• Sheri Greenwell
    This thought-provoking article takes a look at the factors influencing professionals (and I would suggest these apply well beyond safety) to compromise their ethics.

    Your thoughts?
  • Michelle Dykstra
    Hello Sheri, thanks for sharing this article. Personally the topic of ethics in H&S is front of mind for me on an almost daily basis. One thing I often say to myself is that getting paid to work in improving health and safety is a privilege and it comes with an ethical requirement for me to do my best, be forever learning, questioning, growing professionally and doing what it takes to be effective.

    Working in health and safety can be very lonely and it is not for the faint-hearted! When reading this article, a few things stood out for me and I started to be thankful for my personality type and ability to communicate directly what needs to be said.

    I think some of the reasons for compromise and unethical behaviours given in the article are a bit superficial and I would hope they do not apply to the majority of those working in H&S.

    From the article in italics...

    “We want to fit in, to feel part of the team, and therefore to progress in our careers, so it is difficult to disagree with our bosses or with our peers when they appear to be in agreement about a questionable course of action."

    It's great working in a positive team environment and being able to leverage off this to achieve good safety outcomes. But in the absence of a positive team environment or an environment that does not necessarily value H&S as it should, I think that many H&S people need to make peace with not making friends at work or feeling somewhat on the outside.

    “We don’t want to appear to be disloyal to colleagues whom we otherwise like and respect."

    I don't see a conflict in this necessarily. I personally find that it is my loyalty to my colleagues - especially those on the manufacturing coal-face - that motivates me to be very real about health and safety i.e. to be uncompromising at times in matters of health and safety.

    “We want our team and/or our organisations to thrive."

    Exactly - again I don't see this as a point of conflict. We know that any organisation that performs well in the health and safety space will perform better in other areas as well.

    “We often feel as if ethical breaches are the only way to be competitive."

    This could be the old-think that poor safety standards saves time and money. I should hope that H&S professionals are above and beyond this mindset and know the real value that good standards bring.

    “We may be embarrassed or feel vulnerable to admit mistakes or problems.”
    Thanks be to new mindsets that learning by error and failing-safe are good things.

    I think there's a lot more to be said on this topic than appears in this article. Keen to hear more views.
  • Sheri Greenwell
    Your Dutch heritage could be a factor in your ability to be forthright and stand firm.....it's one of the qualities I cherish most in my Dutch partner! ;-)

    There are many psychosocial factors that can subtly influence safety practitioner behaviours. Given that so many NZers tend to be conflict-averse, and that many organisations are less than deliberate when selecting the safety advisor - I have personally seen examples where an organisation appointed the 'problem' guy they don't know what else to do with, or the lowest price hiring option, or someone who would just do what the manager wants (i.e., a handy scapegoat).

    One of the things that stood out to me from the whole Pike River saga was that people knew there were critical safety issues, and they had informed management, but everyone continued to operate. Neville Rockhouse was the H&S and Training Manager there, and I know he was on the verge of becoming president of INSHPO at the time of the fatal explosion, so he was a very experienced and well-established safety professional. Even so, he lost one son, nearly lost another son, and pretty much put an end to his safety career. Should he have done more to stop operations that fateful day? I'm sure he asks himself that question every day.

    One of the things I have observed in many workplaces over many years is that most people are afraid of 'getting into trouble' and losing their jobs, because most have families, mortgage and other financial obligations. This pressure can sometimes be alleviated if the safety practitioner reports directly to the CEO and has strong organisational understanding and support, but NZ still has a long way to go on this, especially while CEOs and operational personnel are increasingly squeezed for profit and productivity.

    Personally, I would walk away rather than be dragged into unethical behaviours or giving my blessing to unsafe practices. I have experienced a personal financial crisis where I had $24, no work and a single mother with a young child to look after. After working through my initial emotions and feelings of shame and failure, I eventually realised what a gift that experience was, because I KNOW that I can get through such a crisis, that there are resources and support out there, and that I never have to compromise myself and my own values. I have often said I would not want to have to do it again, but I am glad it happened - I now know how resourceful I am and what is possible, so no one will ever be able to force me into doing something that my conscience does not agree with. We always have to live with ourselves, so every decision should be something we can live with.
  • Aaron Marshall
    I'm currently reading Matthew Syed's book "Bounce" which looks at mindsets, and how they affect behaviour, in particularly achievement, but it also looks at the mindset/culture/ethics link.
    The way things are praised and rewarded has a direct effect on mindset, which then leads to compromising ethics. It's well worth a read.
  • Sheri Greenwell
    Thanks for the tip - I will check it out!
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