One of the foundations in the development of Social Psychology was the study of the Nazis and in-group and out-groupness.
Most Histories of Social Psychology trace its roots back to Kurt Lewin. Lewin (a Jew) like many of the founders of Social Psychology like Milgram, Zimbardo etc. simply explored the question: why do people do what they do? In the case of Adorno, Levinson (The Authoritarian Personality), ‘How and why could the Nazis do as they did?’
This led early researchers in Social Psychology to articulate the dynamics of in-group and out-groupness. You can read about the foundations of Social Psychology here:
It is important not to confuse Social Psychology with anything Psychosocial.
Understanding In-Groupness and Out-Groupness (https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/glossary/in-group-out-group ) is critical to understanding culture, judgment and decision making, abuse of power and a host of unethical behaviours. Prejudice and discrimination are solidified and enacted on the foundation of In-Group and Out-Groupness (see further Plous (2003) Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination). Many of the foundational concepts in Social Psychology are explained well by Plous in The Psychology of Judgement and Decision Making (1993).
None of this is discussed by Safety. In SPoR, we consider all of the above as foundational to learning and understanding risk, culture and enactment.
When one is in an in-group one distinguishes oneself from outsiders by ‘anchoring’ to a shibboleth, language or idea (eg. zero) that builds unquestioned acceptance, belonging and differentiation from outsiders, the out-group.
If you want to belong in the in-group you need to speak, use the same language, not question and comply with the cultural norms of the group.
Liking in the Safety in-group comes through affirming the myths, gestures and rituals accepted by the group. Then one needs a language of demonising those outside of the group so as to not engage or take seriously any out-group criticism. This is done usually by projection – constructive criticism is called ‘safety bashing’, criticising zero is called ‘anti-safety’ and out-group people are projected as being ‘angry’, ‘aggressive’ or ‘problematic’. This is best directed to people one has never met and to disciplines one has never studied.
In this way, the in-group doesn’t need to take seriously anything outside of its own bubble. This is the culture of mono-disciplinary Safety. (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-is-not-a-person-safety-as-an-archetype/ )
You can read some good examples of in-group and out-groupness here: https://helpfulprofessor.com/in-group-out-group-examples/
In-groupness identity is strengthened by demonising ‘the other’. In the case of the Nazis an entire language was developed about Jews as ‘the enemy’ (https://www.hmd.org.uk/learn-about-the-holocaust-and-genocides/nazi-persecution/ ). The Nazis even had a codified system for all of its enemies (https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/classification-system-in-nazi-concentration-camps).
The acceptance of codes and symbols is essential for in-groupness and out-groupness differentiation. In the case of Safety, accepting pyramids, curves, swiss-cheese and matrices is essential. It is also essential to in-group-ness in Safety to accept that words don’t mean what they say: zero doesn’t mean zero, different doesn’t mean different, communication means telling, monitoring means surveillance etc. (https://safetyrisk.net/deciphering-safety-code/).
Once a person or group has been dehumanised, one can do whatever you want to them, as they have been deemed non-persons. Mostly, coded language is developed that is highly emotional (like ‘safety bashing’) and focused on mis-information so that the in-group will not question any accepted codes. Indeed, questioning and critical thinking puts one instantly on the fringes of any in-group. And Safety, just like the church, uses religious language such as ‘heresy’, ‘agnostic’, ‘salvation’ (https://safetyrisk.net/heaven-n-hell-and-the-safety-religion/) and religious symbolism to differentiate from the out-group.
Blind obedience and compliance are essential for in-group identity.
In Safety we see this differentiation often between those who ‘save lives’ and workers who ‘don’t care about safety’. This is captured in language about ‘safety heroes’ and ‘complacent workers’. And once zero is made a shibboleth, any mistake, injury or error is made anti-zero.
All of this fosters ignorance, a lack of questioning, codes of acceptance, rituals for in-groupness and taboos attributed to the out-group (eg. anger, aggression and associated language of pollution). The in-group then creates an identity of purity and the out-group are understood as dangerous (Douglas – https://monoskop.org/images/7/7d/Douglas_Mary_Purity_and_Danger_An_Analysis_of_Concepts_of_Pollution_and_Taboo_2001.pdf).
Safety doesn’t have to burn books and censor publications like the Nazis (https://youtube.com/watch?v=yHzM1gXaiVo&feature=shares ), it just uses silences (https://safetyrisk.net/category/safety-culture-silences/ ) to other disciplines and ideas to ensure a uniformity to in-groupness. Just go to any safety curriculum across the globe and look at the reading list. Look at what is not on the curriculum for reading (of course nothing on Ethics, Politics, Helping, Personhood etc). Look at what is enforced and reinforced, the darling of Safety – behaviourism and engineering. This is now mono-disciplinarity is assured.
Then if one questions anything about Safety, even if it is an obvious abuse of power, it is quickly deemed ‘safety bashing’ and not to be listened to, read or countenanced, even when other options and alternatives are offered for free.
All of this is transferred and attributed as ‘liking’ and ‘not-liking’ something and is quickly politicised, even though Politics is not studied or discussed in safety. This is how associations create ‘purple circles’ and ‘fans clubs’ and consolidate identity against the impure and the un-baptised.
Unfortunately, not much can be done except wait and in time those who are marginalised, who ask questions, who are over-powered, eventually look over the fence and begin to wonder if something of value is on offer outside the in-group. In the case of Safety, when one discovers that behaviourism doesn’t work and Zero is brutal, the process begins.
Leon Lindley says
I married the Readymix Training Manager (J. McMillan). I have forgotten the young lady’s name that worked as the lab technician. Her father used to drive the Pozzolanic Trucks if I am correct.
Yes, that would have been an unfortunate Acronym. I do remember the K Mart Vouchers for zero LTIs and the abuse, individuals received for stuffing it up. The bashings must have been pre- my time. Anyway at the time I could see some change and the tools were useful. It was just unfortunate, that zero mind set and LTIFR were the main measures for safety. I took the good stuff out it and applied my approach, trying to avoid using the term safety for everything, instead process improvement.
Rob long says
Great comments Narelle, unfortunately any feminist critique was silenced years ago. Bringing women into the in-group of safety is a great strategy to keep the masculinist discourse thriving.
Rob Long says
Brian, I don’t think many want to actually make a difference. They just want to talk about it.
Rob Long says
Thanks, without curriculum reform this is the way of safety for the foreseeable future.
There is so much spin and money to be made off it.
Rob Long says
It’s all going to be heaps of fun under the new psychosocial regulations isn’t it? I wonder if Safety will use the Regulations against the bosses who bully? Somehow, I don’t think so.
Leon Lindley says
That’s exactly it “BIQ & BIS”. I was with Humes Eagle Farm as the Safety & Training Coordinator. You are right though, management still used Lag indicators and tried to blame individuals.
I was probably fortunate as I had a lot of good support at Humes at the time. It wasn’t perfect but we did have wins and the individual Safety Improvement Teams did generate their own solutions. I learnt a lot back then, as I came off the shop floor as a labourer and worked my way into a safety & quality career. My whole HSEQ career started from there.
I married the lab technician from Humes Eagle Farm! In the years prior, Humes employees were bashed by their workmates for getting injured and missing out on the award. The SITs did some good things after we empowered them. Interestingly, senior managers wanted to call them “Safety and Health Improvement Teams” until I pointed out the unfortunate acronym
Mariaa Sussan says
Hey Rob, I really enjoyed reading your blog post, as usual! It’s a shame that many people working in risk and safety are resistant to unlearning and learning new things. It’s so tempting to stay in our comfort zones, but that can hold us back from growth and progress. It’s disappointing that some aren’t even willing to read and understand valuable information that could make a difference. Keep up the good work!
Brian Darlington says
Hi Rob, great blog as always, sadly many in risk and safety are not prepared to unlearn and then learn. Too easy to remain in their comfort zones. Sadly to many are not even interested in reading and understanding what adds value and makes a difference.
Leon Lindley says
An excellent blog Rob. I forget how many times I have been advised to keep my opinions to myself or have been actually singled out by management, for “special attention” because I dared to question the Cult of Zero and any other silly safety fad that took their fancy at the time. Even with the so called new Safety II approach being adopted and touted as the new best thing, when I pointed out to the Tier 1 construction company I was working for, that it was only a revamped version of Deeming’s TQM used for safety instead of quality, I was performance managed. CSR Readymix was doing “Safety II” in the mid 1990’s. Same tools and approach just different names (I still have the books). I know some times for the sake of career progression (and to belong) one should, sometimes keep your mouth shut, but it is also important ,at some point to say what you think and state what you believe in, even if does mean you going to be burnt at the stake.
I was on the CSR Readymix Corporate Safety Team in the early 90s. We named our safety initiative “Building in Safety” and it was indeed a spin off of their TQM program “building in quality”. The intent was good but I regularly locked horns with the Board and senior managers who still ruled by injury data and blame. I was injured in a previous role there and told to take paid leave rather than ruin the numbers. I got asked to do some consulting for the current iteration of that company and knocked it back when it became clear that nothing had changed
Narelle Stoll says
To continue on from my previous discussion all women need to be aware that behaviours around exclusion, name calling, wolf whistling are not acceptable. Also anything that objectifys beauty at the expense of women having a voice at the table. Or has a need for women to dress and behave like men in order to feel accepted. Including the manner they promote themelves on social media, are also forms of out groupness.
Narelle Stoll says
Hi Rob as one who has experienced discrimination on the grounds of disability, gender and religion. I find this blog so very relevant and most helpful. As well as language, silence, the seperation of the person from the person from the group. eg putting them in a corner, refusing them to include them,shutting them down, fobbing them off, belittling them in front of others. Are all behaviours that can be included as well along with the other behaviours you have identified. As women particularly we need to identify that particuarly the