is not about controlling them, it is about assisting them make the right decisions because they want to, not because some clown in a glass castle who rarely if ever visits real workplaces with a piece of paper says “I’m an expert and this is the only way to do it or else”. Remember expert is Latin – Ex meaning ‘has been'; Spurt meaning ‘Drip under pressure’.

    I’m not an expert, I’m just a normal guy trying to coach and mentor people to achieve.

    • Dave Collins

      Great thoughts Len – I think you nailed it re the demise of safety being about people and more about systems beginning around the time of QM. Even though the outcomes of a great culture are safety, quality and all the other KPIs. Yeah we can whinge all we like about management and their lack of commitment but they have their own issues to deal with. For things to change then we much change, take advantage of their fears and use it against them if need be to show the the risk of pursuing an autocratic approach to safety. I think you know one of the large private email networks of safety we are part of, there is lots of whinging there about management and “shingle hangers” etc people yet 75% of the chat is about the latest std, regulation or sharing convoluted procedures!

      • Rob Sams

        Good point Dave. When we make things about ‘us’ (safety) vs. ‘them’ (management) it is just not useful. So many times I hear people in ‘safety’ say they just don’t get it, they aren’t serious, they don’t care, yet when they go about their job, they do more controlling, blaming and fault finding. We need to work together, and realise that ‘safety’ is not about ‘safety’ – I love Rob Long’s recent post for great description of this.

    • Len Collie

      Couldn’t agree more Dave. Although, having said that, everything has its purpose. I guess the standards and other info may help us to understand what may or may not fit and this is then used to assist others come to the right conclusions if we mentor them correctly rather than using the authoritarian approach.

    • Rob Sams

      Thanks for the feedback and thoughts Len, yes I think there is a bit of work to do for those of us in ‘safety’. Wouldn’t it be great if ‘safety’ was about helping people to discern risk themselves rather than trying to ‘fix’ them and ‘make them safe’. Here’s hoping the great community we have created on here can make a different one day at a time

  • Gary

    G’day all,
    great topic and very good article. If I could add my two bobs worth – in my experience, it’s not the safety practitioner mindset that needs to change. We are always taught through our training to challenge the norm, coach, mentor and be there to advise. What I find most frustrating is the management (usually senior) who believe the role of the safety advisor is to do the ‘safety’ work, instead of coaching others (usually management) to do it. What usually occurs when this happens is that when an incident does occur, it invariably ends up the safety advisor having the finger pointed at them as they were not doing safety ‘stuff’. Whilst blame should not be proportioned, in the real world it happens. I have lost count of how many times I have requested to conduct education sessions with management (direct Supervisors / management) but ‘time is money’. Whilst I understand the need for the bottom line and almighty dollar, unless senior management is on-board with safety and committed to it, you will find frustrated advisors, and management who don’t understand their responsibilities and / or accountability.

    • Rob Sams

      Hi Gary, thanks for the feedback and thoughts. There certainly are some challenges that those in ‘safety’ face. Per my comment above, I don’t think making the ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ arguments are that useful. I wonder what value this adds to improving safety outcomes. I know the type of managers that you refer to, and I know that it is difficult to understand and deal with them. I think the challenge for us is to work out how we can make the most of the relationships for the better of everyone in our workplaces. Cheers, Rob

  • Nic

    I was just thinking about this last night as I lay awake in bed unable to fall asleep! (Some of my best thinking is done on sleep deprivation!)

    How can we build a trusting environment with our employees & employers when we constantly dictate every move a worker can make. (Via pre ops, hazard analyses, safety cards, permits, etc…)

    No one tells me how to do my job, I’ve been entrusted to do the right thing and make the right choices when they need to be made.

    We hire these workers usually because of their experience and expertise, any deficiencies and we quickly send them for training. So why are we not letting them do what they do best? Their job!

    Like it was said below in the comments, safety advisors are like parents. We foster a nurturing environment for our employees where they are free to grow and learn. We encourage them to think outside of the box and to take chances. All of this is done in a safe environment where they won’t get seriously hurt. When some employees push the boundaries too far, or neglect the sound advice of their parents, we quickly remind them whose boss via appropriate discipline. (progressive discipline when the situation warrants it!)

    Sure a few bumps and bruises will happen along the way, but at the end of the day we get to watch them grow into safety advocates who then keep our safety culture alive by mentoring new employees as we welcome them into our corporate families.

    The approach of being the fun police is an ancient one that needs to be buried!

    • Rob Sams

      Here, here Nic! I’ve had some of those ‘thinking’ moments whilst trying to fall asleep :-)

      I’d love to see a more humanistic workplace. The great community we have on here is a great way to make this happen. Cheers, Rob

  • Dave

    Safety is about partnership – not dictatorship. If I am pushed I will push back (or fall over more often than not) but if you lead I will follow and if you ask me to lead I will bring everyone else I work with along with me for the ride (and probably organise a sing-along. Anybody remember Men without Hats?).

  • Richard H

    I tell people I am a safety advisor and whatever their response, it is their issue.

    were 3 advisors at my place of work (now there are 2) and each of us
    would go and spend a day at each of the offices within the organisation
    throughout the week. We go there with our lap tops and do our work at a
    spare desk.

    At first we were treated with suspicion because,
    historically, OHS Advisors only went to offices to investigate, audit or
    issue non-conformances. After a while people got used to us being
    there and would ask us to help them. They would ask for our advice,
    which we would give gladly. Now we are part of the various teams and we
    are asked to assist many times.

    If you manage by compliance
    people will work to a level that will just keep them out of trouble. My
    message to my teams is that with all of the activity that takes place,
    with all of the people on worksites there are no serious injuries.
    There are near misses and minor injuries. To achieve this result they
    are doing a hell of a lot that is right. My job is to help them to do,
    what they already do well, just that little bit better.

    • Nic

      Great approach Richard! “My job is to help them to do,
      what they already do well, just that little bit better.”

      Love it!

      • Rob Sams

        ‘Goodonya’ Richard, sounds like you really do care, and see your role is to support people to discern risk for themselves rather than try to control people.

      • TonyP

        Great Saying Richard, I’m stealing (borrowing) that one.

  • Dave J

    Good article. I also do not say I am a Safety Advisor anymore. I say I work in construction. I am tired of being sent out to be the policeman on site, its counterproductive to building good relationships.

    • Rob Sams

      ‘Goodonya’ Dave, aren’t relationships so important. You can’t have a relationship with a clip board :-)

  • Gabrielle Carlton

    Wow Rob you’ve got people thinking, questioning, running and just plain not wanting to play the game. This is what the risk and safety industry needs. A good harsh touch of reality. The reality is we are so far removed from what most of us set out to do and that’s to support people. Now it’s all about telling, policing and compliance. You’ve hit a nerve because people find this a hard one….how do they ‘manage’ risk when they don’t police? You’ve given some great advice…when we start realising it’s about support, learning and assisting people to discern risk from their own perspective. Well done Rob I love it…there are more and more Potato Heads out there than we realise.

    • Rob Sams

      Thanks Gab (aka fell Potato Head), great to see the responses on here from our great community who see it as our role to support through having great conversations, not control through fear. Being a Potato is so cool

  • http://www.resiliencepartners.com.au Sam Robinson

    Rob, really enjoyed the article. You are definitely touching on some things that some see as sacred and beyond criticism (let alone discussion!) That is of course why this raising this stuff is necessary. I have some understanding (even sympathy) for people who are trying to ‘make’ others comply with good intentions – they face an impossible and usually muddled & confusing task and are often given the message that there is no other option. Those people are invariably doing their best and also deserve understanding, just like the rest of us (i.e. they are not mad, bad or stupid). Of course ‘compliance’ doesn’t have to mean “making” people do anything – but it has almost become synonymous with that – and it’s tough to break free while still being a credible voice in an organisation. I’m about to become a “risk and compliance consultant” for a NFP but my role will not be about command and control, procedures and rules (although I do think minimum systems are critical – like the system that enables this online discussion). I will be making my work about conversations, beliefs, behaviour, culture, questioning and challenging. I’m expecting it to be bloody difficult!

    • Rob Long

      Very astute reply Sam. All the best in your challenge.

    • Rob Sams

      Hi Sam, thanks for the feedback, I agree with Rob, very astute and some very good points amongst your thoughts. You are so right, we do need systems, procedures, rules and controls, just at a minimum so that we are all clear what is expected of us. I know you’ll do well in your new gig, as you are there for the right reasons. Good luck, and may you find courage in those difficult times. Cheers, Rob

  • Rod

    Great article Rob, its somewhat analogous with the traditional approach to Supervising and Coaching. Many people thrust into Supervisory roles think its about telling or dictating how things should be done, with the attraction being that its quick and easy and gives a feeling of being in control. Coaching on the other hand is about facilitating learning by providing choice. The compliance approach is limiting and doesn’t facilitate learning.

    • Dave Collins

      I guess we cant blame them Rod – they are usually just trying to emulate those before them and/or those who put them into that role. Many have not had a good role model, learning from them what not to do is not effective and most are not provided with appropriate tools, skills and knowledge. Even in an organisation that says they support all the good stuff, they only recognize and reward the traditional approach – the number of times I was told as a young site manager that I should not so friendly with the workers………..

      • Rod

        Yep, you are spot on and no doubt we have all fallen into that trap at times. For some reason its worse in the safety field. I think it really is about that feeling of being in control as ludicrous as it is

    • Rob Long

      I think your are spot on Rod. If learning is the focus then mutuality should be the method. It’s strange how the seduction of measurement so fills the space for safety yet the things that matter in life that are not measurable seem to be in so short supply. Unfortunately it has been made too easy to walk into the moment equipped with the Act and Regulation and thrive in the methodology of judgement, power and superiority. It’s a tough gig to facilitate learning when this paradigm dominates the airwaves, most not knowing what they don’t know. All the best with your work.

  • Dave Collins

    Geez Rob – you touched a nerve – had quite a few unsubscribe after reading this article – latest was a “Compliance Officer” from a large US resource company – LOL. Mission accomplished – we need to create discomfort as opposed to fear if anything is to change – shame that the message will now not be received by those who need it the most :-)

    • Rob Sams

      I guess that’s what happens when people feel uncomfortable and don’t want to challenge their own thinking. For the Compliance Officer from a large resource company, I can only imagine the ‘mental gymnastics’ that they must have been going through. It’ll be interesting to see how people respond and see if people think the article is criticising ‘safety’ people, or supporting them. Amazing how many people only read the heading and make assumptions. I’ll keep you posted on the (expected) abuse I’ll cop on LinkedIn. Bring it on, if it’s what get’s people thinking, you’re right, mission accomplished.

      Thanks for your support Dave, great that you are brave enough to host this site and share all the learning with those that are interested.

      • Dave Collins

        Thanks mate – luvin it! Just added “mental gymnastics” to my current repertoire :-)

        • Rob Long

          Dave, you really should join us on the Grad Cert.

          • Dave Collins

            Absolutely mate – count me in – I’ve seen the way that your students now see and speak about safety, risk and life in general and I cant wait to be a part of that journey :-)

      • Dave Collins

        The positive is that I am seeing lots of “Likes” on LinkedIn – people are at least thinking subversively

  • Rob Long

    A clear articulation of the current status of culture in the industry, and I wonder how it got to this? What and who has been the driving force of this climate? Maybe it’s all those forces that don’t understand and don’t have a clue what they have created.

    I think your meeting in small groups and focusing on learning and thinking is excellent.

    • Dave Collins

      Yeah I like Robs idea of meeting in small groups. I think a lot of people think like we do in private but do not dare to question or ridicule established methods in public. Would be a great way to get all that off your chest and learn how others deal with it. Luving using the term “subversive” at the moment!

      • Rob Sams

        Our ‘Thinking Groups’ have been wonderful. Funny that we rarely talk about ‘safety’ and instead talk a lot about people. Nice!

        • Dave Collins

          Sensational idea mate – there are probably a number of little “subversive” groups out there. I am in several private email networks of recalcitrants – but they mainly bitch about the latest legislation and share stds and their latest complicated procedures! Perhaps you could write about how you set up this group, how you manage it, what you talk about etc so that others may be motivated and inspired to do the same.

          • Rob Sams

            Good idea Dave, onto it! I’ll work on another piece this week. I’ll talk to Gab too as she has some up and running too. It’s going to be hard not to have ‘subversive’ in the title :-)

          • Rob Long

            The one I have been running in Canberra for about 6 years has been really good too. Often over breakfast and Coffee on the way to work. It just started by like minded people wanting to ‘meet’. Nothing special or formal really, no agenda, topic or secretary, very conscious that we weren’t organising anything but just wanting to share with like minded people who ‘get it’. It is a place where those interested in the psychology and culture of risk can share questions more than solutions and empathise with struggles in the bipolar world of managing risk.People are free to come and go and they do, but are mostly just invited because they have a thirst to learn and want to humanise in their job. The last thing we do is winge, it’s mostly about listening to how others do things and how they try to enact what they know.

      • Rob Long

        Dave, a great but heavy read is ‘The Politics of subversion’ be Negri, I also like Ellul on subversion and the politics of freedom too. Both are focused on more national and neo-marxist ideas but there are easy links to draw to the nature of social media and micro politics at work. In many ways I see the process of safety as a subversive activity and think it is weakened by mainstreaming and orthodoxy.

  • Rob Sams

    One of the challenges that people in ‘safety’ (and a lot of other roles for that matter, e.g. HR) face is the constant juggle between business objectives (e.g. bottom line, shareholder expectations, compliance and goals/targets) and ‘safety’. I feel privileged to work with a number of companies who respect the law (because they see it as society’s standards rather than being fearful of it) and who also understand that being in business is not all about making money.

    • Dave Collins

      I compare it a lot to the responsibility of being a parent (the most important job in the world) – you have to establish clear boundaries but also encourage creativity, imagination, learning, respect, growth, health, social interaction, risk taking etc etc etc etc all the while ensuring their safety.

      • Rob Sams

        I really get that Dave. When you are a parent you are in a relationship with your child, you are not the police. Great analogy I reckon. Maybe one of the challenges we face in ‘safety’ is that if it is all about fear, and treating people as an object as part of a process, means that we don’t develop relationships?

        • Dave Collins

          Perhaps if Leaders shared their fears and built better relationships, then each work group may understand what motivates the other. If employees better understood the multitude of pressures and fears that the boss had they could help and show him a better way of leading that they are more responsive to as opposed to his/her autocratic manifestation of what a leader should be and should do. I think it is incredibly powerful when all work toward a common, realistic goal and properly understand the risks, challenges, reasons, fears and barriers (would you call that resilience?) – as opposed to management leading toward a perfectionist goal in the name of safety, covering up all that is bad and with a big stick as a motivator. Just thinking aloud – someone else may be able to put this more eloquently :-)

          • Rob Long

            Dave, you’d love the Unit we do in the post grad on following and leading in risk. The book that comes out soon reflects just what you stated. Kellerman and Riggio on Followership are essential reading for all those who are leading.

          • Dave Collins

            Look forward to it mate – then there are those who attempt it and get it horribly wrong by saying things like “Listen guys I know this safety stuff is bullshit but it’s what the company wants or I lose my job or go to jail”. If that were my boss I would spend my days working out ways to covertly and subversively make that happen!

        • Rob Long

          Absolutely Rob, my kids are now 29,31,33,36 and are our best mates. We walked together through many struggles but always with acceptance and trust, not control and power.

  • Rob L

    I’ve heard quite a few safety folk complain about how they “don’t understand why someone would….”
    That companies “don’t understand. How authorities “don’t have a clue”.
    I’ve heard safety folk attempt to moralize their arguments. Cite behavioural research out of context – often from studies with a tonne of internal validity but little real-world trial. Safety dudes and dudettes will submit reports with fancy graphics and wonder why they still aren’t being acted upon. They are forever highlighting the imminence of “potentially serious legal repercussions if……doesn’t happen soon” despite having minimal to no real understanding of legal machinations.

    Even if you don’t make the above errors, you are likely rocking-up to worksites that have built perceptions of safety folk on such legacy issues. You must overcome these if you are to find satisfying effectiveness from your efforts.

    Couple things for the un-satisfied safety person to consider:

    1. Companies are not governments. They don’t set the regulations and often have a limited understanding of how they are developed – so default to the same cynical view of things that most people engage when pressured. Companies are obliged to meet compliance requirements and satisfy shareholder profit expectations first and foremost – these things determine whether company managers keep their jobs.

    2. Ask many top-tier companies about safety consultants. Some will be full of praise. Many will be frustrated.If you are seeking some sense of praise, you need to understand what the company wants, and what it finds counter-productive and annoying. The most common errors which safety consultants make pertain to the way with which they embarrass or make companies and people feel deficient. Some will say that they have had to give the company the “hard truth” – but if there is conflict or dismissiveness towards your recommendations – this is an issue with communication more so than with the ideas being presented.

    3. Companies want authoritative advice. If they are spending a lot of money, they want someone who has more experience then they have. If the safety person is barely one-lesson ahead of the person who has to listen, this will be overt, even if not mentioned, by company people. Knowing the rules and believing you have some Jedi -guaranteed ability to read and ‘teach’ people’s minds is no longer enough convincing-expertise – companies expect that you can accurately demonstrate that you understand how they make money and tailor your approach to help achieve it.

    I’m a green WHS guy. Having guided several high-performing business people to the highest mountains about has nonetheless enlightened my perspective of what business people see when they interact with safety folk. That said, my understanding is not extensive.

  • Dave Collins

    Comment from Linkedin:

    Good luck with an organizing philosophy that says it’s OK not to be safe on the basis of personal choices. OKayyyyyyyyyyyy; just remember guys and girls, survival is not compulsory!

    • Rob Sams

      Oh dear

  • Ian Peters

    “Instead, I tell people that I enjoy learning about how people make decisions & judgments. My work is to share this learning and help people to discern risk themselves, not for me to do it for them. My work is to coach people and ask questions, not to control them, so that they can realise themselves that they may be in danger.”

    Couldn’t have put it any better myself.

    • Rob Sams

      Thanks Ian

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