Posted on: March 12, 2012 Posted by: Comments: 0

Defence and mining sustain dual cultures: one for annual reports, health and safety toolbox talks and ‘zero harm’ signage, another for underground work, night shift, and production bonuses.

Culture defends and protects its members, but culture could sacrifice and abuse victims of its own failures. When a nation state or an industry places its own people in harm’s way, national or industrial culture should support those who come to harm.

In ‘two speed’ cultures like defence, mining, business acquisitions and emergency services, it is exceedingly difficult to change culture. Lilkewise, schizophrenia is difficult to diagnose and treat.

In active service or operational culture, our risk tolerance is defined much sharper than a vague ‘approach to zero’.

Cultural ties that bind

When I present my ‘Beyond Compliance’ seminar series anywhere in the world, we spend the morning exploring fundamentals of culture and how it relates powerfully to safety cultures in our business.

I learn a lot from the room and I usually surprise some people. I shall never forget a seminar in South Africa where the room erupted into singing Shosholoza, a labour song about a train trip to work. The hairs on the back of the neck rise again as I recall that cultural energy.

The most sacred day on the Australian calender is Anzac Day, when a unit was all but wiped out in a distant war. Australia become a country in 1901 with independence from Britain, but Australia became a nation and culture on 25 April, 1915.

Australia has a militaristic history. We have never had a war of our own, yet our people and resources were involved in Anglo-Maori wars of 1840+, Sudan 1885, Anglo Boer War 1899 -1902, Boxer Rebellion 1901 -1902, First World War 1914 -1918, Second World War 1939 -1945, Occupation of Japan 1946 -1951, Korean War 1950 -1953, Malayan Emergency 1950 -1960, Indonesian Confrontation 1963 -1966, Vietnam War 1962 -1975, First Gulf War 1990 -1991, Iraq 2003 -present, Afghanistan 2001 -present.

Australians uphold and protect their military history. There is something very deeply rooted in Australian cultural heritage that says you do not question the mythology of Anzac. Soliders are nicknamed ‘diggers’.

Despite the mufti-cultural direction of Australia since the 1940s, our valour and loss in that single battle continues to inform our culture.

In 2012 there have been about six separate reports on the state of culture in the Australian Defence Force, the basis of our national culture. These investigations were commissioned due to a raft of incidents that suggest cultural, managerial or leadership problems.

The most recent concerned the near fatal shooting of Special Forces soldier, Lazarus Loius. A warrant officer who accidentally shot and almost killed sapper Lazarus Louis in Afghanistan, thought his mate would die, so he made up a story to blame the poor guy himself.

A report into the accident in January 2011 had not been released for a year. The same weapon was used for demonstrations soon after the incident.

The weapon was not checked for trigger malfunctions. There was no chain of evidence. The magazine from the M4 carbine and spent bullet casings disappeared.

There are cultural failings in the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Mainstream media shall do a reasonable job of communicating those facts. Several defence forces are in serious cultural conflict.

Soldiers must do their hazardous and risky job as safely as possible, despite defence being toxic workplaces.

This is the one job where health and safety professionals would be fools to advocate ‘zero injury’ as it is currently understood in mining and in some labour departments.

Independent reports came to similar conclusions: culture problem in defence. The ADF has begun a process of culture change. I also work as a counsellor for ADF veterans, serving and retired, and once was a reserve soldier myself, younger, thinner, and with more hair.

An Iraqi veteran told me of a junior officer returned from overseas service, who drank too much and was about to be discharged. Yet of him his colleagues said: “If I had to go into the field again, that’s the guy I want behind my back. He’s a good soldier.”

Schizophrenic health and safety cultures

Are we sustaining two military cultures? One for parade grounds, talking on microphones for ten minutes without dropping ‘F’ words, and another culture for war. In mining, industry and business, do we sustain two cultures?

That implies that culture change should be a dual process, on the formal and informal side. The dual culture model makes a mockery of ‘zero harm’ and indicates the tough job of leaders who want to bring lasting change, beyond using high sounding words in speeches.

Safety ‘fiddling’ at Pike River and Solid Energy

The Pike River mining disaster investigation should acquire lasting meaning in mining and industrial culture, but recent history makes that ideal unlikely.

Recently, Solid Energy of New Zealand was required to cease operations, and earlier were found to adjust methane monitor readings. It took some major news reports to push the Regulator to respond.

• David G Broadbent is a safety psychologist and founder of TransformationalSafety.Com. This blog is an extract and redraft of a global newsletter of March 2012.


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