Safety Guiding Principles for the workplace

Safety Guiding Principles for the workplace


In a recent announcement regarding a workplace incident, a university might claim that the incident was ‘unfortunate but not unpredictable’. It would seem that mental health issues are more common in our workplace than many are comfortable talking about.

While I do not have a practising license to talk with people as a psychologist, I have worked as a counsellor with disaffected youth, high-school runaways and scholars in international settings who were feeling confused at their studies, or homesick or lovelorn. I have some understanding of the pressures of needing to achieve in a scholastic sense and a wish to excel in life for a while as if an intellectual athlete.

safetyHowever, not everyone is capable of managing a million-and-one things at a time. It does take some juggling. Sometimes it is the case that new environments and workplaces force us to face the realities of our personal dreams and abilities to meet family wishes. Sometimes it impacts on our physical and emotional wellness which can lead to short-term discomfort or post traumatic stress.

In my own case, being on the other side of the world to study and facing the reality of someone else’s unwellness in an accommodation setting, brought home to me the importance of always having a safe place to live and work. It is one of the reasons why I write so much about homelessness and take photographs of places where people sleep in city parks and roadside intersections. I do not wish this type of life on anyone as it is a down-hill slide to physical and mental impairment and probably to an early death.

I have witnessed first-hand the difficulties which some people face living in large cities with no family and support networks. I am conscious of how precarious our work and home lives are to others’ physical or emotional unwellness or their mental health issues.

The university I write about has always had an influx of students who come from middle-class backgrounds with high expectations of student life and selective cherry-picking for plum roles in academia. Some of these students are the sons and daughters of academics or come from academic families. Their families seem to have high, yet unrealistic, expectations that their loved ones will win and never fail at STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). It would appear that the essence of the phrase ‘pride before a fall’ might work against them.

One way in which university academia can offer to help offspring of academic families is to ask potential students during their selection process whether they are really ready or ‘up for it?’ Sometimes the tenure track process which academics follow blindly believing that ‘Grandpa was a Geology professor, therefore I will be too…’ is not necessarily the right or proper approach to take.

Sometimes it is not fair on that person’s abilities and interests to encourage such thoughts. Each person has their own strengths and weakness in scholarship which can be very different to those of their forebears. Each person is born into a specific period of time, which in hindsight will have its own particular history. Their time on the planet and life experiences are very different to those of their forebears.

HalloweenIn my own case, the important matter to attend to was ‘safety first’ in all matters to ensure a healthy and respectable life. Perhaps it’s because they undertook national service for the Wars that they instinctively and adamantly insisted that safety be put first.  The latin phrase ‘carpe diem’ (seize the day) was always tempered with the latin phrase ‘caveat emptor’ (buyer beware). In my family, the hackneyed phrase ‘hasten slowly’ was commonly heard when discussing progress on financial and other material matters of concern.

I wish this had been the case for those who suffered because of the academic workplace incident recently. Suffering from myopia or a stubborn refusal to explore all vocational or academic options available at an important juncture in a person’s life could show a lack of professional training or perhaps poor judgment. Even an educational psychologist trained in career counselling could see that a student needs time to explore all life options as a valid and useful period of reflection. For some students, a gap year is necessary to let their emotional quotient and confidence levels catch-up with their intellectual quotient.

I fully support the use of selection interviews prior to choice of university because it gives the academia and potential scholar an opportunity to ask important questions about subjects, disciplines, field research, opportunities for volunteering, approach to studying, time management and ability to meet academic expectations.

A career outcome or tenure track in academia is way down the list of importance if the potential student doesn’t know what they really want to do in life. The interview to explore options provides the potential student with a reality check to assess whether the subject area, discipline and university they think they want is a good match for their intellectual and social needs.

There is no safety in choosing the wrong subjects, wrong university or wrong career. Sometimes time and opportunity can never be regained.

Shopping centre lunch break.The same applies for the fundamental approach to scholarship and dynastic intellect. It is a fallacy that intellect “is in the genes”. So much more than intellect comes into play when a new scholar enters a university. Moreover, a sense of dynastic greatness is something which should be dispelled quickly before entering academic halls. Reason and logic must prevail. In the case of the university which experienced a recent workplace incident, it could be said that ‘Safety first is the best way to enjoy the fruits of life’.

Caught out at night.There are many ways in which students and staff can be supported in their scholarship workplace. The culture of the university, expressed respect for difference and social intolerance to violence and workplace injuries are important cornerstones of a healthy academic workplace. To be able to risk-take in a safe environment is critical for research and development. Progress requires it.

But to risk a safe environment by endangering others in workplace incident is unsupportable. Safety first is the only way forward. In essence, we need to ‘Go for Zero’ when it comes to workplace injuries and any form of trouble. The following dot points are offered by an international company which is looking at its own safety record:

  • Value human life and well-being above all else and take action accordingly.
  • Accept that all incidents, injuries and workplace illnesses are preventable.
  • Be personally accountable for your own safety.
  • Be collectively responsible for each other’s safety.
  • Commit to safety first, to advance goals for quality, cost, and schedule.

For further details see

Text copyright Fiona Rothchilds 2019 with Boeing text 2018.
Uploaded 30 March 2019. Updated 15 April 2019.

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