The assumption made in safety is that culture can be explained conceptually and propositionally, when it can’t. No wonder those who describe culture as a ‘fog’ or ‘cloudy’ don’t understand culture. It’s a bit like taking a knife to a gun fight, or asking the wrong questions expecting the right answer.
But when your paradigm doesn’t fit, Safety doesn’t seek a view outside of its self, it just deems culture ‘too hard’, so the best thing is just don’t talk about it (Busch, Hopkins). The other view in safety is that there is no such thing as ‘safety culture’ and this also enables a similar ‘head-in-sand’ approach to knowing.
How strange, there is no ‘confusion’, ‘cloud’ or ‘fog’ about culture in Indigenous societies.
The reality is, you can’t understand culture by using a reductionist paradigm. Engineering, Behaviourist and Positivist paradigms don’t have the foundation to help an ‘understanding’ of culture.
Culture is a Wicked Problem and so demands a Transdisciplinary approach for understanding.
This means that the methods Safety applies to trying to understand culture, won’t help understanding. Particularly, if the paradigm used is sourced in Engineering, Rationalism, Positivism and Behaviourism. These ‘darling’ paradigms of the safety industry, that always source itself when it wants to know anything (eg. Hopkins, Cooper, Busch), simply becomes a self-validating cycle. Just look at most texts about safety and culture, and they always reference the old safety classics: Dekker, Heinrich, Reason, Schein etc. (Hopkins, Cooper) (https://safetyrisk.net/culture-is-cloudy-in-safety-and-thats-a-good-thing/). The safety ‘echo chamber’ is alive and thriving in safety.
When your anchor is safety, there will be nothing new to learn about culture indeed, even how understanding is defined by the safety paradigm only drives greater self-confusion. When your paradigm only validates one way of knowing, other ways of knowing are easily dismissed and demonised.
Despite all the claims made in the text Safety Cultures, Safety Models about innovation, creativity and ‘rich debates’, there is nothing new. Just more safety regurgitation to keep the compliance industry comfortable and secure in its own cultural cocoon. This is what the safety paradigm generates, even who is asked to write or research on the notion simply enables the cyclic comfort of mono-disciplinarity.
It’s the age-old proverb: when you define the problem as a nail, the only solution is a hammer. And, when it comes to culture, Safety is about as useful as a box full of hammers.
So, how would you know your paradigm was limited if you commenced your career as a chemical engineer and then moved into safety? This is the nature of mono-disciplinarity. Even when Safety later seeks to discuss issues outside of itself, it still frames its thinking by the old paradigm and doesn’t know it. And it’s too hard in Safety to let go of the old paradigm (based on compulsory mis-education), such is the stress of cognitive dissonance. Most don’t even know they are locked into such a cycle.
The last thing Safety wants to contemplate is the idea that there might be a paradigm outside of itself that might think differently about knowing and understanding. You can’t know what you can’t know.
When one understands culture as a wicked problem one immediately steps out of the comfort and compliance zone to a Transdisciplinary approach.
In an industry framed by hazards, controls, compliance, regulation, policing, fear and mono-disciplinarity, it’s a big challenge to open up to creativity, innovation, imagination and possibilities outside of safety. When one is in a cocoon, it’s hard to imagine that a different understanding based in Poetics or Semiotics could enable a different way of knowing. A way of knowing that understands culture experientially, symbolically and existentially.
One would think that if something like culture seemed ‘messy’, ‘cloudy’ or ‘foggy’ one might question one’s own paradigm rather than advocate Rule 1: Don’t talk about culture. Rule 2. Don’t talk about culture (Busch The First Rule of Safety Culture p. 178, 179).
Free Module in Culture and Safety
So, for those who are able and willing to suspend their own assumptions and framing in knowing, there are ways of understanding culture that can be learned, outside of the safety paradigm. First, a great deal has to be unlearned (stepping away from engineering and behaviourism) and letting go of the safety paradigm, in order to move forward to a different way of knowing.
The first rule of culture is to make sure you talk about culture; the second rule of culture is to talk about it outside of the safety paradigm.
If this module is of interest and you are seeking an understanding of culture and the culture of safety, Dr Long will be conducting a free Module on Culture and safety in 2023. It’s easy to register for this free program, by just send an email to email@example.com and you will be put in the list.
The module will run Zoom sessions every Tuesday at 9am (Canberra time) starting on 21 February 2023 and with 90-minute sessions at 9 am and each following Tuesday at 9 am for 5 weeks. This means that the last session will be on 21 March 2023.
Do NOT register for this program simply because it is free. Register if you think you are ready to let go and learn.
Those interested can start by reading Dr Long’s blogs on culture and culture silences:
Similarly, it will be helpful to read some of Lotman: