Safety-1, Safety-2, Safety-3

Safety-1, Safety-2, Safety-3

safety 123The idea that there are two safeties endorses a binary mindset that supposes that the second safety is radically different from the first. The general idea is that Safety-1 is a system that focuses only on what goes wrong, Safety-2 is a system that focuses on what goes right. Both safeties endorse a systemic approach to safety that understand the human as a ‘factor’ in a system. Whilst the challenge to orthodox punitive mechanistic safety is good, in many ways the focus and semiotics of Safety-2 remain the same. Rather than making a paradigm (Polanyi) shift, the discourse of Safety-2 is similar to Safety-1. Talking about ‘safety differently’ doesn’t mean it’s ‘different’. I looked at some advertising for a conference recently that promoted a ‘new frontier’ in safety, and it was all the same old stuff. I read a book recently on ‘Lean Safety’ and it was all about increasing systems and bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, the semiotics and discourse of Safety-2 is that of engineering and systemic control, one may be able to engineer system resilience but one can’t ‘engineer’ resilience in people. The language that is used in System-2 is functionalist, what is the human’s function ‘within’ a system? (It is little wonder that the system proposed by Safety-2 is a Functional Resonance Method and a new bureaucracy) The priority of Safety-2 remains the system. The problem of poor safety according to this idea is system design, the discourse of engineering remains. The language of Safety-2 is that of ‘performance’, ‘adjustment’, ‘complementarity’ and ‘humans as a ‘resource’ for system flexibility’.

One of the good things that has come out of this Safety-1/Safety-2 discourse is the presentation of ‘emergence’ (Letiche). It is good to see some progression away from the archaic language of ‘control’, ‘choice’ and ‘cause’ in safety. The notions of ‘emergence’ and ‘wickedity’ are critical for understanding what happens in complex adaptive organizing. However, it is fascinating to witness the discussion in socio-technical systems discourse slip in and out of the use of organic and socio-psychological metaphors to endorse a systems-focus for safety improvement. Can there be a change in culture in safety without a change in semiotics? If systems can learn, how can they learn by using the same language?

Semiotics is the study of the signs, text as sign and symbols of sign action. Understanding semiotics is foundational to the discipline of social psychology. (A good start would be a study of Goebells and the Ministry of Propaganda in 1933-1945 http://psi312.cankaya.edu.tr/uploads/files/Welch,%20Third%20Reich–Politics%20and%20Propaganda,%202nd%20ed.PDF) Semiotics can describe any process that includes the production of meaning. Thus semiosis defines the process of making meaning as mediated by signs, text and the interpretation of symbols. Such an awareness could be called ‘meta-semiosis’, that is, being aware that the very signs, text and symbols one uses are part of the constructing method. This is why the use of the words like ‘engineering resilience’ may appeal to engineers and lovers of systems but offer little hope for the resilience of people. Unless the semiotics change, the discourse is unlikely to be transformational. The bedrock of belief is contained in language.

The mix of anthropomorphic terms in the Safety-1/Safety-2 discussion is extraordinary. The use of organic language to propose systemic change doesn’t make sense. The idea that one can be person-centred by being system-centred, doesn’t make sense. Systems are not culture. The purpose of systems as organizing is to reduce equivocality rather than engage in dissonance and change. So, the use of an engineering metaphor for trans-semiosis of safety doesn’t make sense.

Safety has become an ideology and religion over a very short period of time, it has become much more than a way of organizing a system. Perhaps what safety needs is Safety-3, a non-engineering, non-systemic and non-mechanistic focus on safety reform. Perhaps the language of Safety-1, Safety-2 and Safety-3 is unhelpful. Maybe it might be better to talk about dehumanization, technique and people and remain silent to Safety-1 and Safety-2. Maybe Safety-2 serves as a semiotic distraction from Safety-3. So, just a few questions for further thinking.

Can there be any reform of Safety through the same language? How can a change in system shift religious ideology? If Safety-2 seeks counsel in Derrida, why does it not seek to ‘speak’ in trans-semiotics? Can a revolution in safety come about without a subversion of Safety? If we want to move safety ideology away from the preoccupation with safety, shouldn’t we be using a non-safety semiotic?

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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