Originally posted on February 17, 2015 @ 9:19 AM
Is Safety the Empire of Non-Sense?
They say that the repetition of something makes people confirm that it is true. Is the case with safety discourse? As this blog site looks at the power and rule of the empire of non-sense we might ask, what is ‘the force’?
More and more I observe the perpetuation of nonsense as truth in safety. I have listed some examples.
- The promotion of risk aversion as a good and healthy thing in safety is astounding. The idea that risk is evil and to be eliminated stands in stark contrast to the necessity for risk in all of life as critical to living as human and learning. The more organisations talk about risk elimination, the more they reduce avenues of creativity, imagination and innovation. Surely a slow death to existence.
- The de-coupling of humans from safety discourse is inherent in the preoccupation with safety on hazards. There is nothing so mind numbing as a ‘hazard hunt’. It is as if one can read the mind of the human engaging with that hazard. A hazard hunt could be an imaginative exercise, but we killed that off in the previous point.
- The language of ‘common sense’ surely is foundational to the promotion of non-sense. Rather than advocate for creating sense-in-common or creating ‘common knowledge’ safety has this weird belief that safety is natural and instinctive. (See Kinesthetic Safety ). This sense-in-common is what Weick calls ‘consensually validated grammar’.
- Surely there is nothing so non-sensical as the language of ‘zero harm’ and ‘beyond zero’ or ‘zero plus’. Coupled to this illogical language is also the idea that one can make hindsight foresight. In the human world the declaration that ‘all accidents are preventable’ is perhaps the most non-sensical. The argument that accidents are necessary and positive is well made by Hallinan, Why We Make Mistakes. A world with no mistakes is not a human world and the denial of fallibility is surely non-sense.
- With the devaluation of words and symbols in safety (‘its only semantics’) safety has now so misused words that meaningless words are now accepted as making sense. In reality the word has been humiliated in safety so that a value doesn’t mean a value, zero doesn’t mean zero and risk doesn’t mean risk. Safety more than any other discipline I know now is situated in a crisis of meaning.
- Safety no longer needs to define words or intent but makes words all a matter of ‘opinion’ and self. In this way safety makes behaviourism culture and measurement reality. Rather than focusing on the most valuable things that we can’t measure safety has shifted the discourse into measuring things we value least. This is surely non-sense.
- Another characteristic of the empire of non-sense is the confusing of goals and motivation. Safety now has a collection of quantitative non-goals as end points (absolutes which can never be achieved in this world), surely a statement of non-sense. The only trajectory of non-sense goals can be an end point of frustration and failure. Yet, the safety industry continues to parade the idea that the counting of data and love of zero will bring a better finality. Whilst the rest of us know that perfectionism is a delusion and mental health disorder.
- The strategic ignorance of trade-offs and by-products in decision making is more evidence for the empire of non-sense. Wishing away contradictions and evidence doesn’t mean the emperor is not nude. A classic if how tier one organisations define harm. The jury is out on all the harm caused by FIFO and DIDO practices yet the masquerade continues. More non-sense for the empire.
- The confusion of what we value with the how of valuing is more for the empire of non-sense. In the end safety continues to prioritise the focus on objects over subjects. Safety is made an end in itself rather than a means to an end (care, tolerance, respect, trust, humanizing).
- In safety words and symbols now become self serving and ends in themselves, critical thinking is not encourages in a culture of compliance and compliance is god. Driven and primed by framing and priming in absolutes, safety seeks total obedience because disobedience is risky and fatal.
- Another confusion is that training and indoctrination have been substituted for learning and education. The confusion of content for knowledge and data for significance is the foundation for this confusion. It is now unimaginable that safety could ever retreat from the preoccupation with LTIs, TRIFR and injury as the representation of safety, a bizarre non-sense. Since when did absence of something become the demonstration of something else?
- Safety talks so little of ‘wisdom’ and ‘discernment’ and is so noisy about ‘controls’, mostly control of others (the silly ones). The constant talk of stupidity as a cause of un-safety is deafening. There has been an accident easy, go searching for the stupid moment and call it ‘root cause’. This enables and gives comfort to simplistic dismissiveness as cause. Rather than understand the real process of human judgment and decision making (determined through social psychology), safety has substituted meaningless language such as ‘be careful’, ‘don’t be stupid’ and ‘target zero’ as leadership by slogans and three word aphorisms.
- Safety has also allowed the docile acceptance of this invasion of non-sense because large corporates promote non-sense through religious-like sophistication. The Bradley curve (DuPont ) that suggests that ‘natural instincts’ are wrong and anti-safety is one example. How did such religiousity and denial of suffering creep into the safety sector without critique, surely evidence of the priority of compliance over critical thinking (point 10). Since when did the idea of fundamental corruption in human nature get a guernsey since the church thought up original sin?
- The promotion of the vice of intolerance and a virtue is yet another example of the rule of nonsense in the empire. Safety simply calls something that it is not, repeats it with excess and makes it truth. In reality, intolerance is the foundation of all broken relationship. The language of intolerance is not a humanizing language but a language of discrimination and terror.
In many ways the safety juggernaut seems unstoppable. I know some who think the best way to change is to do so from within, there is no evidence that this strategy works. My suggestion is that one has to get off the juggernaut to best discover its trajectory. Step outside the safety indoctrination empire and look at it afresh from another discipline. After all, safety simply validates the safety empire. Those inside cannot even talk about it without using safety orthodox language, numbed to criticism and analysis. ‘The force’ is really subversion not inversion and this blog site is full of tips to get you started. If you are interested in more maybe the Post Graduate Program in the Psychology of Risk (http://www.humandymensions.com/post-graduate-studies) is for you.