All Risk is Subjective

imageThe latest research confirms what SPoR has known for sometime, that all vision is subjective, objective vision is impossible ( ), just as zero is impossible.

Researchers at John Hopkins University found that it’s impossible for people to separate an object’s true identity from their own perspective on it. All life, perception, data and information is interpreted. And this is nothing to be afraid of. Indeed, carrying on the masquerade of objectivity ends up creating fundamental dishonesties about risk, which is unethical. But don’t expect to find anything helpful on ethics in the AIHS BoK on Ethics, if anything it is unhelpful.

It is nonsense to propose that something such as risk is objective. Similarly, there is no objective response to risk, nor a measure of risk that can be standardized as a measure, acceptable to all.

All fallible humans understand the world subjectively. This is why Legislation and Regulation in OHS ascribe terms like ‘Due Diligence’ ( and ‘ALARP’ ( to the way we tackle risk. In the end, it is often the court that becomes the final arbiter and judge of whether a risk has been tackled adequately. Even then, there is often no finding or no conviction because there is insufficient evidence.

When humans see things, the brain identifies them by combining raw visual information received subjectively with ingrained assumptions and knowledge about the world. Our view of the world (worldview) determines our perception of risk. Sorry to inform you, the Risk Matrix that gets paraded everywhere as some kind of risk assessment tool is just another example of Fundamental Attribution Error ( ).

The John Hopkins University experiment was fairly simple: subjects were shown pairs of three-dimensional coins. One was always a true oval, the other was a circle. Subjects had to pick the true oval. It seems that’s where the hard part starts, none of the subjects in the experiment could tell the difference. The lead experimenter commented: ‘Our subjective approach to the world stays with us’.

It doesn’t matter what tool Safety creates to manage risk, it always hides the worldview of its creator. This applies to the 5 Whys, iCam, Root Cause or any of the investigation tools on the market. Similarly the design of a risk assessment tool also hides the assumptions and philosophy of the designer. If the philosophy of the designer is faith in zero, then the outcome of the assessment design must be brutalist.

This is why we need to question the design of the many of the popular tools, models and forms used in Safety, because most of them are unhelpful and many absolutely dangerous.

4. DUE DILIGENCE from Human Dymensions on Vimeo.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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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.

2 Replies to “All Risk is Subjective”

    1. Bernard, the only way to achieve zero is to have a workforce of superhumans. This is why the AIHS BoK has no discussion at all of an Anthropology of Risk or an Ethic of Risk. If one accepts the fallibility of humans as a core capability for learning then there can be never zero and any language of zero must dehumanise humans. This is an industry that has at its foundation that numbers matter not persons, that is what zero creates, which is of course why it can’t act professionally.

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