Originally posted on April 5, 2022 @ 9:32 AM
How to Know if Safety ‘Works’
By what criteria do you know if safety ‘works’? Injury rates? Number of safety activities undertaken? Number of positive safety actions taken? How much safety paperwork is in place? Of course not, none of these ‘measures’ tells you if safety ‘works’. Indeed, there is no quantitative data to tell you if safety ‘works’. It doesn’t matter what data you collect around the ways your organization is tackling risk, your proposed judgement that it ‘works’ is an attribution. No data can tell you if safety ‘works’.
The state of being and feeling safe relies on a qualitative subjective way of knowing. There is no scientific or engineering measurement for feeling or being safe. All risk relies on perception and all perception is subjective. Slovic (2010) demonstrated this effectively in his book The Feeling of Risk.
All preoccupation by Safety on numerics and metrics is all attributed, none of this data is objective evidence of safety. The pursuit of measures for safety is the same as the delusional pursuit to demonstrate ‘performance’ (https://safetyrisk.net/programming-for-safety-the-performance-myth/). For example, if I have a strategy of tackling risk at work that involves extensive conversations with people, facilitating verbal risk conversations and extensive time listening, am I wasting time? If I do all this and have no record of my time spent doing this, is this interpreted as poor performance? Such are the delusions of an industry that thinks paperwork demonstrates safety.
We know from historical records that the white settlers of Australia saw Indigenous people as non-human. Australia was declared ‘terra nullius’ (nobody’s land) and remained the legal principle on which British colonisation rested until 1992, when the High Court brought down its finding in the Mabo vs Queensland (No. 2) case. When white settlers saw Indigenous people they interpreted them as being ‘primitive’ because they didn’t meet their expected criteria for productive assessment. By white attribution, Indigenous people did nothing, wasted time and failed on ‘performance’. Such is the subjectivity of how all performance is attributed. When one deems performance by use of time, quantitative outcome and productivity no one seems to question the subjectivity of the criteria.
When one enters the discipline of Education, Teaching and Learning, one learns that there are many forms and methods of assessment (https://www.prodigygame.com/main-en/blog/types-of-assessment/ ) just as there are many theories of learning (https://www.teachthought.com/learning/learning-theories-teachers/ ). Presenting the idea that learning is objective and singular, demonstrates pure ignorance. BTW, there is no such thing as an objective learning team (https://safetyrisk.net/the-safety-and-new-view-debate/ ).
All theories and methods of learning and assessment are subjective and conditioned by worldview and education paradigm. All the more reason why Safety needs to get its ethic clear and articulated before it starts venturing into a Transdiscipline it knows little of.
It is so easy to demonstrate success or effectiveness according to naïve and biased assessment criteria. You can make any claim you want by hiding such criteria (never discussed in safety) but it doesn’t demonstrate that it ‘works’.
In the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) the criteria for success is the humanisation of persons. If your safety method brutalises people in order to get an outcome, then by SPoR definition, what you are doing doesn’t ‘work’.
Unless persons are treated ethically, morally and educatively as they tackle risk, then no matter what the system, it doesn’t ‘work’.
This is why the deontological ethic proposed by the AIHS doesn’t ‘work’ (https://safetyrisk.net/the-aihs-bok-and-ethics-check-your-gut/ ). This is why Safety remains silent on ethics and politics in the workplace because, it enables the brutalism of persons. This is why Safety doesn’t want to own the brutality of complacency (https://safetyrisk.net/complacency-consciousness-and-error-in-safety/ ) and doesn’t know how to define it, because it enables brutalism. This is why Safety loves engineering, scientism and behaviourism because it enables the brutalism of persons. This is why Safety wants to own the word ‘professional’ but never wants to declare by what criteria professionalism is evaluated:
This is why Brian Darlington and I produced the book ‘It Works, A New Approach to Risk and Safety’. The methods of SPoR work because the priority is on the humanising of persons. Unless that is the starting point for your assessment criteria of safety, then how can you claim that what you do in safety ‘works’.
Andrew Thornhill says
Great article Rob. I worked with an organisation providing supported employment this week. The management team were quite deflated as they had just been through an external audit, conducted remotely, that deemed there was not enough ‘objective evidence’ of visible safety leadership and hence they were facing a ‘non-conformance’. Shame the auditor didn’t spend an hour on-site, as the qualitative indicators where everywhere: a management team (CEO through to team leaders) totally motivated to provide meaningful and safe work, who were constantly out of their office walking, listening, talking and reinforcing things with the team members. Team members who felt empowered and who had no hesitation raising any concern with anyone in the management team. A CEO who dropped home-made meals in to team members during Covid lockdowns. Shame they didn’t spend 15 minutes filling in 3 or 4 token leadership observation forms – we can count that!
Rob Long says
How true Andrew. So sad this naive belief in paperwork, that is NOT a defence in court, is such an ignorant tool to brutalise people. How sad that such a simple matter of conversation is so devalued by this industry. How sad this safety curriculum includes nothing on people skills, helping or humanising risk. His sad this naive faith in engineering is desired when people are not objects. And the association do nothing.
Jack Benton says
Do you Aussie’s actually think that teaching someone to work safely is brutalizing them?
Rob Long says
If the outcome is brutalising someone then it’s not safe work.
Brian Darlington says
Jack, unfortunately the Tools we use are what causing bullying and training is too often, tick and flick, and has no learning as an outcome.
Jack Benton says
Training tools? Is it different there than what we do in the USA? Those of us that care to thoroughly teach all safety subjects and requirements? I’m just trying to understand your comment. Thanks
Rob Long says
Jack, traditional safety systems here are similar to USA. They are not what I use to tackle risk.