‘Professional’ Challenges for the Risk ‘Industry’

‘Professional’ Challenges for the Risk ‘Industry’

Download the full paper, including references: Professional-Challenges-for-the-Safety-Industry (19059 downloads)

by Dr Robert Long


I have been in conversation with large organizations/businesses recently that are in the process of changing the nature of safety positions. This is not something I initiated but something for which they wished to consult. What they are doing is merging the role of safety into project management because they are finding the role of safety inhibits collective ownership of risk. One of the by-products of creating a safety department and safety position has been the inadvertent siloing of safety responsibility to this group.

As one executive stated: ‘when safety is a ‘bolt on’ it doesn’t work’.

In other words, this business perceives that collective ownership of safety decreases when a position or role is designated as a ‘safety’ position. This is strengthened when the language of ‘profession’ or ‘specialist’ is attached to such an activity.

Similarly, I know of safety people who are now taking the word ‘safety’ out of their occupation title so that they can ‘gain back some credibility’ (their words) in what they do. They have found that the word ‘safety’ in their occupational title creates a ‘stigma’ (Douglas, 1984) similar to research that shows that safety is considered an ‘embuggerance’ in the workplace (ACRE Frameworks, https://vimeo.com/157701980 Accessed 22 September 2017). Now, some have titles like ‘occupational risk and culture’, ‘ culture and risk’ and ‘organizational leadership and risk’. On the other end of the spectrum we have ‘zero harm advisors’, endorsing a language of nonsense ensuring that the activity of safety is not professional. I wonder what happens when organisations seek to engage a ‘zero harm’ advisor and attempt to discuss the inevitability of harm? How can such a named position attract conversation and non-judgmental ‘advice’?

It is interesting that while some in safety are speaking more about being a ‘profession’, some businesses and organizations are seeking to de-professionalize and de-stigmatize the safety role. I think in some ways Safety is in a crisis of identity.

This paper seeks to raise critical issues associated with the discourse[1] of professionalism in the safety industry and to highlight issues not discussed as part of such discourse. It is important if one wants to claim the brand of ‘professional’ that one understands associated issues and challenges in adopting such an identity.

The Quest for a Safety ‘Profession’ by Peak Bodies

If safety is to be a profession, what kind of profession is it? Certainly, this is not articulated by the AIHS. If safety is to have some sense of identity and belonging, what kind of professional identity does it seek to have? Is it a science, service, helping, technical, regulator, engineering or health profession? Is it all of these?

Judging on the mixed language in the The Occupational Health and Safety Professional Capability Framework, A Global Framework for Practice: Singapore Accord (INSHPO, 2017) one encounters an extensive level of role confusion[2]. The purpose of the Accord Framework is to (p.6):

… define the role, functions and competencies of OHS practitioners and professionals.

Based on The Accord (2017) we learn that there are two strands of OHS people namely, ‘professionals’ and ‘practitioners’ (2017, p. 3). Does this infer that practitioners are not professionals or professional?[3] Based on the AIHS Body of Knowledge for ‘inspiration’ (p.4), The Accord seeks to define the nature of ‘the profession’. How strange when the AIHS Body of Knowledge (BoK) worldview is deficient and lopsided in so many areas[4]. The BoK has such a long way to go before it represents a transdisciplinary approach to risk and safety. Neither, is there any call for reform of curriculum in the AIHS Strategic Plan. Despite claims to define the nature of ‘the profession’, The Accord confuses matters further. What kind of professional (or practitioner) is a safety person? It seems that Safety[5] is keen to identify its presence but is lost in presenting its identity.

The Accord (p. 10) articulates a number of identities for the ‘safety specialist’[6]:

The OHS Professional’s role should be reconceptualized as a continuous improvement expert, or ‘value engineer’[7] as opposed to the current conceptualization of the role
as just a problem solver or enforcer.

It is interesting here to observe several nuances in this language. First there is a clear admission of an identity problem in safety. Secondly, the coupling of ‘values’ and ‘engineering’ demonstrates an inability to understand the contradictions in such language[8]. Values are not ‘engineered’ just as resilience cannot be engineered (Hollangel, et.al., 2006). Third, if the ‘safety specialist ‘is to be an expert in values, where is this studied in the WHS curriculum? The study of ethics is a vacuum in the safety industry.

This quote from the Accord is clear evidence that safety understands itself as an ‘engineering’ activity yet it can never be an engineering profession. Similarly, WHS curriculum is dominated by legislation and regulatory systems but it can never be a legal profession.

The problem of policing and enforcing identified in this part of the Accord has been created over time by this ‘engineering’ and ‘regulatory’ worldview. Safety will never move away from the policing/enforcing role as long as its identity is fixated in a worldview of: numerics, mechanics, engineering, science and regulation. This problem is further demonstrated in the Accord (p.10) which states:

The role needs to
be that of a safety engineer who truly understands work processes as a system and others solutions to improve the system of work before anything goes wrong or an actual injury or damage is identified.

So, if one casts the role of the safety specialist in ‘engineering’ discourse, don’t be surprised that the population does not understand the role of safety as ‘helping’ and ‘advising’. Apparently, the ‘benefit’ of this ‘engineering’ role is ‘integration’ not fragmentation as identified by the policing/enforcing metaphor. However, associations once known as American Association of Safety Engineers have now changed their identity to American Association of Safety Professionals. Yet the drive of The Accord stands in opposition to this change.

The Accord also casts the role of an ‘OHS specialist’ as a ‘problem solver’ (p.10). In this role of problem solver the safety specialist is entrusted to (p.10):

… helping organizations identify hazards and assess their associated risks, to proposing solutions to control those risks.

So, safety is now a ‘helping profession’ yet at no place in this document (The Accord 2017) or in AIHS documentation is safety identified as a ‘helping’ profession, nor is the curriculum in WHS something one could identify as a ‘helping profession’ such as in teaching, nursing, social work, health work, community services. Yet clearly, the safety specialist’s fundamental role is ‘helping’ and ‘advising’ organisations in safety (p.10). The role of the safety specialist as defined by the Accord, is that of ‘advising’ as the Accord states (p.10):

Furthermore, OHS Professionals may be called upon by senior managers to provide advice on combating increasing or plateauing rates of work-related fatality, injury and illness, investigating near misses and accidents and devising programs to provide a frame-work for OHS decision making and action. Should this advisory role spill over into the specialist taking over direct responsibility for OHS from line and executive management, this would be at odds with the model of continuous improvement enshrined in current management system standards, including those for OHS, which rightly stress that primary responsibility for OHS rests with the line.

Here we observe an acute awareness of just how much the ‘safety specialist’ is drawn into direct responsibility for safety in organisatons[9]. In other words, this is the ‘bolt on’ problem referred in the introduction in this paper by a ‘tier one’ business executive. This is one of many paradoxes in seeking the professionalization of safety.

So in summary, the ‘safety specialist’ is to be a ‘safety engineer’, who ‘helps’ and ‘advises’ whilst having next to no education in ‘helping’ and ‘advising’ and even less skill development in effective communication and engagement. No wonder the safety specialist is identified as a policing enforcer, the very role the Accord denigrates (p.10) has so little capability to escape. I wonder what humanities studies safety ‘technicians/engineers’ undertake to understand ‘cultural maturity’, ‘helping’ and ‘advising’?

Further, the language of The Accord gives away underlying assumptions and a worldview regarding its own confusions. Thus (p.10):

Concomitant with the changing role, soft skills, including coaching and the ability to work with organizations at different levels of cultural maturity, are appearing
as skills in demand for OHS Professionals and OHS Practitioners. Terms such as ‘soft skills’ and ‘coaching’ are vague and are better understood from the perspective of relationship building. The ability to build a web of relationships enables the OHS specialist to influence others to bring about change in organizational practices focused on risk control, which, in turn, should allow the organization to move up the safety culture ladder.

Here we see the pejorative notion of ‘soft’ skills (not ‘people’ skills) paraded as essential but ‘vague’. Yet Safety has no recognition of the importance of relationship skills in its curriculum in ‘helping’, ‘relating’, ‘supporting’ or ‘influencing’. All this language of the Accord demonstrates an even greater disconnectedness by an engineering worldview that doesn’t even understand its own problem, nor its own seduction into the policing and enforcing ‘objects’ role. The Accord (p.10) identifies a problem, yet more deeply endorses and entrenches it and then admits (p.10):

This emerging profession is often not well defined, locally or globally.

Finally, the safety person is (p.10):

… a key advisor, strategist and pilot to the organization’s leadership in fully integrating the management of OHS risk into sustainable business practice at all levels. 

What fascinating metaphorical language to identify safety in leadership as that of a ‘pilot’. I wonder how many business and organizations want their organization to be flown by the ‘safety specialist’? I wonder where in an WHS qualification one learns to think intelligently, critically and strategically at the level of a professional pilot?[10]

How fascinating to see how the Accord defines the fundamental work of a ‘safety specialist’, namely:

1. Systems management approach

2. Organizational culture and its impact on OHS

3. OHS risk management processes

4. Measurement and evaluation of OHS performance

5. Knowledge management

6. Communication, engagement and influence

7. Professional and ethical practice

Interesting that no emphasis is placed in WHS work on people and relationships and what comes first is: systems, organizing, risk management processes, measurement and evaluation. Here we see the clear definitional priorities in safety, all the priorities that foster the police/enforcer approach which this document recognizes as problematic. When we observe how the Accord defines safety knowledge we also observe further foundations for confusion(p.10ff):

A. Hazards and risks

B. Hazard and risk controls

C. Safety and health management

D. Professional role and functioning

E. Underlying technical and behavioral disciplines

F. Underlying management science.

Again, the focus privileges knowledge on technique, objects and systems, not people. Even here we see management described as a ‘science’, further endorsing a worldview entrenched in ‘objects’ not ‘subjects’. It then makes sense within such a logic that this knowledge helps one ‘engineer’ resilience (Hollangel, 2006) and values (The Accord).

How fascinating to see ‘social psychology’ mentioned in the ‘skills matrix’ of the Accord (p.34) standing in contradistinction to the worldview of the document itself. However, there is no mention in the Accord to how this social psychological knowledge has any connection to being professional (p.45).

So, we observe in this documentation by peak bodies, an engineering and regulatory worldview entrenched in objects but wishing it had a different image and identify from policing and enforcing with no transdisciplinary dynamic to escape such a worldview. It is important to understand that the role of people in safety and its evolved worldview is the natural outcome of the Safety archetype[11].

The Archetype of Safety

There is a significant difference between the archetype of Safety (the activity personified[12]) and the activity of tackling risk to be safe. There is a significant difference between a professional association, a profession, professionalism and behaving professionally? Being professional is about much more than just being in association, it is about the very ‘ethic of safety’ that will be discussed in a following section of this paper. Sharing a common role doesn’t make one morally or socially professional. In order to better understand these distinctions, it is helpful to explore the archetypal nature of Safety.

An archetype is not identified in the work of individuals or even a group of individuals but rather in underlying unconscious dynamics and principles/forces at work in the ‘collective unconscious’[13]. The presence of archetypes is best understood symbolically (semiotically) (Shaev and Samoylova, 2013) and are experienced in everyday life in archetypal images in story, narrative, poetry, film, media, organizational dynamics, societal mythologies and cultural dynamics. Terrorism-Fear is such an archetype. The myths surrounding Terrorism-Fear in the media demonstrate just how powerful an archetype can be in the Australian Psyche[14] (unconscious). A study of Islamophobia in Australia demonstrates just how powerful the Terrorism-Fear archetype functions in Australian culture (University of South Australia, 2017). Here we see under the terrorism-fear archetype the full flowering of Islamophobia in contradiction to all the evidence. Safety as an archetype has a similar affect.

The transmission of archetypal power is communicated semiotically (Fontanille, 2007; Noth, 2007) and metaphorically (Ricouer, 1975) in cultural discourse (Lotman, 2000). Such archetypal power ‘emerges’ (Letiche, Lissack and Schultz, 2001) as a force/power that has ‘a life of its own’ that we witness in its full unpredictability (Lotman, 2013; Packard, 2007) throughout history (Samuel and Jones, 1982). For example, the personification of evil in the Nazi Movement is well documented (Ricouer, 1967; Ellul, 1973)[15].

The Safety archetype is the archetype of the Hero and Innocence (Appendix One). Safety archetypically presents itself in soteriological narratives (salvation narratives) and is attracted to a discourse of ‘saving lives’. Safety is attracted to a discourse of absolutes evident in the discourse of zero. Safety is attracted to the discourse of perfection and salvation as a response to disaster and suffering (Dekker, 2017). In a world of imperfection, harm and suffering Safety must ‘save’ people from mortality, fallibility and randomness.

The evidence that Safety is fixated on perfection, absolutes and ‘Zero’ is overwhelming eg. ‘Vision Zero’ was the identity of the XXI World Congress on Safety and Health at Work 2017 (ILO https://www.safety2017singapore.com/ Accessed 22 September 2017). This is why the Salvation Narrative (Dekker, Long and Wybo, 2015) is so powerful and attractive for Safety. This also explains the attraction of Safety to heroes[16] (Appendix Two). Safety understands harm as a ‘natural instinct’ (in Augustinian ‘original sin’ sense) against the ‘evil’ (DuPont, 2017, Bradley Curve) of harm. This Augustinian sense of original sin is also endorsed by the discourse of ‘drift into failure’. This is why the discourse of Safety is infused with the semiotics of religion (Yelle, 2013). I presented evidence on the religious nature of Safety in a reflection on the XXI World Congress on Safety and Health at Work 2017 (https://safetyrisk.net/no-evidence-for-the-religion-of-zero/). The Congress (semiotics presented in the reflection) was complete with huge banners of ‘We believe’ endorsing a faith statement in Vision Zero[17]. All statements that propose perfection against all the evidence must in the end be ‘confessions of faith’. The latest instalment of the ideology and religion of Zero is exemplified in the release of the video ‘Spirit of Zero’ in 2020 (https://safetyrisk.net/the-spirit-of-zero/).

The maintenance of zero discourse is premised on the illogical assumptions of binary opposition and is precipitated by naïve questioning such as: ‘How many people do you want harmed today’?[18] Binary oppositionalism (Carita, 2013) is the foundation for fundamentalist thinking (Long, 2012, pp. 63-83) which inhibits mature thinking about risk. It is through the language and discourse of this naïve binary ideology that a host of illogical (and unprofessional) ‘mantras’ are maintained, such as:

· Safety is a choice you make.

· All accidents/injuries are preventable

· Zero harm is achievable

Zero ideology and language is premised on the denial of human fallibility, mortality and worldly randomness. The strongest threat to achieving any sense of professionalism in the safety industry is this archetypal (Safety) imperative. What this binary worldview leads to is a schizophrenic discourse that pitches nonsense against sensibility. For example, The Accord (2017. P.12) declares that safety professionals give:

… advice is based on conceptual and technical knowledge of design, operations and management, mediated by experience, analysis of evidence and critical thought.

The Accord (2017) also declares that safety professionals should provide advice on evidence-based science. In what world of science, critical thought and evidence can one maintain the language, discourse of perfection and the denial of fallibility?[19]

When Safety is understood as an archetype and as a ‘vocation’ (calling), then one is in a better position to understand the difference between: professionalism, a profession, professionalization and ‘being professional’.

Profession, Professional, Being Professional and Professionalisation[20]

The literature on professionalization demonstrates that any discussion about being ‘professional’ is a discussion on ethics (Weckert and Lucas, 2013, pp. 315ff), moral value and conduct (Morgan, 2014). Whenever the question is asked, ‘who is the professional?’ the discussion follows about ethical and moral conduct as well as the socialization process of people in association (Servage, (2009) CJE pp. 149-171)[21]. So, it is instructive to have a quick exploration into the nature of the professions and professisonalization.

Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary (via Dictionary.com) defines a profession as:

· a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation

· the whole body of persons engaged in a calling

However, there is much more to understanding the language and discourse of ‘profession’ than simply about a group of people with specialized knowledge and a ‘calling’ (often known as a ‘vocation’). There is extensive research on the nature of the professions that came into focus in the post war period and intensified in the 1960s and 1970s.

Whilst many groups gather together in association not all are known as ‘professions’. Moreover, the idea of ‘being professional’ or ‘acting professionally’ is about much more than just membership to a group indeed, the research demonstrates that the characteristics of professionalism are a moral and ethical issue not just a question of association. If safety is to be a profession then ethics and moral understandings should be threaded throughout the WHS curriculum and be central to the AIHS Body of Knowledge[22]. So, ‘being professional’ is essentially an ethical activity (Andre, 2002, p. 969).

Hurd lists five essentials for what he terms ‘real’ professionalism, namely:

1. The real professional has a sense of history.

2. The real professional recognizes the relevance of emerging patterns of relationships.

3. The professional has an understanding of the complexity of the world and knowledge.

4. A professional is continuously at work on his own growth and development.

5. The professional must, through training and competence, be able to assist in guiding the layman in social planning.

In other words, a professional has a ‘sense’ of:

1. Self-understanding in their own emergence, history and identity.

2. Interdependence.

3. Complexity and transdisciplinarity.

4. Maturation and learning.

5. Guidance and helping

Based upon the literature (Boreham, 1976; Balthazard, 2015; Evans, 2008; Freegard, 2012; Loughran, 2014; Postema, 1980; Servage, 2009; Strike, K, 1990; Weckert, and Lucas, 2013) I have assembled the following as commonly accepted characteristics of professionalization, these are:

1. An identifiable knowledge base which, when mastered, provides the professional with competence to be divided in labour from the amateur.

2. A degree of specialist competence in the performance of certain work processes utilising the knowledge base.

3. A high degree of autonomy in planning and execution of the work, including the assessment of its effectiveness and even of its value.

4. A monopoly over the right to perform the work processes and therefore to produce a product. Monopoly of a professional kind, like monopoly of a capitalist kind, yields social, political and economic power.

5. Related ethical and moral practice associated with conduct and intelligence in effective a practice.

6. Credentials that help rank or authorise the division of labour.

7. The identification of a group legally recognized through licensure.

8. A sense of ‘vocation’ that one doesn’t just enter or leave as just an occupation.

9. Due to the other characteristics on this list, there is a clear requirement for ethical constraints in the professions. Professionals are bound to a code of conduct or ethics specific to the distinct profession (and sometimes the individual).

10. Professionals also aspire toward a general body of core values, which are centered upon an uncompromising and unconflicted regard for the client’s benefit and best interests.

11. A specialised training and education programme usually intellectually oriented.

12. A high degree of responsibility because of control over certain essential tasks.

13. An emphasis on ‘service’ and ‘helping’ with a high degree of altruism and dedication. A professional is expected to emphasize the ‘service’ and ‘helping’ more than the financial reward.

14. A certain level of distancing from the client in order to maintain the extra-ordinary nature of the professional’s position. Usually the professionals associate with each other rather than with others with whom they have little any longer in common.

15. A specialised language (sometimes jargon) is accumulated, socialised and reinforced by peers, association and training.

16. Professional privilege (status) entails professional obligations. These obligations are insured by a code of conduct and ethics that protects the client from personal idiosyncrasies on the part of the profession. This privilege operates within occupational norms that both frees and restricts the professional in a variety of ethical and moral constraints.

When we explore the implications of this list and we review the statements in The Accord and the absence of clarity in the AIHS BoK, we observe significant disconnectedness in understanding the role of safety, an association of ‘safety specialists’, professionalization and being professional. What holds the key in understanding this malaise and, subsequent crisis in identity, is an articulation of ‘an ethic in safety’.

What is an ‘Ethic of Safety’?


An ‘ethic’ is essentially a moral system[23]. The etymology of ‘ethic’ is from the greek ethos meaning customs, culture, habits and mores of people. The focus of an ethic is how to live rightly for the good of others and society[24]. Whilst this should sit well with safety it does not. As we see from the Accord the focus on objects, science, systems and engineering draws safety into internal conflict. Again, the wish to avoid policing and enforcement culture (Accord p. 10) cannot be tackled without a holistic ‘ethic of safety’.

An ‘ethic’ extends to far more than just having a ‘code of ethics’, although these are important for professionalization. For example see: Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. (2005) Code of Ethics for Nurses Australia. Melbourne: Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. And; Paramedics Australia. (2011) AustralaAIHSn Competency Standards for Paramedics. Melbourne: Paramedics AustralaAIHS Ltd. An ethic denotes a foundational philosophy of being. This is what the Accord and the AIHS Position Statement are, Statements of Philosophy. It is impossible to be professional and take an ‘agnostic’ position on a question of ethics[25]. Ethics and related ontological positions are the foundation for philosophical thinking.

So, an ‘ethic of safety’ should denote the core values, beliefs and moral imperatives that drive the activity of safety. This should include respect for persons and associated cultural imperatives for the respect of persons in community. The challenge for Safety in the professional space in establishing an ‘ethic of safety’ is, the dialectic between the archetype of Safety and the activity of safety. It is in this dialectical relationship that we must understand the challenge of privileging objects over subjects, hazards over risk and systems over personhood. The language of zero, the fixation on counting, unscientific acceptance of nonsense logic, denial of fallibility, dehumanization in ‘paper systems’ and the brutalism embedded in doctrines of intolerance exemplify the dominance of the Safety archetype.

So, there can be no discussion of professionalism or defining what it means to ‘acting professionally’ without a discussion of an ‘ethic of safety’. Postema (1980, p. 63) states:

For many professional roles the moral universe of the role is considerably narrower than that of ordinary morality, and, when the two overlap, they often assign different weights to the same set of considerations. This often gives rise to conflicts.

What is created in a professional ethic is often something at quite a ‘moral distance’ from the ethic of the layperson. For example, the principle of confidentiality that is characteristic of the helping professions is much more rigorous than a layperson’s understanding of confidentiality. Confidentiality is an ethical aspect of separation and a matter of ‘professional judgment’ often determined ‘for the good’ of the client or the profession. We witness this in the professional activities of teachers, lawyers, doctors and nurses.

An ‘ethic of safety’ ought to include a framework of moral values that underpin professional judgment. Such values as: respect, care, trust, hope, honesty, relationship, community, intelligence and wisdom ought to form the foundation of professional coherence. Postema (p.68) states:

Judgment thus involves the ability to take a comprehensive view of values and concerns at stake, based on one’s experience and knowledge of the world. And this involves awareness of the full range of shared experience, belief, relations, and expectations within which these values and concerns have significance.

This is why the ideology of zero and, the perpetual focus on numbers and objects in safety should never be a part of ‘an ethic of safety’. An ‘ethic of safety’ must focus on the nature of persons (Martin, et.al., 2010) and the ‘upbuilding’ of personhood (Semler, et.al., 2012). This is why the discourse of the hero and ‘the will to power’[26] so evident in masculinist discourse, cannot be a part of an ‘ethic of safety’. Professional responsibility is ethical responsibility and the absence of a study of ethics in the WHS Curriculum (and the AIHS BoK) in Australia is a clear indicator that the activity of safety has a long way to travel before it can ‘act professionally’. Such studies are foundational to the professions in Australia and certainly have no significant part currently in any WHS curriculum. Postema (p.76) comments:

The risk of severing professional judgment from its moral and psychological sources is particularly strong in a profession that serves a system of instituitionalized justice.

Although Postema (1980) is focused on the legal profession his studies have significant ramifications for the safety industry that is consumed (up to 75%) in WHS training on regulation, law, systems and policing. So, we see a tension for the safety industry in the seduction of focus in objects over subjects in its training curriculum and this ‘severs’ professional judgment (moral/ethical) from the need to focus on personhood and helping. Concomitant with this is an incapability for self-reflection, professional debate, openness to transdisciplinary thinking and critical thinking, all essential characteristics for acting professionally. The dominant discourse of compliance mentalitie[27] inhibits the development of these skills and characteristics.

The message to students in safety should be that they cannot expect to be ‘good safety people’ if they fail to understand the social, ethical and psychological forces shaping Safety.

The WHS Act and Regulation
How does Act describe the activity of safety representation? It is clear from the WHS Act and Regulation that the role/occupation of safety in an organization is an ‘advising’ position. The Act and Regulation intentionally exclude the ideas of zero, absolutes or counting (ACT Government. (2012) Work Health and Safety ACT 2011 Part 2. Division 2.1. Section 17 & 18 – referred in following simply as The ACT). So, the focus on zero is in contravention of the WHS ACT and Regulation. The Act and Regulation acknowledge the impossibility of eliminating all risk (ALARP).

The ACT requires the primary duty of care for safety on the Person Conducting a Business of Undertaking (PCBU). The purpose of the ‘Safety Specialist’ must first of all be to ‘help’ the organisation and PCBU to exercise Due Diligence. The ACT and WHS Regulation make it clear that the core activities of an Officer in safety is provide: advice, information, education and training. (ACT Government. (2012) Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.)[28]

So, we observe from the ACT and Regulation the primary tasks of the Safety Specialist to offer service and help. This would make one think that if Safety was going to be a profession it would have to be a ‘service’, ‘caring’ or ‘helping’ profession. Unfortunately, as is observed with the Accord this is not the discourse associated with claims to professionalism.



This paper has sought to draw out critical issues in the professionalization of safety. It sets out a range of concerns that need to be considered in its dominant discourse and the current forces at work in the safety industry that have created a ‘crisis in identity’.

The paper examines position statements by the AIHS as the safety peak association and the Global Accord (The Occupational Health and Safety Professional Capability Framework, A Global Framework for Practice: Singapore Accord, Park Ridge, USA) in framing professionalization discourse.

The paper looks at the language and discourse of the AIHS and The Accord and critical disconnects and dynamics that inhibit the process of professionalization namely: the challenges of the Safety archetype, characteristics of professionalization, the demands for an ‘ethic of safety’ and significant impediments like the ideology of zero and associated values embedded in absolutes, perfectionism and intolerance. The paper articulates the nature of these challenges for the safety industry and associated impediments in seeking to claim the status of ‘being professional’.

Appendix One – Brand Archetypes

Medium Corporation Brand Identity.

(Accessed 22 September 2017) https://medium.com/@plaustudio/identitype-brands-in-search-of-a-typographic-voice-142369c8bc3a



Appendix Two

Sample of Web Sites and Organisations Advocating Safety Heroes

(All sites accessed 22 September 2017)

Ergon Energy https://www.ergon.com.au/network/safety/safety-heroes/be-a-safety-hero-and-win

Energex https://www.energex.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/359354/Safety-Heroes-Myth-Busters.pdf

EHS Today


Safety heroes




NSCA National Safety Awards

SafeWork Australia




WA Road Safety Zero Heroes http://www.campaignbrief.com/wa/2016/07/road-safety-commission-thanks.html

Bata Shoes


AIHS Victoria


SafeWork Australia and ACT Regulator


NY Port Authority – The Safety Hero Game


We Are Union OHS Reps – Safety Hero Handbook


Safety Heroes on Android


Safety Heroes


Total Safety Heroes


British Woodworking Federation – HSE Hero program



[1] Discourse is about the power embedded in language and its ideological trajectory. Discourse analysis is a critical part of the discipline of Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR). See further Kristeva, J., (1980) Desire in Language, A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. Blackwell. London; Wetherell, M., and Potter, J., (1998) Discourse and Social Psychology – Silencing Binaries. Theory and Psychology. Sage Publications. New York. And; Wodak, R., and Meyer, M., (2013) Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis. Sage. Los Angeles.

[2] Role confusion is a critical factor in most anxiety disorders. (Wells, 1997, pp. 215ff)

[3] It is interesting at this stage of the Accord (p.9) that this differentiation is quickly dropped and replaced with the language of ‘safety specialists’. (see item 1.3) Then immediately returns to the differentiation in the text, rejecting such inclusive language.

[4] There is no work in the BoK on a Social Psychology of Risk, no work on semiotics or sign systems, the collective unconscious, alternative approaches to understanding culture, low emphasis on the humanities, over emphasis on STEM knowledge, systems and Regulation and, no diversity in knowledge presentation or method. See further my call for a transdisciplinary curriculum which was met with ‘hyper’ defensiveness at an AIHS event. (Gold Coast QLD Visions Conference, 2016 – https://AIHS.org.au/downloads/Events/QLD/Visions_Conference_2016/Visions_Presentations/Long_Isn_t_it_Time_We_Reformed_the_WHS_Curriculum_3.pdf). At this event I was preceded by the regulator who was give enough airtime on statistics so that 25 minutes was taken from my presentation. Of the 20 minutes of presenting time remaining, the response was vigorous denial of any need for reform in WHS curriculum. This denial and the behavior of the AIHS conference demonstrates how much privilege (in numerics) is transferred to the regulator rather than a challenge in critical thinking, values and culture. The only other time I presented in the last five years at an AIHS conference I was preceded by one of the AIHS populist lawyers who was also allowed to steal 35 minutes of my time. The evidence is clear: regulation and statistics are the first priority take privileged status in the AIHS BoK.

[5] Please note: When the archetype of Safety is under discussion, the name ‘Safety’ is capitalized.

[6] The Accord’s preferred language for the safety person.

[7] I wonder how a safety specialist becomes a ‘value engineer’ without specific education in ethics?

[8] As one colleague with a Safety Science degree described this problem: ‘So if the ‘safety specialist’ is to be a ‘safety engineer’, who ‘helps’ and ‘advises’ whilst having next to no education in ‘helping’ and ‘advising’ and even less skill development in effective communication and engagement.” how can we call ourselves anything with such a schizophrenic view of this so called profession??!!

[9] Anecdotal evidence from consulting work demonstrates that safety people are sometimes sacked by organizations following a significant injury or incident.

[10] After seeking advise from more than 20 Australian Universities and RTOs regarding their curriculum it was clear that none had a transdisciplinary approach nor provision of education in helping, social psychology, ethics or strategic/critical thinking. OHS promotions is very much that of promoting ‘technical’ knowledge and this too is endorsed by The Accord (2.1.1 p. 12)

[11] The notion of psychological archetypes was developed by C. G. Jung and is most associated with an understanding of the ‘collective unconscious.’ The idea of the collective unconscious is also associated with an understanding of the principles and forces at work in cultures/societies. See further: Jung, C. G., (1969) The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Princeton University Press, New York.

[12] There is nothing new in the personification of an activity. For example, we readily accept the personification of ‘the Market’ and ‘the Economy’. We also speak of ‘market forces’ and of dynamics in the society/economy as some kind of ‘invisible hand’ (from Adam Smith – http://www.investopedia.com/terms/i/invisiblehand.asp). The personification of ‘types’ helps understand how things can have a life of their own and is well articulated by Gladwell (2000), Hoffer (1969) and Klein (1999). We also observe the personification of good an evil in many movies in popular culture eg. Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.

[13] For a general overview of archetypes and anthropomorphic language see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jungian_archetypes and Laksmidewi, D., SuAIHSnto, H and Afiff, A., (2017) Anthropomorphism in Adeverstising: The Effect of Anthropomorphic Product Demonstration on Consumer Purchase Intention. AAIHSn Academy of Management Journal. Vol. 22. 1.

[14] For more on The Psyche in National consciousness read Neville, B., (1989) Educating Psyche, Emotion, Imagination and Unconscious in Learning. Collins Dove. Melbourne.

[15] A recent blog by Kevin Jones attributed Historical AmneAIHS to the safety industry. https://safetyatworkblog.com/2017/09/25/is-the-future-of-ohs-based-on-a-flawed-past/

We will learn later that a sense of history is essential to being professional.

[16] The discourse of the hero is a masculinist discourse embodied in ‘the will to power’. Whilst its is helpful to be concerned about sexist language and images in safety what is of even deeper concern is the ‘will to power’ embodied in zero and an associated anti-social discourse in the fixation on objects. See further on the will to power in Deleuze, G., (1983) Nietzsche and Philosophy. Columbia University Press. New York.

[17] The AIHS played a formative role in The XXI Safety Congress 2017 and thereby endorses zero ideology. Following the XXI Safety Congress 2017 a position statement issued on 20 September 2017 by the AIHS entitled ‘What to do when Vision Zero is a new global by-line’ (https://AIHS.org.au/news/updates/what-to-do-when-vision-zero-is-a-new-global-by-line.html). By underplaying the language of the Congress and its attendant semiotics, the AIHS demonstrates its knowledge of the power of language in its own discourse. Vision Zero at the XXI World Safety Congress 2017 was not a ‘by-line’ and the AIHS Statement demonstrates this. By remaining ‘agnostic’ about Zero Harm (p. 1) the AIHS endorses zero ideology by silence using religious language further endorsing their belief in zero as a religious ideology. It is clear in the AIHS Statement that the AIHS wishes to have a ‘bet each way’ and appease significant opposition in Australia to zero ideology. The AIHS statement also demonstrates a fundamental ignorance about the dynamics of zero ideology, believing it to be benign (eg. as a target or semantics). Seeking to play the card of cultural difference (p.2) in the Statement ignores the fundamental archetypal power of the ideology and demonstrates unprofessional naivety of the organisation. If anything, the attraction of other cultures to zero ideology demonstrates the cross-cultural power of the archetype and the naivety of safety institutions in those cultures to think critically.

[18] The best example of this illogical and naïve binary questioning is with Transport for NSW http://roadsafety.transport.nsw.gov.au/campaigns/towards-zero/index.html (Accessed 22 September 2017). The advertisement parades a collection of relatives before a person and, asks that person how many he would like killed, his answer must be zero. No-one questions the stupidity of the question or the entrapment of the question. The same binary oppositional logic was demonstrated in British parliament when the Prime Minister accused the opposition as being ‘terrorist sympathizers’ (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/dec/01/cameron-accuses-corbyn-of-being-terrorist-sympathiser). Therefore, if you don’t agree with my binary logic you are a terrorist!

[19] It is also demonstrated in the DSMV IV & V that perfectionism is a mental health disorder. See the American Psychiatric Association http://www.psi.uba.ar/academica/carrerasdegrado/psicologia/sitios_catedras/practicas_profesionales/820_clinica_tr_personalidad_psicosis/material/dsm.pdf (Accessed 22 September 2017) or Lippman, http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/appsych/opus/issues/2012/fall/problematizing (Accessed 22 September 2017)

[20] Some of the best work in defining professionalism and professionalization occurred in the 1960s and 1970s when professionalization first emerged is a critical issue. Further see: Boreham, P., et.el (eds.) (1976) The Professions in Australia. University of Queensland Press. St Lucia. And Goode, W., (1960) Encroachment, Charlatanism and Emerging Profession: Psychology, Sociology and Medicine. American Sociological Review. XXV December.

[21] In this paper by Servage (2009) similar questions are posed as in this paper but applied to the teaching profession. Eg. Is a teacher a ‘disinterested scientist’ who administers banks of tests, a care-giver who cares for the maturation of children, a social justice advocate who teaches social formation or, a learning manager who facilitates discovery and development in learning? In other words, what is a teachers ‘professional’ identity?

[22] There is absolutely no focus on ethics at all in the AIHS Body of Knowledge or on an ‘ethic of safety’. At least 75% of the AIHS BoK is consumed with systems and compliance. Even the single paper on culture in the BoK is extraordinarily narrow and technicist in nature and lacking in a transdisciplinary perspective.

[23] Morality is most associated with the study of Virtue Ethics see. MacIntrye, A., (1987) After Virtue, a Study in Moral Theory. Duckworth. London. And Mizzoni (2010) pp. 21ff.

[24] This is also essential in understanding education and intelligence. Education and human intelligence is for the social ‘upbuilding’ of community. If learning is not connected socially in this way then the activity can be best defined as ‘training’ about objects. In a broad educational sense this is where the WHS curriculum and the AIHS BoK are situated. Without a transdisciplinary focus the AIHS BoK remains 75% focused on objects, systems and processes rather than on education.

[25] See further: AIHS, (2017) What to do when vision zero is a new global by-line. https://AIHS.org.au/news/updates/what-to-do-when-vision-zero-is-a-new-global-by-line.html

Neither can one be selective in philosophy and ethic in avoidance of a commitment to non-ethics, such is not the nature of professional definition and position statements.

[26] The Will to Power so dominant in the philosophy of Nietzsche, is based on a binary anthropology and a fundamentalist understanding of humanity. This black and white view of the world has a trajectory that fosters a violation of personhood in the triumphalism of power over love. The Will to Power only understands the world through the nature of ‘forces’ and a rejection of love at weakness. In the safety industry, we sometimes witness the ‘spin’ of care exercised by the archetype of Safety as dominance over others ‘for their own good’.

[27] Mentalitie is the focus on social history not the history of dates and people in power (https://www.jstor.org/stable/2504556).

[28] See Also: SWA (2011) Safe Work Australia Interpretive Guideline – model Work Health and Safety Act – the health and safety duty of an officer under section 27. https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/interpretive-guideline-model-work-health-and-safety-act-health-and-safety-duty-officer-under (Accessed 22 September 2017).

Source link

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.