Safety at the Margins

Safety at the Margins

imageI note with interest the disappointment with mainstream Safety with being on the political margins, evidenced in recent blogs (The party politics of safety , The politics of safety, OHS is largely overlooked even on its special day ). However, there are good reasons why Safety doesn’t connect socially or politically with people and most of it is self inflicted. Of course, Safety doesn’t study politics so its not likely it will know how to connect politically.

When an industry decides to identify with the extremes eg. the ideology of zero as the global mantra, it will naturally alienate people. What other industry lives in denial of fallibility? Only Safety (

When one’s language is infused with religious fervor and cultish-like discourse (; ) no wonder it doesn’t connect with the mainstream.

When ones ideology is based on a closed binary behaviourist sense of reality, no wonder nothing connects with the real world (; ). When the outcome is brutalism and dehumanization (; ), no wonder no one is interested.

Unfortunately, Safety has created its own monster, wrapped in the excesses of paperwork, anxiety, fear and meaningless symbols that simply don’t connect with the everyday person. People want to go about their ordinary lives without some safety crusader freaking out about pissy petty risk ( ).

Real people don’t ‘connect’ with mechanics and numerics, they are simply not interested in being treated like numbers and certainly get bored with the irrelevant fixation on injury numbers that have no meaning. Neither do people connect with an industry preoccupied with objects (, people are much more interested in subjects.

Real people don’t get up in the morning preoccupied with the fear of injury but rather the quest to live and engage with the world. The last thing of interest is some policeman at work preoccupied with ‘safety shares’ and ‘safety minutes’ that concoct up nonsense before a meeting in some tokenistic diatribe of embarrassment.

The real challenge for Safety is to escape from its cloistered silo and look outside of its own boundaries, a fortress built with walls of cognitivism and positivism. As yet it has no curriculum to escape the confines of these ideologies and still doesn’t realize such are their boundary objects.

Safety is yet to develop the language necessary to translate across boundaries. It certainly has no transdisciplinary focus. When the rationale of an industry is fixated on compliance and intolerance, it’s not likely that there will be much boundary crossing or engagement with ‘the other’. The other must be demonized and eliminated, this is the rule of zero. As an archetype, it is yet to develop a language of connection.

It would be good if Safety one day connected with the mainstream but it has much to unlearn and a great deal of baggage to offload. The best place to start is of course dumping the nonsense ideology of zero.

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.

7 Replies to “Safety at the Margins”

  1. Hear hear! Working in a zero Harm environment is not easy, but i always try to cross the borders and connect with the workers. No wonder I am often called the “cool no-nonsense safety guy.” I will never be a crusader or safety-policeman, I am always interested in the person, not the safety rule offender. There’s always more to the story than at first glance.

  2. Well done William. I don’t know anyone in a zero harm environment that doesn’t report about brutalism and negativity. You are doing well to rise above that and to engage across boundaries. My concern is that the industry, peak bodies, conferences and regulations are not helping you to humanise the workplace. Even when the SIA want a review they pick a regulator to undertake such a review and then endorse the status quo, result? No vision. Meanwhile in the real world of work safety people need to be better prepared for what they will encounter in the filed but there is no WHS curriculum to do that. Most of what’s in a diploma in WHS is not helpful in undertaking the people-connection in work.

  3. Wow, sprouting a love of Reason’s swiss cheese and decrying the Black Swan demonstrates just how out of touch Quinlan is with risk as a wicked problem. The real failure of Quinlan is he doesn’t address the very things that lay underneath these ‘flaws’ and ‘failures’. No mention of culture, no mention of humans or fallibility, no mention of the toxic ideologies that form the foundation of safety toxicity, no mention of the dozens of hidden influences that condition these so called ‘structures’ and systems. I wonder where and how these ‘patterns’ and ‘structures’ develop? So much missing from this list of 10, the classic shallow approach to safety.

  4. It simply demonstrates how closed the sector is. Compliance is the industy’s addiction and that is what Quinlan is spruiking.

  5. The following link provides access to a flyer for yesterday’s Silica Symposium in Sydney………….

    Unmasking those who don’t work safe

    This was promoted by the NSW Government Resources Regulator and following several complaints the response I received from the NSW premier and her relevant ministers was silence.

    The NSW Centre for WHS is reminiscent of Room 101 in Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 with the use of experts in the black box psychology of behaviour modification:

    This undermines morality with a sinister trajectory of eugenics, which was initially advocated by the Fabian Society. Maybe this is where the ALP is heading and explains its inertia. Indeed, several notable Australian Fabians include Bill Shorten, Tanya Plibersek and Chris Bowen:

    It is exacerbated by more statutory legislation, which includes the trojan horse of industrial manslaughter and eventually erodes common law rights.

    Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past – George Orwell

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