Where do companies fall down on ethics, WHS and risk auditing?

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Tuesday, 19 February, 2019 - 11:30
Industry news
National News

While companies and organisations are generally faring well when it comes to ethics and corporate governance, they are struggling with over-regulation and compliance – and with little evidence of success, according to Risku’s Mark Hamon, and integrated risk specialist with more than 15 years of high-risk industry experience.

He questioned how often ethical issues come up in safety meetings or if ethics are discussed when putting together an internal safety audit program for an organisation.

For example “do you cover ethical fundamentals in the employee induction process beyond having them read mission, values, culture or vision” statements?” he asked.

“Do managers explain the impact ethics can have directly and indirectly on the business. Is there an understanding of how digital technology can impact on ethical safety standards e.g. social media, or privacy issues?”

Hamon, who was speaking ahead of the SIA National Health and Safety Conference, which will be held from 22-23 May 2019 at the International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney, observed that one of the challenges facing auditors today is the impact organisational culture can have on their ethical standards.

“Are your auditing standards and integrity about creating real value and change, or is it influenced by other factors?” he asked.

“Competitive markets, tender processes, productivity, finances, KPI requirements, job security, peer pressure and legal concerns, can all have an impact on ethical standards (ethics and values) when it comes to safety auditing.”

Companies need to work with HR departments to ensure the people they place in their organisation are going to be the right fit, according to Hamon, who said they need somebody with a strong personal conviction to do the right thing.

Hamon recommended considering an employee who has just started a career in auditing, or those with a personality which may be influenced by peer pressure, and he suggested they may feel stresses from management above or their peers to predict certain audits results.

“It takes experience, a strong ethical conviction and the ability to be transparent to be a good auditor, even when the results are going to be unpopular or have an impact on the company (do the right thing),” he said.

“Did the safety audit results truly reflect what’s happening within the organisation, or do the results reflect nothing more than a “smoke and mirrors” exercise to make the organisation look good?”

Hamon explained that organisational culture comprises the values, beliefs and behaviour (unwritten rules) of the people in the workplace, which are generally accepted as the norm. 

However, he said auditors must exercise integrity, transparency and unbiased objectivity in the course of their work: “they must not be swayed by organisational culture where it can impact on professional codes of ethics,” he said.

“Organisations which are poorly led, show both a lack of ethics and corporate governance; this is then cascaded down through the workforce (employees),” said Hamon, who added that other challenges include unnecessary regulation, unrealistic resource levels and “above all a complete lack of capability and maturity of resource competence”.

Organisations which have poor levels of communication or in many instances have a complete lack of corporate “mission, values, culture or vision” struggle with an ethical approach to not just WHS and risk audits, but any type of appraisal starting with strategic plan.

However, organisations can adopt a more ethical approach to WHS and risk audits and Hamon said there are a number of questions to be asked in this process.

  • Many organisations already have a workplace safety culture program, but does that program capture and promote a greater awareness of ethical values to the workforce?”
  • How well do your employee’s react to safety audits, are they open and transparent or do they try hide or downplay true findings?
  • What is the experience of the audit team when carrying out their audits, is there pressure from workplace peers to influence the findings?
  • How often are ethical standards in safety communicated across the workforce whether this be from senior management or in toolbox talks, audits or safety meetings with the workforce?
  • Is the actual impact or ramifications of non-ethical practices discussed with the workforce as risk against the business e.g. reputational risk, job security, corruption, fraud or legal prosecution?


The SIA National Health and Safety Conference will be held from 22-23 May 2019 at the International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney. For more information or to register, please call (03) 8336 1995, email or visit