Anthropocentric Safety

“the floggings shall continue until morale improves”

It is simply delusional to think or espouse that people can be controlled or enforced into total compliance. A mechanical approach to safety, consumed by zero harm, absolutes and statistics is simply alienating, non-inspiring and de-motivational. If you are either smart enough or experienced enough to agree then you will really enjoy this article by Dr Robert Long. You should also read the whole series: CLICK HERE. I highly recommend you check out Rob’s new book “RISK MAKES SENSE

Anthropocentric Safety

By Dr Rob Long


Human-centred safety is anthropocentric (from anthropos meaning human) safety. This is where we get the study of anthropology, the study of humanity. An anthropocentric approach to safety places the knowledge of humans, their social and psychological circumstances central to safety management.

Anthropocentric safety stands in distinction to safety models which give primacy to systems, engineering, technology (design) and legislation. Anthropocentric safety understands systems, engineering, technology and legislation with humans in mind. Anthropocentric safety as framework for safety is concerned with safety models which de-humanise people in the way they work. The truth of the fact is, if one develops systems or engineering approaches to safety that dehumanize people, humans will reject it.

Anthropocentric safety has its focus on the whole person. Anthropocentric safety doesn’t compartmentalize people as just a mind (cognition), the sum of behaviours (behaviourism) or just a social animal. Anthropocentric safety understands that human complexity must be understood in the management of safety. It rejects the notion of simplistic fixes or dogma in any model of safety management because humans are complex organisms not simple machines.

Anthropocentric safety understands that humans operate on many levels and that an understanding of the conscious and unconscious is critical in safety systems and engineering design. No system, legislation, technology or engineering will succeed if the purpose is make the ‘human fit the task’ rather than ‘the task to fit the human’. The is the fundamental of the psychology of ergonomics (Kroemer and Grandjean, 1997)

Non-anthropocentric models of human understanding tend to be overly mechanistic and alienating to human cooperation. In the end humans don’t like being treated like machines and it doesn’t take long before they ‘vote with their feet’.

Similarly, systems that are dogmatic, fundamentalist, rigid and anti-learning are also rejected, as people naturally yearn for meaning and purpose in what they do. It is simply delusional to think or espouse that people can be controlled or enforced into total compliance. It has been shown that the assertions of ‘broken window theory’ just don’t work in reality. Indeed, parents learn when their child turns into a teenager, how much a nightmare it is when someone works against you, and delight when someone choses to work with you.

When we were kids in the 1960s it was common place to cop a ‘thrashing’. In the days of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ it was nothing to cop many welts with a shaving belt, electric chord, leather strap or be punched into submission. I remember a teacher (Miss Hume) in grade 4, when I was 8 years of age having my pants pulled down and being constantly welted for several minutes in a rage and frenzy of anger, for what? talking.

Whilst the backs of our legs, hands and faces wore the marks of this philosophy it only changed behavior temporarily. We soon learned how to subvert the teacher. Driven by resentment we became more clandestine in rebellion, smarter in insolence and deceptive in communication. The overt culture of compliance simply masked the subcultures of defiance. The surface product looked like obedience but the practices of thrashings drove by-products which were hidden and dangerous. People who dished out thrashings in rage and delight masked as an act of authority, lost respect and fueled resentment.

Fast forward 42 years and I was developing a school (Galilee) for high risk young people. Here were a group of young people who had learned abuse by being abused, they had learned to be out of control by a system that has failed them. They demonstrated at every point of their lives that they yearned for relationships, were creative, wise, innovative, imaginative and capable of learning. Yet, the system they were trapped in, generated the use of these skills in the direction of crime and survival. Any approach of irrational enforcement with them failed, any attempt to rule over them failed. You either worked with them in respect as people or whatever you attempted would fail. No threat of anger, violence, punishment or confinement bothered them. When you come from a world of absolute abuse, you become hyper-sensitised to fundamentalist authority and its disrespect for others.

The system of education, discipline and relationships I set up in Galilee was anthropocentric, that’s why it worked.

One doesn’t humanize a practice by taking people out of the picture, the myth of ‘engineer out the idiot’ is an insulting nonsense. We either adopt humanizing processes in safety or find a bunch of robots to do your work for you. Culture is about humans and our systems should not undermine the culture. A mechanical approach to safety, consumed by absolutes and statistics is simply alienating, non-inspiring and demotivational.

If we desire ownership in safety, then develop systems that humanize and respect workers. If we want leadership in safety, then develop a work climate of inclusion and mutual exchange. If we want relationships, wisdom, creativity, learning and wisdom to dominate our safety culture, then forget about setting up a police state of enforcing absolutes. Absolute discourse in any culture is absolutely alienating to humans. Safety must be anthropocentric.


Kroemer, K.H.E., and Grandjean, E., (1997) Fitting the Task to the Human Taylor and Francis, London.

Wagner, P., (2010) Safety: A Wicked Problem – Leading CEOs Discuss Their Views on OHS Transformation. Safety Institute of Australia. Melbourne.


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.

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