But you Promised?
When you don’t know what to do about safety chose a dumb down binary discourse. Here is the latest from Safework NSW http://www.safetystartswithyou.nsw.gov.au/safety-promise
There’s nothing more reliable for dumb down than the core principle: ‘It didn’t work last time so, lets do it again’.
Beller (Beller, S. (2002). Conditional promises and threats – Cognition and emotion) demonstrates that promises and threats are speech acts (semiotics) that operate on the unconscious. Promises create a conditionality for thinking, decision making and behavior. A promise is a social psychological contract and when recorded in writing poses significant problems for the future, especially depending on who one makes that promise to. A reading of Gordley (2004, The Enforceability of Promises in European Contract Law) shows that promises create enforceable undertakings.
So with a promise, people seek a commitment to something and with all the best intentions in the world makes that promise. Where does this put you when you make a mistake or when something goes wrong? How will your promise be interpreted then? But you made a promise, in writing?
What is the social psychology of a promise? What do we think of politicians as a result of them making promises? Remember Howard, ‘no GST under my government’ or Gillard, ‘no carbon tax under my government’ and Hawke, ‘ no child in poverty’. When a promise is broken, no matter how small it may seem to you it can damage a relationship or perceptions of your integrity. Think about it — when someone else breaks a promise to you, or gets caught in a lie, doesn’t that make you feel violated or cheated? You can’t help wondering whether you were wrong to ever trust that person.
Your Word is Your Bond
Keeping promises is considered a measure of one’s worth, we value being ‘as good as our word’. Yet each of us struggles to keep even the smallest of promises, often feeling like failures when we’ve been unable to do so. There is nothing quite like fallibility, chance, uncertainty and mortality to spoil the best of intentions and promises.
The idea of ‘safety promise’ was first brought in, failed and dumped by Du Pont 20 years ago. It’s now just long enough for people to forget about its ineffectiveness and put it on the carousel once again. Unfortunately the longitudinal trajectory of such a strategy is an erosion of trust and increased dumb down for an industry already bombarded with Hazardman, Dumb Ways to Die, Zero Harm, Bloody Idiot campaigns, safety is a choice you make and, a host of campaigns essential to non-critical thinking.
Trust is built through a series of experiences shared with others (https://www.kent.ac.uk/scarr/events/Mollering.pdf ). When behaviour is consistent, faith in the relationship develops. When promises are broken or people seem misled, the bonds of trust are breached.
What happens then with the recording of safety incidents, LTIs or TRIFR data? Is each record a testimony of your non-commitment to safety? Is each a record of your broken promise?
Broken promises imply that the offenders either didn’t think before making the promises, need to be punished for going back on a promise or don’t care that they’ve let you down. So, be careful about the promises that you make and with whom you make them.
The Promises You Break
So let’s finally look at the language of this Worksafe campaign. Observe the framing and priming. Safety doesn’t start with ‘us’, it starts with ‘you’. So typical of regulator language, always a projection onto others. And don’t forget to get your ‘safe app’ to help you ‘comply’. Have a good hard look at your self, the problem can’t be on our side of the mirror. Apparently ‘making a safety promise helps achieve a healthier and safer workplace’. (Funny, it didn’t work for DuPont when they tried it).
Who in their right mind is going to make a promise to the organization that might later show up to prosecute you? Look at the last campaign of ‘we will catch you out’, or the language of having a ‘blitz’. Here is the real intent. I can just see this promise document coming out in a court of law to demonstrate the contradiction in what you said you would do and what you really did? Of course this is how your paperwork is used against you in court anyway, as Greg Smith says: Your paperwork is sometimes your biggest legal liability. Some organisations are simply building a database to demonstrate a lack of due diligence’. https://vimeo.com/162034157 Is this where your safety promise will end up? Will your failed promise and projected guilt be attributed as evidence of lack of commitment to safety?
The best place to start with safety is with language of social inclusion. The reality it is never ‘safety starts with you’ but always ‘safety starts with us’. Unless we understand a Social Psychology of Risk it will just be wave after wave of more guilt, more promises, more binary zero, more projection and nothing will change.