top of page

By Caitlin Burge

This is not a how-to guide. It's more of a piece of prose emanating from the question of 'how to make policy come to life?' My favourite version of How-to-Guides in the broad media world is its parody in 'Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.'

To give context, the novel’s main character is Arthur Dent - a human who has spent his life residing on Earth. He becomes the only human left in the universe after Earth missed a planet demolition notice - despite all due process having been followed. Once the demolition team arrives for Earth’s destruction, the time for complaints or protests already elapsed - Earth is detonated. At the last minute, Arthur hitches a ride on a passing spaceship with a friend from the pub who turns out to be an alien who intergalactically hitchhiked to Earth, researching an entry for the Hitchhiker’s Guide.

What ensues is an exploration of improbability and other such concepts. Travelling through and with creatures in worlds previously unfathomable: Arthur, and seemingly almost everyone else in the universe, turn to the Guide when they have no idea what to expect, where to start, how to act, what to eat etc. The Guide sometimes returns unhelpful or incomplete things, but it’s reliable with a decent degree of validity—something to turn to in a moment of unknown for help and grounding.

Douglas muses that The Hitch Hikers Guide attempts to cover all walks of life,

As the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian works.

It sure isn’t perfect, but it’s a try. And a good try at that. A couple of words I looked up the definition of there

Apocryphal: adjective. (of story or statement) of doubtful authenticity, although widely circulated as being true.

Pedestrian: adjective. Lacking inspiration or excitement; dull.

As a side note, to anyone looking for spring or summer reading, if you have not already read the Hitchhikers Guide - 5 part trilogy - and you are keen on bushwork: it merits being added to your reading list.

Personally, it's one of those series I can read over and over again.

Putting a finger on the brilliance of Douglas Adams is difficult. The cover of the fictional How-to-Guide is Don't Panic - which, arguably, would be equally as brilliant to use on the cover of all Silviculture Health, Safety and Wellness Manuals.

In my hopes for the policy work that I participate in, in terms of its liveliness, this is a singular standalone goal: for policy, and the complete Safety System, to be a source of illumination in tricky times or moments of need. The cover page should, indeed, say first: Don’t Panic.

If I possessed Douglas’ wit, verbal clarity, gift of illustrating life’s painful, hilarious irony within human seriousness, zealousness and pride, I could outline how this is a wonderful, light, humorous analogy to maintaining a company’s Safety System. While registering that this is not the case, I will attempt to do it nonetheless.

The tasks are gargantuan.

A Safety System intends to stand as a ‘standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom’ for all that a company does. All of it. Everything. All operations, all job roles, and all tasks within those roles. Standard Operating Procedures - for each procedure. Equipment used in the company, their proper use, who should use them after what training and at what schedule these should be maintained, who should do it and where that should be written down. With a footnote regarding whose job it is to double-check it. Etcetera.

Everything a company does, is considering doing, or has done in the past will be broken down into smaller tasks. Those tasks; possible hazards explored. Their potential associated risk and, for each hazard (or at least those that pose a medium and high risk), a set of controls prescribed.

I will digress for a moment.

This piece is On Policy.

To bring it back to the literal, some definitions of policy follow.

Let’s go first to Wikipedia’s first paragraph on Policy:

Policy is a deliberate system of guidelines to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes. A policy is a statement of intent implemented as a procedure or protocol. Policies are generally adopted by a governance body within an organization. Policies can assist in both subjective and objective decision-making.

Next, a Google Search for Policy Statement returns:

The policy statement, or body of the policy, identifies the actual guiding principles or what is to be done. The statements are designed to influence and determine decisions and actions within the scope of coverage. The statements should define actions that are prudent, expedient, or advantageous to the organization.

Policy Statements and broader supporting documents are the meat built on the bones of other work.

They are commitments, aspirations and best practices that need a value centre to make any sense. Some of these policy statements are required by legislation, some arising organically from an organization - where guidance and direction are needed. They need to be built on constantly.

Updating as the circumstances of our dynamic workplaces change; or, as how practices in the field change. They need to be practicable - a word I never knew before diving into the world of policy - hazard assessments and best practices.

The essence of this idea is you can put whatever you want on paper, but there are very real, on-the-ground factors that will allow or not allow something to be implemented - or not - and to what extent. Does this policy hold use on the ground? Does it hold meaning?

Is it:

  • Based in reality,

  • Aligned with company culture and values,

  • Aligned with its people and their values,

  • Considering the limits of human capacity - other words, what else is someone already responsible for and can they take on anything else?

  • Possible in the unique environment of your company

  • Is it necessary or helpful?

It may be important at this juncture to stress that I love policy work.

Policy is meaningful. It has the ability to effect change. It gives structure and guidance. It has the ability to produce fairness, balance and wellness in a workplace. Multiple voices working on policy is inviting, empowering, and stimulating. Policy is a place to start, a place to end and a place to work in. It’s a giant, moving logic puzzle.

Here are a couple of tips a real How-to-Bring-Policy-to-Life Guide could have in it:

My company’s Safety System has so many statements of policy. They’re mostly, over 90%, meaningful and important. The complete Safety System is over 300 pages. I am the person primarily responsible for maintaining this System, collaborating with our team to build out salient training and communication plans to, in theory, bring policy to life. I can say with some certainty that I do not expect to get 100% transfer of policy comprehension to each person that works with us. Despite this, a complete, exhaustive and thorough System remains so important - it is a shared framework to move and work from.

On occasion, I wax poetically about the beauty of human systems, the connectedness and possibility of idea-value-culture-behaviour connections. On the contrary, I feel a poignant alertness, a call to action, and stabbing failure when things at work happen that highlight a hole within or a glaring lack of cohesive policy.

Sometimes I laugh when I read lines from an older best-practice document. Things can live a long time if forgotten in a dusty corner of policy. Keeping policy alive, in every detail in every moment, is not practicable. To a person on the ground, elements of any system could seem “of doubtful authenticity” despite being circulated as being true. Therein lies an opportunity for breathing-in life. It’s a work in progress.

To end, I leave some goals and items on the to-do list for 2023 to further bring policy to life:

  • More discussion of policy and best practices in general safety meetings: lining up topics ahead of the season so they are ready to go.

  • Reorganizing the Safety System so that folks in the field can readily access relevant information for their role.

  • Reference where to find information in the Safety System throughout training, so people can get to know it better.

  • Empower JHSC members to be open and exuberant around policies, best practices and general continual improvement.

P.s. If you read this and do have a simple How to Make Policy Come to Life, please submit a piece. I would personally love to hear them - and I’m sure others would too.

P.s.s. For other folks who also have a to-do list around bringing policy to life, that would also be great to see compiled!


How to Make Policy Come to Life: Don’t Panic

Do not be deceived by the title of this piece.

bottom of page