HAZARDMAN Won’t Save You

Hazard Man Won’t Save You

hazardmanArticle by Dr Rob Long about a new comic based safety campaign about to be launched in Schools. The reaction from my two teenage boys: “Huh? – that’s just stupid!” and “Geez, Nooo!”

Watch the video below and you will see what I mean!


It is amazing that the Regulator can impose this indoctrination campaign on the school system and now we learn that Safe Work Australia is going to roll it out throughout Australia. Fantastic, what a wonderful way to prepare our children and inoculate them against the realities of risk. I wish I had the help of SensmakingWoman.

It seems in the safety world that desperation, shallow and simplistic thinking is becoming increasingly attractive. As long as ‘safety noise’ can be thrust into the atmosphere it can be attributed as effective and successful, this has certainly been the case with the Dumb Ways to Die Campaign (DWTD). Despite the unethical foundation and demonstrable lack of impact (see Dumb Ways top Measure Effectiveness) DWTD continues to be lauded as great safety strategy simply because of volume in exposure. Now we have a new campaign to rival the nonsense of Dumb Ways to Die, proudly supported by the ACT Regulator. One can ignore the ethics (see The Ethics of Safety) of safety, ignore contradictions, ignore research in education and learning, ignore consultation, just as long as ‘safety noise’ is ‘out there’, we deem something to be good. This is the case with the nonsense Hazardman program launched on 31 October 2013 (See Canberra Times Article).

As stated by Impact Comics co-owner Mal Briggs, ‘whether or not the project itself was well-received, it would likely be memorable – which would make it a success either way’, what absolute unethical nonsense.

So if ‘noise’ equates to success then 23 year old Miley Sirus nude on a wrecking ball (with all its associations for building and construction) must be the most successful promotion to date with over 200 million hits on Youtube in 3 months. What an amazing methodology to pre-judge success. So, don’t worry if something is unethical and entrenches gender stereotypes, don’t worry that it only attributes safety success to super human effort, don’t worry that risk is portrayed as intentional evil, or that complacency is entirely skewed, no just make some ‘safety noise’ and send it into schools. This must qualify as one of the worst indoctrination campaigns in schools I have ever seen in the last 40 years.

Now, I need to make clear that this criticism against Hazardman is not based on some bizarre ill-informed opinion. With many years of experience and research in education and schools, founding a school for high risk young people, Manager in Government of Youth Affairs, Chair of the National Youth Affairs Research Scheme, working in Youth Detention, years as a high school teacher and lecturer for years in the philosophy of education and curriculum, this criticism is based on e what works in the education and learning of young people. As every teacher knows, it is the ‘hidden curriculum’ that is most powerful. Countless experts in education and learning all demonstrate that the overt curriculum often masks the real ‘hidden’ lessons learned by young people. There is no evidence in the Hazardman campaign that any thought to the ‘hidden curriculum’ has been considered in its design. Since when did the Regulator and advertising companies become expert in education and learning methodology? Holy NAPLAN, why don’t we bring in more standardized testing and fall further behind the rest of the world.

Like Dumb Ways to Die, no matter what well meaning intention, unless the safety community gets a bit more savvy about how framing and priming of messages really ‘sinks in’, or how the ‘hidden curriculum’ really influences children, we will continue to confuse data as learning. It is naïve in the extreme to think that ‘safety noise’ educates. Unless the safety world develops some insight into the trajectory of naïve ideas, it will continue to exert little influence on the real development of risk intelligence in the lives of young people and the workforce.

Let’s look at some of the fundamental messages of the Hazardman campaign.

1. The foundation of the Hazardman campaign misunderstands the psychology of complacency and the function of automaticity and heuristics. The reality is that people create heuristics, mental short-cuts and micro-rules to make living easier, not because they are ‘evil’. Humans create heuristics so they can do many things in ‘automatic’. Most often it is not intentional that people make mistakes or commit errors, most often it is because of social psychological context and heuristics. Perhaps the Regulator could spend more time cutting back the excessive demands for needless bureaucracy (that drives the need for heuristics) and this would be of far greater value than some overt lecture to children about the nature of adult work.

2. The main lesson we learn from Hazardman is that safety is not something everyone does, safety is really only possible when some superhero is about. Interestingly, Hazardman’s alter-ego is the ineffective Regulator. As a narrator he looks like a dork.

The hidden message of Hazardman is that the average person lacks insight and perception about safety, only Hazardman or superhuman effort can save the day. Oh well, that leaves most of us out, except those who believe in hindsight that ‘all accidents are preventable’. BTW, hindsight bias is a heuristic.

3. The nature of stereotyping in Hazardman is absolutely disastrous. Plous and colleagues (Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination 2003) show that stereotyping is the foundation for non-thinking. As one reads through the characterisations of Hazardman children will be lead to believe that risk and safety is black and white, simple and masculine. I can’t wait till the Australian Education Union ACT branch (AEU ACT) gets a look at Hazardman or some feminists in education have a look at it, this stuff is stereotype fodder.

4. The whole Hazardman focus is on hazards as if objects are the focus of safety. The reality is children need to learn that safety is not about objects but about how people make decisions about objects, and why judgments in risk are made. Hazardman just perpetuates the delusion of safety engineering that safety is about ‘things’ not people. In a counterintuitive way, children will learn through this campaign that this is not about them or their world. This leaves them well inoculated against safety when they finally hit the workforce.

5. The idea that hazards are ‘evil’ and intentionally created by an intelligent psychopath, totally distorts the real nature of risk and the ordinary things ordinary people can do to work safely. It is only through the intervention of the ‘hero’ that poor weak Betty can be rescued, the feminists will especially like that episode.

6. There is nothing in the Hazardman campaign that seeks to help children understand their own judgments about risk, no attempt to help children think about the nature of risk taking. The Regulator would be much better focusing on children playing with fire, the attraction of fire, motivation to enjoy the power of fire, the risk trade offs playing with petrol or similar issues and we might have less bushfires. What children will learn in this campaign is that slips, trips and lifting are more important. I would have thought that fire-lighting coming into summer might be a higher priority in safety than slipping on some water. Holy Hazardman, close all the pools this summer, kids might run around and have some fun. No, wrap up all those power-cords Hazardman, much more dangerous than a box of matches.

In many ways this campaign works directly against the very thing teachers try to do in their classes, in helping children learn and apply thinking in risk decision making. This campaign will simply help perpetuate the nonsense idea that risk doesn’t make sense. All we need next is a UK flying squad, to arbitrate on everyday risks like playing football and blowing candles on cakes.

I have had many discussions with safety people since the launch of Hazardman and most are dumbfounded and cringe, particularly the implications of what this campaign says about safety people and their work.

The idea that the methodology and genre of comics, as educationally effective in health and safety, has been tried before. The Streetwize comic campaign existed from 1984-2007 (See Powerhouse Collection) without any demonstrable difference in change to youth culture and risk taking. The Regulator would be much better doing some study on the nature of adolescent development before putting out such disconnected stuff as Hazardman. There is no anchor point in this campaign to the real risks children and youth face in their lives and so, no connection between the agenda of Hazardman and the way young people think about risk. The idea that children and young people would read factsheets about adult work shows that the Regulator’s mindset remains fixed on information as education.

It is amazing that the Regulator can impose this indoctrination campaign on the school system and now we learn that Safe Work Australia is going to roll it out throughout Australia. Fantastic, what a wonderful way to prepare our children and inoculate them against the realities of risk. I wish I had the help of SensmakingWoman.

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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