One of the great challenges to an industry full of absolutes (zero), controls and compliance is the need for riskability, adaptability, creativity and learning. The ability to adapt engages the willingness to risk and without risk there can be no learning. Weick called this the need for ‘bricolage’.
Compliance with rules doesn’t keep one safe indeed, in times of turbulence, crisis and uncertainty those who survive best are those who can imagine, create and adapt. Unfortunately, the more the safety industry evolves in a fear-centred mindset, enacted by the constant psychosis of zero, the less it will be able to adapt, learn and be safe. This is the by-product of what Amalberti calls ‘hyper-safety’. The more the safety industry becomes preoccupied with itself (observe how everything is being called ‘safety’ this and ‘safety’ that), the more insular it gets in its body of knowledge (demonstrated by the AIHS BoK) and the less transdisciplinary it gets. The more closed Safety gets in itself, the more it will become less able to adapt. In the end it will make itself irrelevant and become the last port of call to tackling the unexpected . This is the seduction of a thirst for certainty.
One of the core essentials for anyone in the safety industry is the ability to think critically. How strange that critical thinking is in no WHS curriculum! With 85% of the WHS curriculum and AIHS BoK focused on safety mechanics, legislation, closed systems, codes of practice, standards and regulation, there is little chance of churning out much critical thinking in the sector. Indeed, any thinking ‘outside the box’ or dissent is demonized as being ‘anti-safety’. Such binary thinking is symptomatic that safety has become so entrapped in its own psychosis of zero that it has no idea of how to escape. One can’t escape the entrapment of fundamentalism through more binary thinking.
One of the reasons why the safety industry is so overloaded with systems, paperwork and checklists is that these provide the delusion that one is managing safety. Indeed, all this does is make one Papersafe (https://www.amazon.com.au/Paper-Safe-triumph-bureaucracy-management-ebook/dp/B07HVRZY8C).
One of the reasons for the current problem with hoarding in the Covid-19 crisis is that people feel secure the more ‘things’ they accumulate (http://theconversation.com/economic-gloom-makes-humans-stockpile-food-like-animals-hoarding-for-winter-34392 ). This provides the delusion of control. This is no different in the safety industry. The more the safety industry projects zero and its associate fear of injury and risk, the more it will hoard bureaucratic paperwork in the delusion that paperwork keeps one safe. And if I can keep you busy doing paperwork, you won’t have to worry about if any of it is effective, when most of it is not (https://vimeo.com/162034157).
How fascinating that so many organisations know they have excessive paperwork but don’t know how to cut back, they have been indoctrinated by the safety industry over the last 20 years that all this gobbledygook like matrices, forms and bowties are keeping them safe. The problem now is not so much the paperwork but rather the mindset of fear of risk that no longer knows how to get rid of all the junk they have been hoarding!
I was with an organization this week who were convinced they were doing great investigations using iCAM and 5 Whys and when I demonstrated clearly how inadequate these were (https://safetyrisk.net/the-seek-investigations-donut/; https://safetyrisk.net/theres-a-hole-in-your-investigation/ ) they were shocked. Many of the things being done in safety are more about indoctrination than education. Many of the processes Safety has burdened itself with over the last 10 years are ineffective in tackling risk but they create the ‘feeling’ of safety.
Recent responses to the spike of fatalities in mining in Queensland (http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2020/3/17/new-safety-body-lines-up-for-mine-workers?fbclid=IwAR3ZwhEK9PIgY7-HN5RNQuw2jWvsqlXtpCkXLHe-6VOl_4AiBhLIumnMrqE) show that the industry no longer knows what to do. I know lets just put more ‘cops on the beat’ rather than change the mindset of the cops but this time let’s call them ‘champions’. Let’s have more ‘resets’ that don’t work. This way the underlying problem of culture remains untouched, because Safety still thinks culture is ‘what we do around here’.
Ten years ago I was involved in an inquiry into a spike in deaths in the ACT Building and Construction Industry (https://www.accesscanberra.act.gov.au/app/answers/detail/a_id/3048/~/getting-home-safely-report). The Report recommended that something be done to address deep underlying cultural problems in the industry. Solution? 20 new inspectors were put on the beat. Result? No change and a new spike in deaths has just occurred. The same is set for Queensland Mining by its recent announcement and so more of the same till the next cycle and spike.
Unfortunately, most hoarders don’t know they are hoarders (https://www.racgp.org.au/afp/200804/200804jeffreys.pdf ), that’s the nature of the psychosis (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/262532075_Hoarding_Disorder). Unfortunately, Safety has become an industry of paper-based hoarding.
I often talk to organisations about ‘verbal systems’ and ‘visual systems’ that don’t require bureaucracy which is the start in offloading needless paper-based systems. However, this can’t be undertaken if you have become deluded by the mythologies of measurement (https://safetyrisk.net/the-seduction-of-measurement-in-risk-and-safety/) and the psychosis of zero. In times of uncertainty, the last thing that helps is more hoarding of paperwork.
One of my global clients has taken a bold move. They have dumped zero, embraced an SPoR approach to risk, saved millions of dollars and can now demonstrate improvement by their reductions in paperwork. You can see a discussion about this here: https://vimeo.com/390609359