A Better Language for Risk and Safety

A Better Language for Risk and Safety

Depositphotos_8171991_s-2015Dekker (Safety Differently, 2015, p. vi-xi) calls for a new language in risk and safety and he is so right. We know that language is the bedrock of all culture and that the way we speak shapes the way we organize. Weick (The Social Psychology of Organising, 1979, p. 3) calls organizing: ‘consensually validated grammar for reducing equivocality by means of sensible interlocking behaviours’. One of the fascinating calls of the World Congress on Safety 2017 (see Capability Framework ) is that it wished to move away from the safety as policing model and become ‘professional’ but then maintains all the old language of policing and compliance mandated by the absolute of zero??? There will never be a change from the policing model in safety until the eradication of zero and policing language.

So where might we find this ‘new language’ to reform the risk and safety industry so that it can become professional (https://safetyrisk.net/professional-challenges-for-the-safety-industry/)?

Recently some women interested in the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR), gathered together to talk about the challenges of being women in male a dominated workplace, the nature of life, learning and risk. They gathered together in an ad hoc way, there was no script and no prior practice, just each responding from their ‘heart’ to the question: ‘how do we live in the world?’ If you listen to the video (https://vimeo.com/237511120) maybe this is where we can find the new language required to reform risk and safety. To help I have listed the key words and language of each of the women below and ask the question: ‘Is this how people in your organization speak about risk and safety?’ Is this the new language safety has been looking for?

Life and Work – Feminine Perspectives from Human Dymensions on Vimeo.


· Connection

· To myself and others

· How I see myself in relation to others

· Relationships

· Values, honesty, integrity, care and compassion for others

· Reflection and conversation

· Observation of language, body language and environment

· What this means for self and others

· Not telling but questioning

· Methods not leading to dad end

· Enhancing discovery

· Encouraging, helping


· Nurturing self

· Understanding who I am and how I feel

· Bring about awareness in others

· An enabler between people

· Bringing about a space between people

· So they can discover whop they are

· Nourishment and sustain relationships

· My soul, my psyche and my career

· Cope with stressors of life and organisation

· Balancing act

· Survive well

· Perception of human/people skills as ‘weak’ and ‘soft’

· Promoting others

· ‘Sacrificial lamb’ not at own sacrifice

· Semiotics in FIFO camps, control and constraints

· Metrics and measurement as constraint in relationships

· Isolation and fracturing in FIFO world


· Challenging

· Vulnerability

· Food as caveat – friendships and nourishing

· When to be vulnerable

· Letting go

· Coming to the table

· Awareness of risk of vulnerability

· Who am I vulnerable with?

· Authenticity challenge

· Can we be 100%?

· Being a social Chameleon

· Listening

· Pick up language and symbols

· Ethics

· Adaptability – method unconscious to the other

· Being present – meeting/trust

· Men constrained by inability to be vulnerable

· Feminine touch – human skills


· Creating meaning

· True to self

· Authentic

· Not compromise to self

· Make mistakes and learn

· Wisdom and discernment

· Discover if compromising values

· How the environment shapes me

· Recognising social environment

· Power

· Support network

· Safe to express ideas

· Alone at times

· Journey

· Maturity not confined to gender

· Helping

· Courage – knowing self

· Relevance to my why

· Alignment of my why to others why

· What is the purpose

· Freedom to innovate


· Strength and quality of relationships

· Messy world of connections, networks and influences

· How do I show up in the world?

· How am I as a person

· Context and social situation

· Discovery

· Listening

· Signs and symbols

· Struggle in authenticity

· Hiding

· Spoken and unspoken rules

· Freedom to express without retribution and judgment

· Bring others together

· Awareness of In-group and out-group

· Introduce to new paradigms

· Create space safe to speak

· Being grounded

· Having a voice and giving others a voice

So, there you have it. I think there are many words in this conversation that we don’t hear much in the risk and safety space. We hear far to much about intolerance and absolutes, zero and compliance and many of the people words are missing indeed. Perhaps you might like to get more of these words into your risk and safety conversations at work and watch the culture change.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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