ALARP, The Regulator and Alt-Facts

by Dave Collins on February 21, 2017

in ALARP,Safety Legislation



ALARP, The Regulator and Alt-Facts

Post by Hayden Collins, First published here

Don’t you just love ‘fact sheets’? Especially when they don’t contain ‘facts’. (Sound like something you may have heard recently?) I recently picked up a ‘fact sheet’ from the NSW Department of Industry on ‘Mine Safety’ that was packed with contradictions about the fundamentals of risk and safety, proposed as ‘fact’.

The two-page flyer is loaded with the favourites of the Regulator and Safety – ‘obligations’, ‘elimination’, ‘control’ and ‘assessment’.

The stated concern of the flyer is about managing fatigue; but the real (and covert) agenda is centered on fear, risk aversion, the manipulation of the meaning of the WHS Act to suit a hidden agenda. Why would the Regulator – the supposed ‘Guardian of the Act’ do this?

The flyer is entitled ‘Managing Fatigue in the Workplace’ but the document is not at all about the process of ‘management’. The concept of management denotes the juggling of complexity yet embodies as a process ‘no absolute solutions’. When we manage a household, we do our best to tackle the problems, juggle competing activities and numerous multi-layered issues. We know there is no perfect outcome, that things change and we do our best to ‘manage’ that change. So, the management of fatigue is not about the elimination of fatigue; because it cannot be eliminated for real humans in a real world. Fatigue is everywhere; cars get fatigued and need servicing, my body gets fatigued and needs a rest, and the stressors even on metal create weakness. Managing fatigue in humans is about managing volatility, fallibility and the nature of the human body, mind and spirit.

What is interesting in the ‘fact’ sheet is that it commences with a discussion of ALARP (As Low As Is Reasonably Practicable). ALARP is the go to guide for how to manage risk (https://safetyrisk.net/alarp-what-is-reasonably-practicable/). ALARP acknowledges that risk cannot be eliminated, it can only be ‘managed’ through Risk Intelligence. ALARP anchors the Act and Regulation to the reality of subjectivity. ALARP disowns the nonsense of objectivity, the nonsense of elimination of risk, and the nonsense of Zero. ALARP recognizes the fallibility of humans and that humans are not a problem to be fixed (Dekker). If you want to know what ALARP is really about then maybe have a look at the newly released video from the series Risky Conversations – The Law Social Psychology and Risk. Long, Smith and Ashhurst dispel the absolute nonsense in the safety sector about what ALARP means (https://safetyrisk.net/new-free-video-release-alarp/). Isn’t it refreshing to hear a lawyer put the utter nonsense of this ‘fact’ sheet in its place?

Here we have a ‘fact’ sheet that acknowledges ALARP and then immediately follows up that presentation with the nonsense of ‘elimination’. In the same paragraph the Regulator then talks about minimization as if it is the same concept as elimination. How do people possibly read this stuff and think that it makes sense? This is not a ‘fact’ sheet but a propaganda tool for the crusade of fear, risk aversion and ‘dumb down’ safety. Misinformation such as this ‘fact’ sheet shows just how the regulator contributes to the mis-education of the safety industry. Maybe the Regulator doesn’t understand the regulation?

When your thesis is fear and risk aversion, then your message must be ‘subjective humans are the enemy’. I saw this this week in a safety campaign for a tier one organization that described the challenge of safety as a ‘battle against humans’. The concept of ‘humans as the enemy’ through the philosophy of Zero Harm is also illustrated through the bullying and dehumanizing action carried out by this large organization in the utilities industry that advocates “Triple Zero”; or Zero Incident, Zero Harm and Zero Compromise.

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http://www.personneltoday.com/hr/unfair-dismissal-health-safety-grounds-of-long-serving-employee/. When fallibility and uncertainty cannot be tolerated, humans are the ultimate adversaries.

So, here we have a non-fact sheet from the Regulator providing confusion and contradiction; where is the guidance and leadership? What can people and organisations do about ALARP? There are a number of things that can be done to provide leadership and support on this issue (fatigue and ALARP).

  1. The first thing that is needed is greater consistency with the Act and Regulation, not some made up agenda based upon an ideology of control and binary opposition.
  2. There is the need to ‘unlearn’ some of the nonsense that floats about the industry as projected truth, regardless of the source. Unquestioning compliance is dangerous.

  3. There is also a need for critical thinking to deconstruct the pervasiveness of nonsense in the sector. (The video series by Smith, Long and Ashhurst are a good start in this). The work of Richard Paul may also be helpful here: http://www.criticalthinking.org/files/Concepts_Tools.pdf, http://www.criticalthinking.org/files/SAM_Analytic_Think2007b.pdf. Safety people should be the experts at discerning alt-facts from facts, sadly this is not the case. Snake oil finds a ready market in the safety industry.

  4. What really levels the reality from the nonsense is grassroots engagement at the coal face (something I do in my on-site culture audits). The process of ‘praxis’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praxis_(process) is key to uncovering hidden agendas and challenging safety nonsense and has been an integral tool introduced and used in organisations which I have worked with.

  5. One of the best tools for deconstructing nonsense from the truth is the test of experience (in my case 13 years as a safety manager within tier 1 organisations).

  6. Another important challenge is understanding the ‘spin’ of safety and the reality of safety. If fatigue is the issue, then understanding social politics, human judgment and decision making is the key; humans are not the enemy.

  7. One of this things I have picked up over the years is a radar for regulator ‘double speak’. This has come though experience but also through my studies in critical thinking.

  8. We also need to move beyond the tokenism of wellness’ and well being discourse to being ‘fair dinkum’ about people in our business. I worked once for a tier 1 mob that bragged about a ‘culture of care’ yet it was a culture of systemized dehumanizing. Wearing a ‘fit bit’ and placing a bowl of fruit in the lunchroom doesn’t constitute ‘care’ (https://safetyrisk.net/care-ology-in-the-work-place/)

  9. The foundation for managing fatigue is not more rules but better community. Understanding people, the nature of decisions and the realities of the wear and tear of work, is the beginning of fatigue management.

  10. Unfortunately, the power of the regulator packs quite an intimidatory punch. It takes a lot of guts to challenge the auditor, measurement heroes or a safety crusader. This is where a ‘learning’ community is helpful, for example with people on the Social Psychology of Risk leadership group. https://www.facebook.com/groups/152071534818549/ (not for those afraid to play in the mud)

So, there you go. Not all ‘fact’ sheets are fact and don’t buy safety nonsense projected as fact. Go to the source or consult a thinker like Greg Smith who understands risk, and keep away from ‘Professionals’ peddling fear and contradiction.

  • David Hickey

    Great piece Hayden.

    The same company with the “Triple Zero” mantra were chuffed about having a guest speaker at their safety conference and following his presentation they issued him with a “Zero Compromise” card:

    “The cards contain a clear statement direct from (CEO) authorising and empowering you to stop work if something is unsafe and assist in putting it right” – I thought workers were empowered by the legislation to stop work in unsafe conditions without having to be told by the CEO? Why would a CEO need to say this?

    “On the reverse of the card is a statement for you to sign. Signing demonstrates you understand the message and are committed to achieving zero compromise.” – Ahhhh…..there it is – power and control.

    That guest speaker was Sir Ranulph Fiennes who has an interesting story:

    “In 2000, Fiennes traveled across the Arctic alone. Along the way, his sled carrying all of his food and equipment fell through the ice. Fiennes had no choice but to pull the sled free because he was on his own. He pulled off his gloves and dipped his left hand into the frigid water, which hovered around 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

    “My fingers were ramrod stiff and ivory white. They might as well have been wood … I had seen enough frostbite in others to realise I was in serious trouble. I had to turn back,” Fiennes wrote in his autobiography.

    The explorer was evacuated the next day. Fiennes learned at the hospital that the top third of all of his fingers and half of his thumb would have to be amputated. The surgery would cost more than £6,000 (over $9,000 today). Fiennes wasn’t keen on spending that kind of money to lob off his digits.

    So he took matters into his own hands (This next bit is not for those with a weak stomach):

    “I purchased a set of fretsaw blades at the village shop, put the little finger in my Black & Decker folding table’s vice, and gently sawed through the dead skin and bone just above the live skin line,” he wrote. “The moment I felt pain or spotted blood, I moved further into the dead zone. I also turned the finger around several times and cut into it from different sides. This worked well, and the little finger’s knuckle finally dropped off after some two hours of work.”

    Three years later he ran seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.”

    Only in health and safety would an explorer who had to compromise his fingers to save his life be given a “Zero Compromise” card. When your ideology is zero, you compromise your grasp on reality. And to think the regulator expressly encourages this nonsense.

  • Joe Aiken

    I thought that the regulations in Australia were like those in NZ, based on doing what is necessary to eliminate/minimise harmful consequences So Far As Is Reasonably Practicable (SFAIRP) – not reducing the risk As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP).

    • Rob Long

      Joe there is no difference between SFAIRP and ALARP, they are both the same subjective process. There is also no eliminate/minimise equivalence, they are not the same thing. It is eliminate or minimise, this is where the management comes in. As all risk cannot be eliminated (or we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning) then risk is mostly minimised. Neither the Act nor Regulation assume elimination, only where possible but of course here is the paradox – any activity that humans undertake by its nature involves risk. Usually risk is shifted somewhere else in the form of a by-product or a trade-off. If the Act required elimination then we would have to get rid of humans and the work.

  • Rob Long

    Well done Hayden. When regulators think marketting like Hazardman (finally removed after 3 years) is a good idea and when they distort the fundamentals of the Act, what hope is there that safety will ever escape dumb down? There is no leadership when the Regulator projects dishonesty with facts and spins alt-facts. All credibility erodes and the followers fall off like flies. Even worst still when the regulator misrepresents the Act and the regulation and lacks the critical thinking to interrogate its own agenda.

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