Dumb Down Safety on Full Show in Fake HSE UK Poster

Nothing surprises me in the world of dumb down safety like a cheap poster of misinformation, disinformation, sexism and condescension. This poster  was passed to me this week doing the rounds on Linkedin. I got off ‘Dumbedin’ years ago. The poster is a mock up of the official HSE UK poster here: https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/lawposter-a3.htm


I am no longer surprised by the lack of discernment and critical thinking in the Dumbedin safety sector. There’s nothing quite like the pooling of ignorance to get the safety industry excited, like hoards stockpiling toilet paper as if a wiped bum is more important than washing hands (https://safetyrisk.net/coronavirus-and-the-dunny-paper-effect/).

The Dunny Paper Effect though humorous, serves as a wonderful symbol for the need for discernment and critical thinking in the safety world. If ever there was need for a subject in the safety curriculum it would be critical theory (https://safetyrisk.net/isnt-it-time-we-reformed-the-whs-curriculum/; https://safetyrisk.net/knowledge-and-curriculum-for-risk-and-safety-people/). The last thing the safety industry needs is more dumb down. The enemy of safety is checklist thinking, compliance and dumb down. Back to the poster later in this blog but first a brief chat about the dumbing down of things.

If you are interested in how we are being dumbed down you might like to read some of the following:

· Carr, N., (2011) The Shallows, What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

· Jackson, B., and Jamieson, K., (2007) un-spin, finding facts, in a world of (disinformation).

· Kakutani, M (2018) The Death of Truth.

· Keen, A (2012) #digitalvertigo, how today’s online social revolution is dividing, diminishing, and disorienting us.

· Keen, A., (2015) The Internet is NOT the Answer.

· Kirkpatrick, D., (2011) The Facebook Effect.

· Nichols, T., (2017) The Death of Expertise.

One of the reasons I wrote Real Risk, Human Discerning and Risk (free download – https://www.humandymensions.com/product/real-risk/) was because of this problem. It is clear that the safety industry is consumed with compliance and zero, and confuses negativity with critical thinking and effective questioning. Any questioning of the sacred cows of safety must be demonized. In the dumb down binary world of zero, any criticism of Safety makes one against safety. For example, see what happens when one questions the AIHS BoK on Ethics (https://safetyrisk.net/the-aihs-bok-and-ethics-check-your-gut/). No discussion of the issues, argument or evidence, just emotive territorial defense of the fortress and irrational disengagement, hardly the act of being professional.

Critical thinking and discernment starts with the questioning of power. In the CLLR Module on The Social Politics of Risk (https://cllr.com.au/product/the-social-politics-of-risk-unit-14/) we use a simple tool (below) to get this process started. Such basic questions should be foundational in any safety discourse. If you would like to study this module contact rob@cllr.com.au


However, thinking critically extends beyond just asking a few political questions. Discernment requires the ability to have some kind of vision for trajectories, an insight into seeing where things might take you. Short term blindness and binary thinking are why most people can’t see the dangers of zero! The engineering worldview and myopia of counting, numerics and metrics have an inevitable trajectory of dehumanizing persons. So let’s return to some critical thinking of the poster in question.

  1. The first thing that is alarming about this poster is that it is branded with Health and Safety (UK) authority. You can find the real one here: https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/lawposter-a3.htm#; https://books.hse.gov.uk/bookstore.asp?FO=1356943&Action=Book&ProductID=9780717663699. But even so, mocking the genuine poster seems the way to go in safety according to the Dumbedin pundits.
  2. From the opening line of the poster comes the mythology of zero risk and naïve assertion that OHS law insists that workplaces cannot be dangerous. Of course this is wrong, that is not what the law says. All places of work are risky and therefore dangerous, there is no workplace where one will not be exposed to risks and hazards, especially psychological harm. The law simply sets out that we must manage those risks not eliminate them. This is the principle of ALARP (https://vimeo.com/162637292).
  3. The next assertion is an admission that safety is a ‘killjoy’. There you go, and followed by childish language (and I quote) such as: ‘mashed up’ and ‘fucked up’. Of course such language and metaphors are completely meaningless.
  4. We then have this half-baked attempt at humour with ‘summink’, a real definition of why no one takes safety seriously. So professional.
  5. By the time you get past the stupid pictures at the top of the poster and the infantile language we get into the simplistic stuff. Only safety could think that simplistic sludge was somehow educative.
  6. Then at point three column one, the poster introduces us to ‘the babe’. Of course, this language introduces low double meanings attached to concept of being ‘fucked up’. I wonder how long this poster would last in a discrimination case? Of course, when your ethic is deontological (https://safetyrisk.net/the-aihs-bok-and-ethics-check-your-gut/) and governed by ‘the gut’ and common sense, then offending and abusing women in HSE is fine because safety overrides anything moral or ethical.
  7. By the time one gets to the bottom of the first column one wonders what 8 year old concocted this one on the back of a toilet wall. Safety will never be taken seriously when the industry thinks this is how one promotes the discipline of safety.
  8. Point 8 is a classic devaluation of death and injury. So when someone dies here, call this number.
  9. It get’s worse by the third column and I quote: ‘Start shouting out loud to someone in command (your boss or that sweet chick with the nice buns who does Health and safety stuff’. Yes, and remember don’t objectify women, bully them or demean them in the workplace! In column four that same ‘babe’ is referred to as ‘that hot bird’.
  10. So I am told, the safety Dumbedin world is ecstatic about this poster, a sure sign of the non-profession on full show.

You don’t have to say much, Safety indicts itself.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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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.

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