An Ethic of Harm

imageThe dominant ideology of the safety industry is the ideology of zero ( This global ideology is founded on the binary mindset that believes there can be no other acceptable goal, objective, target or idea.

This ideology is the Ethic (methodology) that drives Safety and all that follows (method or system). Any suggestion that harm is inevitable, expected or acceptable is anathema to this binary ideology that deems by its own logic, that the only moral choice for the industry is zero. Any suggestion that harm is good, helpful or beneficial is also considered unethical by this binary ideology.

All binary ethics are by nature deontological. A binary Ethic is black and white, right or wrong and good or bad. Safety by zero understands its moral obligation (duty) in binary terms against what it cannot be. It cannot acknowledge any value in harm because it is an ideology founded on the idea that any injury is wrong, evil, bad or sinful. It is because of this deontological Ethic that the safety industry has no choice but to police, blame and demonise anything or one who is responsible for harm or injury. Such is the entrapment of a deontological Ethic. Under this Ethic one believes in the delusions of objectivity as is advocated by the AIHS BoK Chapter on Ethics. In this way it’s masculinist and utilitarian discourse can be satisfied and all deviance brought to justice. The trouble is, there are other valid views (disciplines) that understand harm from a different Ethic.

In the field of Education and Learning, harm and injury are accepted as a reality of being human. All teachers know that failure, harm and injury are part of trial and error learning and are part of the existential reality of growth, maturation and development. To suggest to a teacher that there should be zero failure, zero harm and zero tolerance is simply laughable. The notion of learning as fundamental to being human is premised on harm and injury. To suggest that children in their development should be perfect is considered unethical.

In the Disciplines of Theology and Religion the suggestion that humans are infallible is laughable. Both Religion and Theology are premised on the acceptability of harm and injury indeed, suffering is often regarded as the necessary test of theology and faith. In the wisdom literature we know that an Ethic of Harm is also validated by god as the essence of fallibility. In such an Ethic the denial of fallibility is deemed unethical.

Imagine suggesting to anyone in Medicine that harm and injury were ‘wrong’? Imagine suggesting that if a doctor caused harm or injury they were being unsafe and unethical? This is how stupid zero ideology looks. The whole Discipline of Medicine is premised on the acceptance of harm indeed, the principle of hormesis assumes that good comes from harm. To suggest to a doctor that harm is unethical would be laughable.

In the discipline of Sports any suggestion that harm and injury were wrong would be laughable. Sports Science accepts the key principle of homesis, that good comes from harm and that muscles strengthen from stress. The marathon athlete and gold medallists tell of how pain is normal. Any suggestion that harm and injury were unethical is a joke!

All disciplines that are professional are premised on care and service because they accept an Ethic of Harm. In all professions the acceptance of harm and injury is an essential virtue in serving others. No profession can serve others on the basis of an ideology of zero, intolerance or perfectionism.

The ideology of zero can only ever be unethical. Nothing can ever be either ethical or professional if founded on a binary deontological Ethic that denies the reality of fallibility and the necessity of harm. As long as Safety remains wedded to the binary discourse of zero it will never develop an Ethic of Risk.

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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