Don’t Make Safety Personal
One of the great silences in the safety non-profession is not just about an ethic of risk but also the Socialitie of risk. (Socialitie is all about the social orientation of human persons. Socialitie and ethics are the i-thou (Buber) of risk).
I remember my first time with a new organization ten years ago, going into a large warehouse complex on the way to their head office. I didn’t know it at the time that this organization was about to throw out many of the safety myths, indoctrination and propaganda they had been burdened with for many years. Neither did they.
I remember walking from the car park to the office and there on the side of the warehouse was a huge poster in which they had just invested thousands of dollars. It was 5 meters high and 50 metres long and it said ‘safety starts with me’ in bold orange and black text.
As I walked into the office I met the Manager for the first time and said, ‘you’ve got the wrong poster’, he said ‘what!’. ‘We just paid thousands for that’. I said, ‘yes, if you want to promote mutual responsibility, community, ownership and accountability it should read ‘safety starts with us’. The poster was taken down that afternoon and this organization has been practicing a SPoR approach to risk ever since.
Individualism is one of the ideologies that plague safety and this silly idea that safety is personal fosters this ideology. Individualism is also coupled to its associates Behaviourism, Positivism and Engineering. Combine all four and you have a diabolical cocktail that enables the brutalism of persons in the name of good, the elevation of objects and data as the task of safety and, a blindness to the most critical issue facing this unprofessional industry – persons.
There can never be professionalism in safety until it moves away from zero, Individualism, Behaviourism (https://safetyrisk.net/kicking-the-behaviourism-habit/ ; https://safetyrisk.net/the-curse-of-behaviourism/ ) and Engineering.
Just have a look at some of this ‘make safety personal’ nonsense floating about:
There’s even an organization that names its identity as ‘making safety personal’: https://makingsafetypersonal.com/making-safety-personal-what-is-it/ which of course is just another brand for behaviourism.
If you do a google search for ‘make safety personal’ you get 10,690,000,000 results.
All of this makes the focus of safety about individuals and creates a blindness to the Socialitie of risk.
Often coupled with this silly message is the unethical nonsense of being ‘passionate about safety’. Some of the best brutalism and unethical conduct I have ever witnessed by Safety has been justified by ‘being passionate’ about safety. You never see slogans from Safety about being ‘wise’, ‘social’ or ‘intelligent’ about safety, just roll up that passion and brutalise whoever you want in the name of good.
Then you get stuff like this: https://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/19199-safety-leadership-demonstrate-your-personal-safety-ethic calling for a ‘personal safety ethic’, that is not about ethics or collective moral responsibility. There can be no ethic of risk unless Socialitie is made central to discourse. Just have a look at the AIHS BoK Chapter on ethics and it’s all about duty to objects.
How often to you see the language in safety of ‘do the right thing’ or ‘ethical responsibility’ undefined but nothing more than a mask for behaviourism and duty to rules. All this language about ‘do the right thing’ is never about being person-centred. It’s always system centered, compliance centered and individually centered. Just have a look at any of these so called ‘incident investigations’, never about corporate ethics and responsibility and always about scapegoating blame onto the individual. The Costa Concordia is a classic example (https://novellus.solutions/ ). Where in the globe is there a safety curriculum that includes Rene Girard’s The Scapegoat? Of course, nowhere.
Often when something goes wrong the safety person is also made the scapegoat (https://safetyrisk.net/scapegoating-and-safety/, https://www.ishn.com/articles/112694-ehs-professionals-often-become-the-scapegoat ). The best way to move away from scapegoating is to reject behaviourism, individualism and engineering methodologies.
When your god is zero, humans will be demonized (https://www.nsc.org/workplace/safety-topics/work-to-zero/summit ). When risk is constructed as the enemy, learning is made the demon.
In SPoR it’s all about balance. It’s always been about the balance of Workspace, Headspace and groupspace (https://vimeo.com/143710374 ). It’s always been about What Works (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/it-works-a-new-approach-to-risk-and-safety/ ). And we know from all the evidence that individualism, behaviourism and bureaucracy don’t work.
It’s not that a personal dimension to risk is not relevant but rather there is simply no balance in the safety industry that is fixated on individualism, love of objects, love of metrics, love of zero and behaviourism.
Until Safety strikes a balance with helping, care ethics and person-centeredness, it can never be professional.