Controls, Controllers and Controlling in Safety

imageThere is nothing more scary in safety than not having control or at not being able to talk about controls. How strange that the subject of safety that is about risk and all about uncertainty should be so fixated on controls. Of course with control comes power but in safety when you read about controls and telling people what to do, there is never any discussion about power. Awareness about power is the elephant in the room for Safety.

One of the things that tends to attract people to safety is the power of power, the power to control. I find it interesting how many people come into safety from the military. Nothing is more seductive than earning the power to control over others with just a Cert 4 in safety. Telling others what they should and shouldn’t do is the power of this seduction. This is why Safety loves to talk about controls but never talks about associated power. BTW, there is plenty of talk about control in the AIHS BoK but nothing on the nature of power or the politics of power/control. Predictably, there is nothing in the BoK Chapter of Ethics on power either. How bizarre, because an understanding of power and politics is the beginning of developing an ethic. Of course, the AIHS BoK on Ethics all about duty and deontological ethics (https://safetyrisk.net/the-aihs-bok-and-ethics-check-your-gut/) and of course, no assumption of a deontological ethic is declared in the text.

Safety is one of those industries that tend to attract the wrong people. People who love telling, controlling and power tend to find safety seductive. What awesome power when you can be sacked by someone masked through the motive of care and zero. Where else can you get such raw and absolute power?

If one is focused on learning then power and control cannot be your focus. If one if focused on helping (something attached to all professions except safety) then learning is about facilitation, discovery, creativity, innovation, faith, trust and the relinquishing of control. The pathway of learning is not the pathway of power or overpowering others. The least helpful thing in any situation of learning is telling.

One of the best blogs ever written on this site was by Rob Sams 6 years ago (https://safetyrisk.net/are-you-a-safety-crusader-or-a-safety-leader/). Rob is now a GM at Lifeline and enjoying his role in a helping profession outside of safety. Rob often refers to his first degree in safety as a ‘degree in objects’. One of the things that his blog captures so well is the attraction of crusaders to this industry. More than ever this industry doesn’t need any crusaders. Crusaders stifle learning and crusades are all about power. Learning is the way of humility and risk is not about the way knowing but rather helping.


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.

4 Replies to “Controls, Controllers and Controlling in Safety”

  1. Thanks Rob – the crusaders are loving this pandemic and the percieved relevance it has given them. Strutting around in their masks with tape measures and puting giant crosses on the floor. Of course when these loose controls dont work they can just blame the non compliant for not following simple rules

    1. It’s a strange mix during this crisis to see neoliberal conservativism that hates controls exercising so much centralised control over everyone. Similarly in safety, its the most conservative who often wish for the most control.

  2. Accredited safety acolytes relish control via many superficial nostrums but the most tiresome include:

    a) The risk matrix
    b) ICAMs, Taproot or Five Whys
    d) Hierarchy of controls

    No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky – Bob Dylan

    A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it – John Steinbeck

    1. The strange thing is that none of these ‘nostrums’ actually give any control over the management of risk but rather serve as symbols of power and conformity for those who attribute control to them.

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