Culture, Toxicity and Safety
There are several reasons why Safety in its current state will never deal effectively with mental health:
· The mis-definition of culture and,
· The brutalism of zero
The only way to drive for zero is to:
· Suppress reporting (learning)
· Focus on petty risk
· Blame and punish minor offences
· Sing the song ‘all accidents are preventable’
· Chant the mantra ‘Safety is a choice you make’ and,
· Attribute meaning to injury rates
The safety definition of culture as ‘what we do around here’ drives the most profound ignorance of what really happens in the collective unconscious. Unless semiotics is taken seriously in a definition of culture than anyone wishing to tackle toxic culture is likely to be looking in the wrong place and take actions that will be ineffective (https://safetyrisk.net/the-visible-and-invisible-in-risk-and-culture/; https://safetyrisk.net/culture-is-not-what-we-do-around-here/ ). When culture is made behaviours then all of the vital indicators of culture are relegated to irrelevance. In this way Safety can:
· Use language as if it has no meaning or trajectory
· Portray violent metaphors, symbols and semiotics as good
· Talk of professionalism as if ethics are not foundational
· Maintain myths of militarism
· Policing safety systems
· Disregard violence and power in the enactment of safety
· Gloss over worldviews/ideology as if of no importance
· Bully persons as a pathway to zero
All of these factors combine to create toxic cultures and sub-cultures in organisations. Whenever we undertake an SPoR Language Audit or on-site observation, the evidence for these factors is overwhelming. The result of course is increased anxiety and depression in the workplace and this is anchored back by Safety onto the worker as if the culture of the organisation has no connection to ideology/worldview. Such is the grand delusion of zero.
What a strange thing that the ideology of zero creates the harm it so often professes to care about.
Toxic Culture Exacerbates Depression at Work by 200%
A year-long Australian population study has found that full time workers employed by organisations that fail to prioritise their employees’ mental health have a threefold increased risk of being diagnosed with depression. This is demonstrated by The University of South Australia study, published in the British Medical Journal today, led by UniSA’s Psychosocial Safety Climate Observatory, the world’s first research platform exploring workplace psychological health and safety.
Psychosocial safety climate (PSC) is the term used to describe management practices, communication, non-leadership and systems that protect workers’ mental health and safety. High levels of burnout and workplace bullying are also linked to corporations’ failure to support workers’ mental health. The Report also found that low PSC is a predictor of bullying, brutalism and emotional exhaustion. The key to effective communication is of course listening, and the promotion of a safety culture of ‘telling’ pervades the sector. The crazy thing is that whilst the International Labour Organization (ILO) call for a human-centred approach in the Commission on the Future of Work, they see no connection to the toxification of workplaces through zero, their darling of safety delusion. Any viewing of the Spirit of Zero (https://safetyrisk.net/the-spirit-of-zero/) will give you ample measure of just how delusional zero is.
How to Create a Healthy Culture for Safety
You will no doubt see course paraded about safety about ethics, culture and professionalism. None of these countenance for one second the criticality of a semiotic understanding of culture. Unless Safety engages in a Transdisciplinary approach (https://safetyrisk.net/transdisciplinary-thinking-in-risk-and-safety/) to culture it is likely that what you are attending is a behaviorist rant on safety systems. So, what can you do?
- The first cab of the rank is to ditch the mechanistic, behavioristic paradigm that dominates a safety understanding of culture. How strange what Safety proclaims about addressing culture when it looks in the wrong place for outcomes.
- The second thing is to step outside of safety genre, AIHS BoK and literature for knowing about culture. The AIHS BoK chapter on Culture is NOT a good guide to thinking about culture. There are simply so many holes and gaps, it is of little value. Similarly, for understanding Ethics. The BoK Chapter on Ethics is a great guide on what NOT to do.
- Start reading externally to safety for knowing about culture. Perhaps start with Lotman, (2013) The Unpredictable Workings of Culture or anything by Gregory or Mary Bateson eg. Steps to an Ecology of Mind (https://monoskop.org/images/6/65/Bateson_Gregory_Steps_to_an_Ecology_of_Mind_1987.pdf). You won’t find these kinds of texts in the AIHS BoK or WHS Curriculum. Or, perhaps just start with something on the nature of Transdisciplinarity (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238606943_The_Nature_of_Transdisciplinary_Research_and_Practice).
- Start exploring some of the great stuff in cultural theory and cultural studies (https://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/4151/1/Cultural_Theory_Intro_etc.pdf; https://monoskop.org/log/?p=14627)
- Start by looking into the many aspects of culture neglected by safety (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-and-risk-culture-cloud/) and consider using observational/semiotic tools for understanding culture. The SPoR iCue Audit is a very helpful tool for opening up holistic understandings of culture. This vital tool is one of the outcomes of the CLLR (https://cllr.com.au/register-to-study/) module on Culture leadership (https://cllr.com.au/product/culture-leadership-program-unit-15/).
- Start to explore the Collective Unconscious (https://safetyrisk.net/learning-wisdom-from-the-collective-unconscious/) and think much more about culture as an ‘invisible force’ that has a life of its own. It also helps top personify the language of culture and think more about Archetypes at work in your organization.
- Start by looking at: artefacts, myths, linguistics and Poetics in your organization as critical indicators of culture. In many ways, these are the starting point for addressing issues of toxicity in culture.
- Of course, the most important thing is to reject the discourse and semiology of zero, injury counting and binary propaganda of zero. These are the primary source of brutalism in organisations.
So, there you are plenty to do that is constructive, positive and effective. If you want to read a case study of how SPoR ‘works’ in an organization in reforming culture you can look here: https://www.humandymensions.com/product/it-works-a-new-approach-to-risk-and-safety/ There will be no ‘help’ coming from Safety for mental health unless Safety starts tackling how it defines culture and how zero toxifies organisations. The 50 years history of DuPont is evidence of exactly what Zero does to organisations (https://safetyrisk.net/dark-waters-the-true-story-of-dupont-and-zero/).