And the Dirty Word is – Fallibility!

And the Dirty Word is – Fallibility!

Zero Harm Every time I drive past one of these signs I just wonder what kind of mental gymnastics people (usually GMs and CEOs) have to tolerate when they tackle the realities of morality and fallibility. The psychosis of denial is mind blowing. Here we have a sign and related discourse (ideology) that sets a stark contradiction, an absurdity. The ideology of the symbol and language sets a target for perfection and then the rest of the sign records the number of times that perfection is not achieved. No wonder people think that safety is nonsense, no wonder people think that Safety is dumb. Only Safety could think of such silly language and then count the number of times they don’t achieve perfection and then parade their absurdity on open show!

Signs like the one pictured demonstrate that Safety simply has no capability or intelligence in managing the realities of the real world and living with the challenges of mortality, finiutude and fallibility.

When we see signs like this, just loaded with absurd contradictions, we know that Safety doesn’t understand the realities of fallibility, the finite, limitation and mortality. So what does the sign attempt to say? The organization has been safe for 82 days? But it wasn’t safe prior to that? … and does any of this mean it will be safe tomorrow or has a culture of safety? Of course not! If anything, such counting creates hubris and this in itself is most dangerous.

… and because Safety uses such nonsense language, it constantly looks dumb and is certainly not professional. One simply doesn’t need the language of zero, targets or measureables to construct a culture of safety. Indeed, the language and symbol of zero (and related metrics) not only set up a contradiction and absurdity but actually make the workplace less safe. The symbol and language of zero sets a culture of denial, scepticism and under reporting, as well as a culture that believes that injuries numbers represent safety. All this denial does is, create anger. All the associated skepticism does is create denial and negativity, the key ingredients for cultural toxicity. What a cycle to be trapped in, this is the unsafety cycle.

However, there are much bigger issues here at a deeper level. Such symbols show that Safety has no idea what to do with the realities of fallibility, finiteness, learning and mortality. There is nowhere in the safety literature globally where a book has been written on fallibility except For the Love of Zero, Human Fallibility and Risk ( ). If you do a search on Google for safety+zero up pops 172,000,000 results, there are pages and pages full of all this absurdity. If you search for safety+fallibility there are only a few results, the first being the book For the Love of Zero. Safety simply doesn’t talk about fallibility, finitude or mortality, neither does it know how to talk about it. No wonder ‘fallibility’ is that dirty word Safety never speaks.

At an even deeper level, not only does safety not speak about fallibility but Safety doesn’t know what to do with harm, suffering, pain and mortality, it has no philosophy about it. Instead, Safety prefers to talk about immortality, infinity and infallibility??? Safety has nothing in its philosophy of being that makes sense of human mortality and fallibility. This is nothing short of a ‘god complex’ ( or a ‘grandiose delusion’ ( ), both mental health disorders, bipolar disorders that demonstrate organizational schizophrenia. Poor old Safety ‘Working towards perfection’ ( and unable to cope with suffering. Poor old Safety, talking nonsense and then expecting people to make sense of risk??? Poor old Safety speaking ‘double speak’ then expecting people to become risk intelligent??? ( )

No where in the WHS curriculum ( ) is there any philosophical approach that helps people being trained in safety to understanding how to deal with the realities of fallibility and mortality. Philosophical texts like Fallible Man by Paul Ricoeur (mentor to the new President of France) are never going to be on the text list for the WHS curriculum. It’s not likely that any WHS curriculum has Human Fallibility,The Ambiguity of Errors for Work and Learning by Bauer and Harteis on their reading list. It’s very unlikely that Safety will read Paul Tournier The Whole Person in a Broken World or Creative Suffering. No, lets keep to pyramids, curves, matrices and zero, the manifestations of bipolar psychosis ( ). For Safety, ‘mortality’ is the great taboo! For Safety, ‘fallibility’ must not be spoken. The first subject on the Safety curriculum is called ‘Head in the Sand 101’.

Of course Evolution accepts the reality of pain, suffering and death. Evolution knows that the real world is a world of entropy and randomness. Anyone with knowledge in biology knows that growth and living are painful, from the pains of birth to the pain of death, Biology knows that all growth and learning is painful. Anyone in physical pursuits knows that humans are limited, it’s why we keep sports records, to measure the limits of fallibility. It is from those limits and mistakes, trial and error that humans learn. Not Safety. Safety keeps measures to prove infallibility??? Poor old Safety, where ‘all accidents are preventable’. Poor old Safety, where ‘safety is a choice you make’.

Back in the real world where ‘fallibility’ is not a swear word, where the psychosis of denial is not in play, we accept that mortal humans inhabit the real world and that imperfection is essential for learning. Back in this world where reality is embraced, we learn to tackle suffering and know that denial of suffering leads to narcissism. We know that blaming and projection are toxic for relationships and that ‘there but for the grace of god, go i’. So, heaven help you if you make a mistake or have an accident, Safety is about to punish you for being fallible and mortal.

Fallibility is the great leveler. This is why when we get sick we quickly learn that infallibility is a delusion. We learn we are not in control, we learn that we all fall short, that disease can visit us randomly, just as it can anyone else. In this real world, we learn that humans make mistakes and wish to keep those mistakes small. In such an ontology of fallibilty, we learn to empathise and care because we know we are all fallible. Such a worldview enhances relationships and builds trust. When we talk perfection, there is no empathy, only brutalism.

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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