Learning About Learning in Risk and Safety

A Google search of ‘risk and safety training in Australia’ reveals more than 103,000,000 results. The focus of such training seems to be programming people to absorb information on legislation, safety processes and engineering based subjects. This seems to be the common method we use in risk and safety, and one might be easily seduced into thinking that attending such training may result in greater wisdom and a workforce more capable of discerning risk. Some might even consider this training as ‘learning’ about risk and safety. But what do we really know about ‘learning’ in risk and safety?

I for one have done my fair share of ‘indoctrination’ sessions in the name of safety. Site inductions, toolbox talks, safety shares; you name it, we sure know how to tell people about the stuff that we think is important when it comes to safety. But, do we in risk and safety, really understand ‘learning’?

If we are to better understand what it means to ‘learn’ in risk and safety, I wonder whether we should shift our attention away from focusing on how we gather and process ‘information’ (about legislation, safety process and engineering) and instead progress toward a recognition that learning is a social (‘communal’) activity. Do we also need to recognise that much of what we learn occurs in our unconscious through activities like reflection‘experiencing’, and through our involvement in community? Do we need to do more learning about learning in risk and safety?


The Challenges for Organisations in Dealing with Mental Health

How does adopting a ‘reductionist’ approach impact on mental health at work?

If organisations are to better support the mental health of their employees, adopting a more holistic approach, to firstly better understand, and then deal with mental health at work, is required.

A holistic approach to dealing with mental health includes understanding biological factors relating to mental health as well as considering psychological factors. However, in addition to the current approach, a holistic approach also recognises the importance of social psychological factors such as social inclusion and spiritual factors such as beliefs of individual workers. It is focused on understanding and exploring, over fixing and solving.

It recognises the ‘wickidity’ of mental health and that organisations that focus on ‘tackling’, ‘accepting’ and ‘dealing with’ mental health are more likely to be better positioned to supported improved mental health.

Organisations who wish to better deal with the mental health of their workers, firstly need to understand and recognise the how they may be adopting ‘reductionist’ approaches and consider whether these are limiting their ability to dealing with mental health. They would further be advised to consider how adopting a more ‘holistic’ approach, including consideration of the mind body and spirit would enhance the mental health and well-being of their workers.


Learning Doesn’t Provide Immunity

Just because I’ve learnt a little about how I make decisions and judgments, it does not mean that I will always make better decisions. I know that I am vulnerable in my decision-making and that it is thick with bias.

Perhaps the best I can hope for is to recognise through reflection, sharing and good conversation the biases in the decisions and judgments I make and continue to learn from them as well as seek to understand ‘cues’ of when my biases may be at play.

Around this time four years ago I began a ‘learning adventure’ that would change my life in more ways than I could have imagined. I had been working in ‘safety’ for most of my life and I was at my wits end trying to understand why our focus was fixated predominately on systems, policing and ‘control’, with little understanding of people and how we make decisions. There seemed to be no place in the paradigm that I was working in that allowed for mistakes, and the groundswell in the industry was being driven by the seduction of ‘zero’.


The Banned Objects Index – A New Development in Safety Culture

If we adopt an approach to safety that is focused on controlling others then banning things in the name of safety is a perfect solution to dealing with the grey, messiness and ambiguity of risk. There is no grey in banning something, right?

Have you heard of the ‘Banned Objects Index’ (BOI)? It is the latest ‘measure’ that you can use to compare your organisations safety culture against another. The ‘BOI’ is easy to calculate, it’s simply the number of banned objects (for safety reasons) per full time equivalent employees. The higher the number, the better the safety culture. Sounds pretty simple right?

Could ‘BOI’ be the elusive ‘Positive Performance Indicator’ we have all been searching for?

Word in the industry is that Government are considering a national ‘BOI’ target and an associated strategy for achieving it. The country’s leading safety body, the Stupid Incident Again (SIA) are reportedly forming a Committee to review the concept, with one insider leaking that the BOI is just what the industry has been searching for. Some suggest that it could even replace Zero Harm as our key aspirational safety target as it’s so much better to have a positive number as a goal.

It also means that the risk and safety industry would have access to a great new range of charts and diagrams where finally safety numbers can go up instead of down. Business is more likely to take our message seriously when we finally have a positive performance indicator that makes sense. Onwards an upwards in safety…..

This all sounds pretty silly right? I mean why would any organisation think that the number of items banned from a site could be an indication of safety culture? In fact, why would an organisation think that they could in any way get a feel for culture through the use of any (apparent) objective measure? Did someone mention LTIFR?

I guess if your tools of choice in ‘enforcing’ safety are control, rule and fear, then a BOI might make perfect sense in measuring culture. If we adopt an approach to safety that is focused on controlling others then banning things in the name of safety is a perfect solution to dealing with the grey, messiness and ambiguity of risk. There is no grey in banning something, right?

Do we really understand the psychology of risk?


What can Safety Learn from the Gympie Gympie Stinging Tree?

What can Safety Learn from the Gympie Gympie Stinging Tree?

This week I have been holidaying in Far North Queensland, Australia. It is a warm climate and a great way to welcome Spring and all that comes with a change in season. As my wife and I love to do when on holidays, there has been a nice mix of relaxing and exploring.

We have been fortunate enough to spend time exploring the beautiful Daintree Rainforest. Today we visited the Mossman Gorge where we experienced one of their Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk’s that are conducted by the local Indigenous people. Ngadiku (Nar-di-gul) means stories and legends from a long time ago in local Kuku Yalanji language. Today our welcoming host was Rodney.

As we meandered through the rainforest, I could not help but feel welcomed, valued and respected. Rodney was showing us around an area that his family and ancestors have inhabited for many thousands of years. Rodney shared stories, knowledge and experiences. He guided us through what he described as ‘our backyard’, referring not only ‘our’ being his people, but also ‘our’ as being the people who were sharing our journey today, it was a very welcoming experience.


The Link Between Think and Blink

The Link Between Think and Blink

I attended another engaging ‘thinking group’ meeting this morning on the Central Coast of NSW in Australia. The meeting was organised by James Ellis, and some new ‘thinkers’ joined us at today’s meeting including; a clinical psychologist who also practices in forensic psychology; a training manager with a background in community care; an accountant with an interest in behavioural economics; a quality/safety manager who proudly claimed “I just love learning from different people”; and a PhD doctor who teaches an MBA program.

Throw into the mix three mugs that are doing their best to learn about social psychology and risk and what comes out is some great thinking, from a diverse group of people, all with at least one thing in common, a desire to share, experience and learn as part of a community.

While our Thinking Groups usually run with no set agenda and with minimal formalities, we generally have a theme that is often around a book, a topic or an idea that one of the group is keen to discuss. Thinking Groups are not unlike a book club.

This morning’s theme, was loosely around Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, which on the website is described as:

“a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant-in the blink of an eye-that actually aren’t as simple as they seem.”

Our Thinking Group meeting provided a great link between think and blink.


I’m Still Not That Into Safety

I’m Still Not That Into Safety

When I first declared that ‘I’m just not that into safety anymore’ over 12 months ago, it was at a time when a number of people who work in risk and safety were expressing their frustration of an industry that had become known as the ‘fun police’ and focused more on monitoring rules than supporting people to discern and deal with risk and uncertainty.

The topic was raised again this week as I was talking with a friend who is looking at formal qualifications to help them progress their career in safety. If you’ve read the above piece, you may understand how I wanted to respond to this, but I stopped and reflected before I did. More on this below.

I continue to observe an industry that seems fixated on fixing, dedicated to finding ‘solutions’ for even the most complex of problems and that is addicted to perfectionism. There seems little room for ‘errors’, and when there are ‘errors’, we must get to the bottom of them, find a root cause and make sure the same ‘error’ can never happen again. This is the language often used in risk and safety.


Investigating our Batting Collapse

Investigating Our Batting Collapse

I’m a cricket fan. I have been all my life and it’s one of the highlights of the year for me when my best mates and I head to a day or two watching the cricket, it’s an annual pilgrimage. You might not be surprised then to learn that as a ‘cricket tragic’ I excitedly sat down to watch the four Ashes Test between Australia and England last night only to be disappointed by the Australian Cricket Team Batting Collapse. All out for 60, the shortest first test innings ever in a game of test cricket, the headlines are endless. If you are working with a ‘pom’ this morning at any workplace in Australia, you probably don’t need to be reminded of the details!

But what do we make of this poor performance? How could a team representing their nation, the elite of the elite, get it so wrong? How could athletes, who dedicate their lives to being the best at their sport, fail so miserably? And worst, how could they all stuff up and make so many errors on the same day?

I was doing some great ‘social thinking’ this morning with my good friend James Ellis. We got together to plan for an upcoming program we are running which focuses on incident (or as we prefer to call it ‘event’) investigation. We got to talking about the cricket and realised that there are many similarities between investigating an incident and the result in the cricket last night. You may think we are a little crazy (and you may be a little right), but let me explain.


How do we Know

How Do We Know?

We cannot know about things we do not have a belief in. It makes no sense to say, “I know the earth is spherical, but I don’t believe it”. Yet it is important to note that believing something does not guarantee that the belief is right.

(Dew and Foreman 2014)

This quote from How Do We Know caused me to reflect about how we understand ‘knowledge’ in risk and safety. I wondered how some people working in our industry may respond to Dew and Foreman’s notion that “beliefs act as a first step” toward ‘knowledge’, and importantly whether our industry is mature enough to contemplate the thought that some part of ‘knowing’ is based on the subjective notion of ‘beliefs’.

I can sense by now that the Safety Crusaders reading this are thinking, “That is just ridiculous, knowledge is simply about competency and assessment, either people know stuff or they don’t, it’s got nothing to do with wishy washy beliefs. That’s just not the way things are done in risk and safety.” They may also be asking; “how can you measure beliefs?” This is probably because they adopt the approach of ‘what you can’t measure you can’t manage’. If you don’t pass the test, you don’t ‘know’, so therefore you just have to keep doing the test until you pass. That’s how we know that you know!

I’m guessing that if you have reached this point in the article that either you have some real interest in learning more about ‘how do we know’, or perhaps you are in such a state of ‘dissonance’ that you feel the need to read more just so you can disagree even further.

So what of this idea that belief may act as a first step toward knowledge?


Flooding is Dangerous, and I Don’t Mean the Water……

Flooding is Dangerous, and I Don’t Mean the Water……

Parts of the east coast of Australia have experienced heavy rain over recent months and it has become common to read headlines of flash flooding causing road closures, cars washed away and sadly a man in Sydney was killed when he was swept into a drain. The dangers of floods in our country are something that most us are familiar.

But there is another type of flooding which can be just as dangerous.

A flooding that may not be obvious too us at first, a flooding that may seem normal even, and a flooding that is abundant in the safety and risk industry. This type of flooding has to do with the amount of information and paperwork that is generated and in particular how we go about sharing this information with people at work.