If you want to understand culture then any foundational study of it cannot be undertaken through safety. Safety should not be the conduit for any study in culture. Framing a worldview of anything through a preoccupation with safety toxifies that worldview.
The meaning and purpose in life and culture is not safety, but living and being in community.
When we make safety the adjective for anything, we make that thing conditioned by the adjective. Yes, the safety industry has its own unique culture characterised by engineering, behaviourism, brutalism and zero, and we could call that ‘safety culture’ but, culture cannot be defined by safety.
The word ‘culture’ is most often devalued by an industry consumed with brands and making language meaningless. For example, the site ‘safetyculture’ is a checklist site (https://safetyculture.com/) that has nothing to do with culture. For example, zero never means zero (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/for-the-love-of-zero-free-download/).
This is how we get an understanding of culture as a ‘product’ (Cooper) or a ‘construct’ (Guldenmund). This is how we get Reason’s mythological (https://safetyrisk.net/no-good-reason-to-follow-reason/) characteristics about culture that constrain thinking about culture. If you want to know about culture, the last place to go is Reason.
It is in so much of this indoctrination about culture by Safety, that it creates its own confusions.
Similarly, when culture is only looked at through the lens of organising (AIHS BoK), we get a warped view of culture. Often, using Schein and others, ‘organisational culture’ and ‘culture’ are used interchangeably. Similarly, the chapter only seeks closed views about culture framed by safety eg. researcher views on ‘safety culture is offered only by Hopkins (let’s not talk about safety culture), Hale, Hudson, Zohar and Dekker. What is most striking about all of this is its mono-disciplinarity. If you want to know a characteristic of ‘safety culture’ listen to its silences (https://safetyrisk.net/category/safety-culture-silences/).
Just do a language audit of any discussion by Safety of culture and look for what is excluded. For example, there is never any discussion about religion when Safety talks about culture, even though religion is considered foundational in any discussion about culture in Anthropology.
Of course, this is why Safety is so susceptible to religious discourse in all it speaks. This is how we end up with ‘Salvation Safety’ (https://salvationsafety.com/) and so many examples of Safety using the religious language of salvation (https://www.oshc.org.hk/eng/main/hot/SafetySavesLives/). This ignorance is one of the characteristics of this industry and its culture.
Safety has its own soteriology (religious doctrine) premised on the idea that if you don’t undertake its systems, rituals, rites and myths, people will die. Safety saves indeed! A great mantra to sell a product! Just do a Google image search on ‘Safety Saves’ and see what you find.
Just explore the video ‘The Spirit of Zero’ (https://safetyrisk.net/the-spirit-of-zero/ ) complete with apocalyptic images and religious discourse to see just how religious Safety is. Zero is the god of Safety.
Similarly, you will find nowhere in any discussion by Safety about culture, any reference to: rituals, myths, symbols, semiotics, poetics, rites, initiation, faith, ethic, moral philosophy, personhood, ceremony, gestalt, custom, gesture, aesthetics, wicked problems, linguistics, paralinguistics, mimetics etc. So much of the discussion by Safety about culture comes from the safety worldview (Positivist, Behaviourist and Engineering). No wonder Safety thinks culture is ‘cloudy’, ‘muddy’ and ‘abusive’ (Hopkins).
What is most amusing in Safety is that when it wants to know about culture, it consults itself. Very few commentators in safety ‘on culture’ have any expertise in culture, many are engineers, behaviourists, safety engineers and safety advisors. I saw a classic the other day from a commercial banker arguing about ‘risk culture’ (https://www.slideshare.net/chungarisk/risk-culture-building-a-strategic-approach-to-risk-management), complete with pyramids, icebergs and warped metaphors about nervous systems.
The best way to understand culture is by stepping away from safety to a Transdisciplinary understanding. This means one takes disciplines like Semiotics, Anthropology, Social Psychology, Poetics, Religion etc seriously.
For example, If one explores just for one second the nature of initiations and rites of passage in any culture (including Western culture) one will realise that the last thing Culture is interested in is safety.
Free Module in Culture and Safety
So, for those who are able and willing to suspend their own assumptions and framing in knowing about culture, there are ways of understanding culture that can be learned, outside of the safety paradigm. First, a great deal has to be unlearned (stepping away from engineering and behaviourism) and letting go of the safety paradigm, in order to move forward to a different way of knowing.
The first rule of culture is to make sure you talk about culture; the second rule of culture is to talk about it outside of the safety paradigm.
If this module is of interest and you are seeking an understanding of culture and the culture of safety, Dr Long will be conducting a free Module on Culture and safety in 2023. It’s easy to register for this free program, by just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and you will be put in the list.
The module will run Zoom sessions every Tuesday at 9am (Canberra time) starting on 21 February 2023 and with 90-minute sessions at 9 am and each following Tuesday at 9 am for 5 weeks. So, this means 5 consecutive sessions on the topic of culture and safety. Each session will be 60-90 minutes in duration. The final session will be on 21 March 2023.
Do NOT register for this program simply because it is free. Register if you think you are ready to let go of safety indoctrination and learn. Don’t register if you don’t want your safety worldview challenged.
Those interested can start by reading Dr Long’s blogs on culture and culture silences:
Similarly, it will be helpful to read some of Lotman:
Registrations close 9 January.