I Have the Power, I’m a Safety Hero
I try to avoid attending safety conferences as much as I can as I find them depressing and lacking vision. Each time I am compelled to go I am never surprised by the kind of delusional stuff believed by the industry. The worst is the myth of the safety hero. Recently I had to attend a conference and I didn’t have to wait long till out came the same preoccupation with safety and power and heroics.
It is election time in Australia and politicians are in the air seeking photo shoots and tabloid spreads. As people might know the Prime Minister (PM) has a large entourage of ‘minders’ and plain clothed security staff. They are there to care, protect and keep the PM safe. Everything has to be highly managed with some ad lib and a huge media contingent follows.
Of course, if the PM wants his picture on an excavator (sitting in it) that can’t happen. Three points of contact, no ticket etc. It was amazing to hear this presenter go on about the power of Safety. Even I can stop the Prime Minister from being unsafe. Here I am to save the Prime Minister, he doesn’t know how to be safe, neither do his minders.
Apparently, one of the minders of the PM suggested on a civil construction site that a pic on an excavator would be a good snap. Not with a Safety hero around. Out comes the superhero, even he can save the PM from himself.
What an amazing tirade this presentation was. The core message wasn’t really about safety at all or risk but rather about the power of the safety hero. Look at me, I can use safety to have power over the PM. Only I can keep the PM safe. That was the message.
You don’t have to search hard to find the mythology of heroes and heroics in Safety, it dominates the safety airwaves. Here are a couple of links that might help raise your vomit level including indoctrination and propaganda into schools:
Have you seen enough?
There are thousands more.
The mythology of heroics is one of the most damaging metaphors and symbols of the safety industry.
The last thing you want anywhere in a crisis is a hero. Anyone who behaved like a hero at Beaconsfield was a danger to the rescue and was put off the team. The last person anyone will empathise with in a challenge, struggle or suffering is a hero. Heroes alienate people who want everyday ordinary people to just go about the everyday task of ‘helping’ people tackle risk. We don’t need heroes in safety, we need ‘helpers’.
Unfortunately, heroes don’t ‘help’ they ‘save’. Heroes dominate the atmosphere, no one else can save the day except the hero. Ah, look at me, I have power over the PM of Australia. This is not what Real Risk is about (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/real-risk/ ). Safety doesn’t ‘save’ lives (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-people-dont-save-lives/ ). Ah here are some slips, trips and falls, where is Hazardman (https://safetyrisk.net/hazardman-wont-save-you/) when you need him.
When you ‘meet’ people who really are helpers and not heroes (https://safetyrisk.net/risk-boldly/) they never claim the delusional myth of hero. There can never be heroics in real safety.
Rob Long says
Suzanne, lots of this stuff crops up because the industry has no vision and doesn’t know what to do next so, they drift to slogans and entertainment. It is evidence of an immature industry that would rather speak stupid language to each other than do anything substantial about risk except add more paperwork.
The majority of safety conferences are dominated by mirror wanking solipsists who would shout out their own name while making love.
Suzanne Jackson says
I have noticed the last couple of safety conferences had more focus on entertainment than technical knowledge. People knowledge is a rare workshop – although we keep saying safety is 80% about the people. I have seen the term “safety champion” get used a lot in the past, and so the escalation to “safety super hero” is not surprising – but where do we go from there? All of this is to appeal to the people working in safety, not to appeal to the workers, managers or customers. I would feel silly saying to a customer I am the safety super hero in my organization.
Rob Long says
Wynand, and the only way to prevent death is not to be born.
Rob Long says
Andre, I’m sure the fear and anxiety of safety must result in ‘nappy safety’. Its that special form of anxiety caused by speaking the nonsense language of zero to people.
Rob Long says
Hey Mick, yep there is no 100% safe, so what are zero harm talking about??? When you don’t know what to say you speak shit to people. The great leveller of life and time is fallibility, essential to all learning and fundamental to understanding the role of helping. If humans were perfect there would be no learning or helping, we wouldn’t know such experiences. Yes, people will be harmed, its called life. Of course children wear nappies just as old people do, its called fallibility and sad to say, this life is finite, one day you will die, hmmm how will safety stop that harm???
Even then you don’t have a really safe plant :-). The only way to have a really safe plant is to never build one.
“everyone now has to wear nappies” sad, but true!!
If you want a “really safe plant”, switch everything off, lock it up and send the people home.
Mick Davson says
Many forget that there is no such thing as 100% safe. Everything in life has some level of risk. Safety people are there to coach and mentor. They are a SUPPORT service. If the PM wants to do something (that isn’t absolutely outrageous) then the safety person should look at how that can be done with a little risk as possible, not just ban it from happening. That’s why safety people get a bad reputation – they are always saying “No” because somewhere sometime ago someone nearly hurt themselves doing something similar. One person wets their pants so everyone now has to wear nappies.
Rob Long says
Ah, there is always a piece of kryptonite to demonstrate the fallibility of the hero.
Andy Anderson says
I was at that conference and I rolled a chunk of kryptonite into the booth and walked on by shaking my head.
Rob long says
When people lack vision and meaning they seek entertainment.
Safety conferences are redolent of aesthetic television game shows and other sources of formulaic and passive vicarious entertainment such as MKR, The Voice or Backyard Blitz.
A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom – Bob Dylan
Rob Long says
From s different Dylan:
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas, In Country Sleep