Psychosocial Health and an Ethic of Care

imageThe language of ‘care’ is sometimes thrown about in safety like a tennis ball. It travels about the court and very few make contact. I read a safety book once that was theoretically about leadership and care and neither leadership or care were discussed in the book. Similarly, neither were not defined. As so often is the case in Safety, meaning is assumed and uncontested. I mean who could possibly offer critical discourse analysis ( against safety?

Compliance is assumed and rewarded, questioning is anti-safety.

The beginning is understanding discourse (use of language) and Discourse (the power embedded in language) as the place to start in critical thinking about care. Just because the word ‘care’ is used, doesn’t mean what follows is about caring. Similarly, one can regurgitate the word ‘professional’ a thousand times, it doesn’t mean what is being enacted is professional.

The first question that should be asked when the word ‘care’ is used is: what do you mean by care? Of course, from the mono-disciplinary bubble of safety there would be little realisation that the language of ‘care’ involves many theories and definitions. And if you are looking for meaning neither is this gleaned from the dictionary or Wikipedia. Dictionary definition is an engineering approach to meaning.

It will not surprise anyone that in all the texts on Psychosocial hazards that abound, there is no discussion of care. There is so much noise about ‘actions’, control measures’, ‘duty of care’ and ‘controls’, but no methodology or method about care.

Just think how mind-blowing this is: the AIHS put out a Chapter on Ethics as a part of their so called ‘body of knowledge’ and there is no discussion of care, helping, the meaning of care or helping or, definition of care or care ethics!!! Tells so much about the industry doesn’t it. All on full show if you can hear the silences.

Of course, if you are being educated into a ‘caring profession’ care is the place to start, in an understanding of caring and helping. In Safety, the language of ‘caring’ is never attached to the language of ‘profession’.

The moment one enters into a discussion of care, one engages in a moral and ethical (yes there are different) discussion. Books like this one by Virginia Held  are what you cut your teeth on. Of course will be found in no safety curriculum globally.

Similarly, when I was coordinating Teacher Education and Social Work Education in Universities, we started our introduction into the meaning of the profession, not by learning the Education or Crimes Act but by understanding the nature of care and helping. It was though care and helping that one was a profession.

Isn’t it strange that Safety loves this expression ‘duty of care’ but never talks about what caring is.

Care is neither a ‘skill’ or Technique but rather, an orientation, disposition and worldview. Care is about how one is oriented towards the other’ and involves an ethic of selflessness, humility, relinquishing of power, an ethic of helping, active listening, open questioning and focusing on the person NOT an outcome.

As sure as you hear the language of care in safety oriented towards ‘safety performance’ you know the moral philosophy is NOT about care.

The language of ‘care’ and ‘helping’ is not about the achievement of an outcome but rather the ‘care of persons’. If the motive of coaching, communication and ‘control measures’ is a safety outcome, then the actions that follow are NOT about caring.

If the focus is on the care for order, duty, efficiency, reliability and outcome, then whatever actions taken are NOT about care and helping.

Similarly, any patronising language of ‘care’ is not oriented towards the well-being of ‘the other’ but rather the agenda and outcome desired by the one with power (certainly could not be called a ‘care-giver’).

My daughter did a double degree in Nursing and Paramedics a few years back and has been working in Pre and Post Operation care for a number of years. In her education and extensive practicum, years of supervision and learning, one came to the position of knowing what care was. Care is not just a word but is a way of being, an orientation. I remember helping her with her essays on moral philosophy and ethics and there was such a strong connection between theory and practice. None of this bears any resemblance to the nature of safety indoctrination.

In Nursing, you simply couldn’t survive if you didn’t know intuitively, experientially and theoretically what care is. Noddings (2003) (Founder of Care Ethics) states:

‘Ethical caring is developed from the remembrance of caring and caring for, the experiences and perceptions of the ideal self, and not from a set of rules and regulations’.

Could you have a greater or more stark difference between a profession and a policing activity?

Interestingly, many who I know who have entered Safety and then left the industry is because of this orientation that makes care impossible. Sadly, many who want to leave ( can’t, they are trapped. Once your resume reads a few years in safety, employers seem to know that you are not the person to enter a caring profession! And yet many come into the safety industry under the misapprehension that this is the place where they can exercise a disposition off care. Then sadly discover that safety is the industry of brutalism (

This is why the language of ‘control measures’ to manage ‘hazards’ dominates the Discourse in Psychosocial safety.

If you would like to learn a different approach to risk that enables care and helping then you can undertake the Holistic Ergonomics workshop ( that is practical, constructive, positive and enables a method of tackling risk through care and helping.

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