When practitioners should keep the focus on failure
Thursday 23rd November 2017
From the archive: Just so you know, this article is more than 3 years old.
The report's title, The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power, signals the former bishop of Liverpool's belief that the families were failed by the reactions of the police and other authorities to the crowd control failures at Sheffield Wednesday's stadium.
Jones makes many recommendations that are specific to public bodies' responses to their own culpability, from an end to bottomless funding of the defence cases for public services implicated in disasters to a recommendation that a "duty of candour" be extended to the police to stop former officers refusing to testify at inquiries.
But some of the report's "points of learning" would be valuable to any organisation dealing with the media after an adverse event. Jones notes that public comments trying to pin responsibility wholly or partly on victims, such as South Yorkshire Police's attempts to blame the Liverpool fans at Hillsborough, are hard to take back later.
A "false public narrative", he says, "is an injustice in itself", and organisations and individuals should take great care in commenting before the full facts are known. He might have added that trying to shift the blame can make a bad situation reputationally far worse for the dutyholder.
A theme of the report is the tendency among the authorities to try to close the files on unfavourable episodes as fast as possible. This may reflect a desire to end the public attention, what Jones calls "an instinctive prioritisation of the reputation of an organisation", but it is not just that.
Nobody likes to dwell on failure, human nature tends towards optimism and it is understandable to want to end any chapter that causes shame or embarrassment and move on.
The report says this haste "represents a barrier to real accountability", but it can also be a barrier to a full understanding of the circumstances that allowed a catastrophe to happen.
This is a point that holds true for smaller-scale accidents short of a fatality in any organisation and even for near-misses with high potential severity. In the latter case, the urge to conclude any analysis swiftly is likely to be compounded by the fact there was no actual harm.
But OSH practitioners have a duty to make their colleagues dwell on uncomfortable events until they are sure the necessary details have been gathered, lessons learned and conditions corrected to prevent a reocurrence.
That may seem hard to square with this publication's usual message that an OSH professional is most effective when they align themselves closely with their employer's culture and objectives. But sometimes the role of critical friend is still the most valuable one a safety and health practitioner can play.
Now they are at the wrong end of a major report, the Stevenson-Farmer independent review of workplace mental health (see p 13), which argues the opposite. It says the the mental health crisis that has engaged the royal family and led the prime minister to call for more effort from the National Health Service, must be tackled in the workplace and that the HSE should be proactive in this area.
The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issued Stress Management Standards in 2004 as a framework for employers to check whether they were putting workers under unreasonable pressure and depriving them of the support and resources that would allow them to work efficiently.In the global recession at the end of the decade, the corporate interest in stress waned as many organisations adjusted to budget cuts by retrenching to safety management.
I interview Dermot Dolan just before he leaves his base at the Grange Castle biotechnology facility in Dublin, Ireland, to audit environment, health and safety (EHS) performance in Pfizer plants in India for two weeks.
Soon after the first paying passengers boarded Edinburgh’s new light rail system in May 2014, its operator had to cope with a spate of “tram surfing”, a pursuit which involves thrill seekers hitching precarious lifts by clinging to the outside of moving carriages.In one case, a surfer had mounted a tram on a downhill section in Edinburgh city centre and slid off, rolling down the road and coming to rest in front of an ambulance. Fortunately, though 74 surfing incidents were reported in 18 months, no one was seriously injured.
In 2009 Nancy Leppink was appointed by President Obama to the Wage and Hour Division of the US Department of Labor. Her job as acting administrator was to help revivify the regulatory agency responsible for enforcing national labour standards including the minimum wage, child labour restrictions and statutory working time limits which had been almost dismantled under the previous administration.
Imagine the scenario. As the building manager in a large five-storey, urban office building, which is staffed by 650 workers covering multiple shifts, you are responsible for managing fire safety.The building is equipped with multiple fire escape routes and is covered by an automatic sprinkler system, which is linked to the evacuation alarm. Fire alarms are tested every week, and twice a year there is a fire drill during which staff evacuate to a hall area elsewhere in the building rather than an external assembly point.