It’s Always a Number
I was on a conference today and the first question set to the panel was about a number. I didn’t respond to the question but rather asked the conference, why is safety so good at asking dumb questions?
It doesn’t matter whether its injury rates, percentages, zero or TRIFR etc, its always a number. It took 50 minutes for the conference of safety people to ask the panel session a question about care, humanising and helping people tackle risk.
I saw some safety propaganda recently about some big safety innovation, the next thing, the global way forward, a global collaboration, the number one idea and one would think with such language there would be some sense of vision attached to the announcement. Nup, the way forward was yet again another number. What is this industry that doesn’t know how to talk about people, personhood and helping? What is it about this industry that so lacks trust in others it multiplies systems and bureaucracy every time it spews more propaganda about yet another number.
As long as Safety frames its world around numbers it will never have vision. As long as Safety deludes itself that numerics and metrics determine safety it will play the same merry-go-round and then wonder in 10 years why people have no interest in safety. If a number is all you can see and talk about then you have no vision, you simply have a counting disorder.
It’s so strange, when speaking to helping professions they never talk about numbers. Helping professions talk about their concerns to serve others, to help people be their best, to improve and develop quality services so that people can better live. People in helping professions recognize that a priority on numbers dehumanizes people, this is what the Nazis understood so well in World War 2.
I once met an ex-prisoner of war from Dachau when I was 12 years of age and he showed me his number tattooed on his tongue. He explained how the Nazis dehumanized everyone by using numbers. If one ever mentioned a persons name the punishment was severe or one could be shot. The Nazis knew more than anyone that the best way to dehumanize people is to frame all discourse on numbers. We see this also in the workers compensations system. How insulting to call a company iCare that has no focus at all on caring (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-24/icare-workers-compensation-insider-speaks-out/12583058 ). Ah yes, but they are great at numbers, particularly those that build their on bank accounts.
How soul destroying to think that all that matters is a number or to be considered as a number. Just imagine if you child’s teacher didn’t call your child by name but changed their name to 13. I wonder how long you would keep your child in that school. Numbers are about efficiency (What Ellul called Technique) not about humans, community or helping.
This is the tyranny that consumes Safety, it is so addicted to numbers it doesn’t know it.
So, just have a look at any safety book title and see how it frames its message. If the title is framed around a number, the book will have no vision so don’t buy it. Anything framed around numbers will most likely be unhelpful, dehumanizing and unprofessional.