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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

Editorial—A radical notion

A report from Oxfam calculates that at some point next year the richest one percent of people will own half the world’s wealth, a statistical bombshell perfectly designed to grab attention and provoke unease about rising inequality.

A day or two later, the New Zealand Herald columnist and economics teacher Peter Lyons explained with his usual brevity and wit that such inequality shouldn’t be viewed as a flaw in a market economy – it’s precisely how it is designed to operate.

“The problem of income inequalities,” he wrote, “arises when this inequality becomes entrenched and self-perpetuating.”

Where is all this leading, I hear you ask. What has it got to do with health and safety? Something, perhaps. Let’s see where we go with this.

The Oxfam report, as intended, got me thinking about inequality. Eventually I arrived at this radical notion: that surely we are all of equal value as people, whether we are an impoverished child scrabbling for cast-offs in a rubbish dump, or the chief executive of a multinational business perusing a balance sheet.

OK, so it’s hardly an original idea, but if we accept its truth then the level of inequality highlighted by Oxfam is swiftly exposed for what it is: monstrously unfair and a blot on humanity.

At around the same time I read a wonderful piece by Julian Hughes in the Dominion Post. In it, he cites Lawrence Waterman’s challenge to the heads of the London Olympic Delivery Authority when they baulked at his vision of completing construction without a single fatality: if they would not accept this goal, he asked, would they then agree to accompany him to the home of each worker killed and sit in the living room to inform the family? Not surprisingly, they agreed to run with his vision – and delivered it.

Waterman is an acknowledged health and safety leader, and there are multiple perspectives on leadership in this issue (including a piece by Julian). Leadership is perhaps where the Oxfam statistic has some application to health and safety. In Damian Bassett’s piece on page 17 he talks of the need to demonstrate “felt leadership”, requiring visible engagement and two-way dialogue. Can’t argue with that.

But if leadership in health and safety is to mean anything, it surely first requires the leader to value each worker and each contractor equally, no matter how humble their origin or their role. That is, every machine operator, tree feller or contracted night cleaner who does the toilets must be regarded as a person of equal value to any member of the organisation’s board, for example.

Once the leader accepts that proposition, he or she is more likely to be committed – intellectually and emotionally – to making every possible effort to make damn sure no one goes home hurt or sick.

Whew. Got there in the end. Now, where was I? Oh yes – bring on the revolution!


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