Safety and Risk Due Diligence as a Moral Activity

by Dr Rob Long on May 14, 2017

in Due Diligence,Robert Long

Safety and Risk Due Diligence as a Moral Activity

easy due diligence

Some excellent additional resources and free videos at the end of the article………….

There are checklists that abound that give the impression that Due Diligence is either a mathematical equation or ‘tick the box’ exercise. However, this distorts the meaning of Due Diligence. One can complete every function of a Due Diligence checklist and still not exercise Due Diligence. At the foundation of Due Diligence, even in the regulation is the expectation that one will do all that is ‘appropriate’ to keep employees safe and capable of managing risks. (The word ‘appropriate’ is the most common word in the regulation on Due Diligence – ). In other words, the extent to which one can exercise Due Diligence is completely subjective. What one person thinks is ‘appropriate’ to manage a risk is entirely different from the person beside them who thinks something else is ‘appropriate’. This leaves us with a moral problem not so much a legal problem.

The topic of moral virtue or moral duty is rarely raised in safety, this is because the safety curriculum ( excludes education on ethics and the nature of personhood. Yet, the foundation of Due Diligence places a moral obligation on Managers and leaders to ‘care’ for employees. This is because moral ‘agency’ is an essential characteristic of human personhood. The care for persons is an essential of Due Diligence. Due Diligence is about ensuring what is ‘good’ for persons in the process of organizing. Accountability and responsibility in leading morally is the challenge of Due Diligence.

Persons are agents for whom things matter. There is a huge difference between being diligent about finances or machines than the well being of persons. Persons have a conception of self that is constituted by an array of concerns that have no analogue with non-person agents. Human persons are self interpreting and participate in shaping their own understanding, purpose and meaning. This is why Due Diligence also includes issues such as mental health, well being and social psychological factors at work. This is why de-personalising and de-humanising the workplace in risk and safety is an act of negligent. It is a piece of cake to trot out slogans and mantras but quite another to actually demonstrate moral accountability for persons.

The moral good of creating a healthy and safe workplace for everyone frames coherence in purpose and commitment for leaders. This is why a model of following-leading is the most effective model for tackling risk ( ). Without a model of mutuality and reciprocation in risk (emphasized by the hyphen) one is simply trapped in the daunting cycle of the hero myth. When Due Diligence becomes a shared moral activity (as specified by the WHS Act) then what is ‘appropriate’ is characterized by negotiation and reciprocation. A shared understanding of the ‘common good’ is an essential characteristic of Due Diligence. A hierarchical approach to Due Diligence is always doomed to fail.

Putting a bunch of policies, mantras and checklists in place as a response to Due Diligence actually demonstrates that one has not been diligent. One can have all the checklists and policies in place but still lack a fundamental respect for persons. Indeed, a climate of narcissism, sociopathy and bullying overrides any mantras or checklists as a demonstration of negligence. When one understands Due Diligence as a sense of ‘common good’, then one is more easily able to exercise the ‘spirit’ of Due Diligence in the workplace.


If you want to read more on the nature of the moral good then MacIntyre is most helpful (After Virtue, a study in moral theory).

If you are interested in a presentation workshop on the legal and social psychological essentials of Due Diligence, you can download details here:

Rob Long and Greg Smith are also available for keynote presentations where they chat together on stage similar to their video but with a more targeted focus on organizational context. (

Rob and Greg’s book Risky Conversations is available here:

Further Resources on Due Diligence

Practical Thoughts

Understanding Due Diligence

Due Diligence not Ticking Boxes

Due Diligence as an Everyday Activity

Safety and Risk Due Diligence Videos

Due Diligence – Ten Precautions

Due Diligence in Perspective

Due Diligence from Human Dymensions on Vimeo.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.
  • Bernard Corden

    Lawyers and ethics, which language are you speaking? It is not surprising that so many cabinet ministers are former lawyers

  • David Hickey

    Something that always worries me about due diligence is that not only do senior managers fail to see it as a moral activity, but often don’t see it in a legal framework either. I have come across many executives who, when I ask about what they know of their due diligence requirements, say that they were presented with their responsibilities in a power point presentation by their safety person or by another member of the executive who downloaded a briefing off the internet. Those presentations have no input from lawyers on what is essentially legal advice! Astonishing when you think about it.

    • Rob Long

      And then there are the lawyers who have no practical experience in whs but peddle fear. Unfortunately, People are not discerning and fork out $$$ for a show with no substance.

      • Bernard Corden

        It is worth reflecting on the amount of fear the topic of harmonisation and national uniformity created. It brought out the snake oil merchants and bush layers in their droves and it remains unresolved.

        • Rob Long

          Same experience in NZ at present.

      • David Hickey

        So true. As Bernard said, the bush lawyer brigade saw “personal liability” and jumped at the chance to peddle fear for a quick buck. Lawyers with ethics and experience in WHS will immediately tell a CEO that the road to prosecution is paved with low LTIFR rates, completed checklists and folders full of policies and procedures. Unfortunately, most of the time CEO’s only get that when it’s too late (see Pike River, Deepwater Horizon etc).

        I get the feeling however that the tide is slowly turning for the better.

        • Rob Long

          I see no tide turning, sorry. We need a peak body with a vision for reform and that ain’t happening. The whs curriculum just regurgitates more of the same in social reproduction. Even when people talk about ‘safety differently’ it is launched from a strategy anchored to systems.

          • Bernard Corden

            Safety differently is best encapsulated by Harry S Truman……..Always be sincere even if you don’t mean it.

        • Bernard Corden

          There is an excellent book entitled Freedom to Harm – The lasting legacy of laissez faire. It examines how OSHA has been emasculated via neoliberalism and its laissez faire doctrine, regulatory capture and the embryonic gig economy.

          The symptoms are evident:

          a) Resurgence of black lung
          b) Aerocare workers sleeping in airport terminals
          c) Exploitation of 7-11 migrant workers
          d) Horticultural backpacker working conditions
          e) Australia Post manipulation of reporting to preserve bonuses
          f) Eagle Farm
          g) DreamWorld

          This is reinforced via intimidation and fear and inculcated using a relentless stream of corporate bilge and turgid sludge masquerading as leadership, which begs the question…………………..Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          Compensation claims for black lung in the US since 1970 exceed US$45 billion. It is a lot of hospitals and other public health infrastructure.

          Meanwhile we have cohorts of evangelical safety crusaders patrolling site like neurotic Tonton Macoutes on steroids practising Facebook Safety telling tradesmen to tie their safety boot laces.

          It is only a matter of time before the next Moura or should I be politically correct and refer to it as Dawson.

          • Rob Long

            Thanks, ordered the book. Don’t worry, we can always swap the badge on the car and call it a Rolls Royce.

  • Bernard Corden

    It was Lewis Carroll who remarked that if you removed moral responsibility from law all that remains is technical administration and I still admire the loose legal philosophy of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall… do what you think is right and let the law catch up.

    Here is another interesting link on ethics and morals:

    • Rob long

      Thanks Bernard. I think if we remove any sense of transcendence we do the same. Safety never talks if the common good not of ethics. It’s too dumb down to even think it’s important.

      • Bernard Corden

        Dear Rob,

        You now have me flicking through some musty copies of JSM and Jeremy Bentham. Most evangelical safety crusaders will think they play for the Cronulla Sharks or Sowse (excuse the Afferbeck Lauder)

  • Thanks Rob – still amazes me that when I ask a safety person about due diligence, either the eyes glaze over or half a dozen fat manuals are thrust in front of me!

    • Rob Long

      Yeah, the mentalitie of safety is to disconnect from everyday life and everyday reality. The truth of Due Diligence is that it is very much about ‘being’. It is not some special activity but rather how we conduct ourselves morally each day for the common good. The moment Safety makes it a mechanical process or a checklist we move into becoming negligent.

      • Even the definition of diligence, “care and persistence” should give a basic clue. I guess some see dogmatic adherence to The Act and the flawed curriculum is just that? Safety needs to step up and start thinking about real risk.

    • Bernard Corden

      Dear Dave,

      It looks like SWA are about to provide some competition via their engage platform:

      • I can imagine the questions: “I’ve just done a count and I think I have 11 fingers – where can I get gloves to fit”

    • David Hickey

      Likewise Dave when you tell a senior manager that the fundamentals of safety is due diligence.

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