Safety Gives Me the Right over Other Rights

Safety Gives Me the Right over Other Rights

imageI had a group of safety people in my office for some coaching. I turned the TV monitor on the centre table so everyone could see the screen. I determined that the screen was in a safe position. As I started to chat to the group one of the group got up went to my TV and without asking moved it to where he thought it was safe!!!

The conversation followed:

I said, ‘excuse me, what are you doing’?

He said, ‘I am just making the TV safer’.

I said, ‘that’s my TV in my home, what gives you the right to touch my stuff’?

He said, ‘I am just making it safer’.

I immediately moved over to the TV and put it back to where it was and said, ‘it is my home, my TV and I want it that way. What gives you the right to touch other people’s property in their homes without asking’?

He said, ‘it was unsafe’.

I said, ‘I don’t care. I put it that way and determined it was safe. Thank you. You don’t have the right to over-ride the rights of others just because you think something is unsafe’.

He kept repeating, ‘it was unsafe’ and had no comprehension of his own subjectivity or unethical behaviour.

I then decided to change the whole focus of mini-workshop to a discussion on ethics in safety and so we discussed the nature of ethics and no one in the group had heard of any of the things we discussed during the course of the day.

We first thing we discussed was how the word social in Social Psychology of Risk implies a social ethic. The discussion then eschewed about respect, trust, personhood, consultation, social engagement, learning and a host of critical values and virtues missing in the safety space, the same space many claim with the word ‘professional’.

This set up in my office is not an isolated incident. This kind of encounter happens with reliability every time I present to Safety ( of indeed, look at many of the things done in the name of safety that are profoundly unethical ( ).

Just have a search through all the SIA conferences, Safety culture conferences, Psychology of Safety conferences and Safety leadership conferences and look for that wonderful presentation on ‘ethics in safety’. Tell me how may presentations you find. Then take the same search for ‘compliance’, ‘regulation’, ‘law’ or any presentation where safety is paraded as the all powerful ‘ethic’ that gives Safety the right to dominate others. Do a search for language of ‘safety is the number one priority’ and see what you find. Tell me what you find. No wonder Safety thinks it can rule over and dominate others when it speaks like this.

Since when does safety give people the right to override the rights of others? Including the right to die? ( Where is the safety industry protesting against the euthanasia laws in Victoria? Under the simplistic binary ideology of zero harm, where are all the zero crusaders on the streets protesting about euthanasia? Here are people demonstrating their right to terminate life and yet safety is about saving lives.

I was recently alerted to a concept called SafetyDNA ( a method of screening people and screening out people based upon a test which claims to assess risk taking. There are so many ethical problems with this it is astounding, still Safety as number one priority justifies unethical behavior apparently. First, any screening process based on an isolated value is a process of eugenics. ( Second, there is no way risk aversion or risk attraction can be determined in a psychological test and third, the elimination of risk taking in a business or organization is the eradication of all capability to learn. But, the attraction of zero is so strong, safety will do anything to achieve it.

Recently it was claimed that artificial intelligence could determine sexual preference through facial recognition ( and the article raised the question of ethics. Just think of all the human and personhood factors that are compromised by this technology, why would anyone have to ask the question if it is unethical. Of course, it is unethical. It contravenes so many basics of personhood – the right to dignity, respect, privacy, autonomy, consent, justice and beneficence to name just a few. Yet, when it comes to safety, ethics goes out the window. When we believe we are ‘saving lives’ we are easily seduced into the Salvation Narrative and then the religion of zero makes sense ( ). The absolute denies the relativity and subjectivity of human risk. The absolute justifies an ethic of brutalism in the name of ‘good’. The absolute has no idea of ethics when it makes ‘safety the number one priority’.

Both my daughters are completing final year studies in nursing and teaching (real professions). Both have had to undertake compulsory studies in ethics. The rigorous demands of a study in ethics sharpens critical thinking and alerts one to the many by-products and trade-offs in decision making. A study of ethics shows that values compete and that there is no hierarchy or privileged value of one over another, including safety. Both daughters in their assignments had to wrangle through ethical dilemmas where one value was traded off for another. In the end their professions ‘code of ethics’ was a final arbiter of what was deemed right and wrong. If safety truly was a profession and if some of these values such as dignity, respect, privacy, autonomy, consent, justice and beneficence were a part of a code of ethics, then we wouldn’t see so much unethical spruiking and eugenics in the industry.

Reliably, there is no study of ethics in a WHS qualification ( Unfortunately, even the notion of a ‘duty of care’ in the WHS legislation doesn’t raise critical issues in ethics, no wonder Safety thinks it can make up its own.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
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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