Art of Work is an idea that emerged nearly 2 years ago in Brisbane. At the time there were a few businesses that were experimenting with the ideas of Sidney Dekker and Erik Hollnagel, and a group of senior safety business leaders that wanted to engage the practice, or as John Green would say, Weaponize It". The problem was that there were no businesses with the tools and experience to do exactly that. We decided that it was time to stop talking and start doing, Art of Work was born.
At Art of Work, the translation of theory into working tools has been led by Daniel Hummerdal. To this end, great progress has been made, and we have tools deployed in a range of business and risk settings. We continue to learn from practice and adapt the practices and strategies from those learnings.
Our experience though this journey has given us opportunity to reflect upon the challenges of transitioning from Safety I to Safety II. We encounter debate and discussion as to whether we should just build a bridge between the two, given that there is a perception of dichotomy. Framing the discussion around dichotomy diverts our focus from the foundation principles and purpose for safety practice in our organisations.
For me, I find it useful to revert to the 3 Principles; particularly 1 - People are a solution to harness and 3 - Safety is an ethical responsibility. Safety as an ethical responsibility demands we engage with our purpose as safety professionals and ethical businesses. In my view harmonisation saw the legal profession hijack safety's’ ethical construct, creating board level fear of personal liability for directors. Safety became about protecting the leadership from unsafe people. Zero harm prospered under a mantra of Zero tolerance for error.
As a profession, we have transitioned our thinking about safety from protecting the interests of the person doing the work, to protecting the interest of the corporation. This shift has fundamentally constrained autonomy, communication, trust and improvement through the subjugation of compliance driven by unreliable performance metrics. The war on error has become a war on the people who do the work.
Under Principle 3, we should frame our work in safety around the fundamental tenant to create safe places of work by setting people up for success, where trust and wellbeing is central to the work environment. Safety is not a dichotomy, but a constant process of finding that which helps people to do their work safely, reliably and productively. Safety is our ethical responsibility to those that do the work.