Where you start in safety drives trajectories. Foundational beliefs and assumptions create directionality and a worldview that interprets reality. These foundations are a philosophy, ideology and methodology for what one normalizes as ‘safety work’. The foundational assumptions of ‘safety work’ are rarely challenged.
You don’t have to study Anthropology to develop a view of what it means to be human. You don’t have to be an Educationalist to have a view on personhood. You don’t have to be a Sociologist or Psychologist to have a view of society, organizing and psychic life. Such foundations are rarely discussed in safety yet condition all practice.
It matters what school of thought (https://safetyrisk.net/a-great-comparison-of-risk-and-safety-schools-of-thought/) one comes from in safety to how safety is practiced. Each school of thought in risk determines how one tackles risk. There is no such thing as a neutral objective approach to understanding and tackling risk.
If one starts with the idea that humans are just computers-on-bodies then one will treat humans accordingly. If one assumes that humans are just the sum of behaviours then one will treat humans that way. If one assumes perfection is possible and that humans are completely free agents in choice then one will enact safety accordingly.
Foundations (https://safetyrisk.net/the-foundations-of-safety/) are critical for safety practice and are often hidden in Discourse and enactment. We see/perceive the world through the lens of how we interpret things, according to these foundations.
There is no study of these foundations in the AIHS BoK indeed, the behaviourist materialist foundations of the AIHS BoK are never discussed but assumed to be valid by the scientist-engineering worldviews that commands the BoK. The Chapter on Ethics in the AIHS BoK is a classic example of unquestioned assumptions about human personhood based on a deontological ethic (https://safetyrisk.net/the-aihs-bok-and-ethics-check-your-gut/ ). There are many other valid ethical positions.
Unfortunately, the engineering-scientist approach to personhood rejects critical factors that could ensure a holistic approach to risk. The mechanistic view that understands humans as ‘factors’ in a process (that is common to both safety 1 and safety 2) completely reject embodied holistic understandings of how people make decisions (https://safetyrisk.net/how-workers-really-make-decisions/ ). In this way solutions to the challenges of risk are sought in systems and the assemblage of human behaviours. There are other coherent and complementary views but these are not countenanced.
So, whilst some processes may change and be labelled as ‘different’ fundamental foundations have not moved. This is observed in the anxiety of safety 2 to clamour to systems of work according to its assumptions. In The Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) these foundations are known as Discourse. Ideologies and methodologies are evident in the linguistics and semiotics of enactment. The following assumptions are typical of S1 and S2, in belief that:
· The world is knowable
· There is no mystery
· Life is mechanical
· Function is justification
· Technique guides practice
· Consciousness is a biological side-effect
Each one of these assumptions of safety is misleading yet dominate the safety worldview (https://safetyrisk.net/starting-points-worldviews-and-risk/ ; https://safetyrisk.net/transdisciplinarity-and-worldviews-in-risk/ ). There are other starting points, it’s just that none are explored in safety orthodoxy. This is how we end up with the acceptance of safety bureaucracy as normalized for managing risk, even though human decision making at the coalface is not based on paperwork.
Once a particular worldview is normalized then symbols and religious myths are created and are invested with political power so that such a worldview can be institutionalised. In this way any questioning of foundations is labeled as non-compliance and questioning is deemed anti-safety. In this way Safety doesn’t move forward but becomes the regurgitation of what is already known. This knowledge whilst only a partial understanding of human personhood is then politically constructed as the whole that can be known of human personhood.
A Holistic and Transdisciplinary approach to safety accepts the engineering-scientist view of persons as only partial to tackling risk. SPoR doesn’t reject the engineering-scientist view of persons but rather understands such as only a partial approach to understand how people tackle risk. The call to step outside the confines of engineering-science is not a call to reject such but rather a call to bring into safety many aspects of knowing that are currently rejected, thus impoverishing the nature of safety. Zero ideology is the classic symbol for cementing the status quo and locking in no change.
How can Safety change? The first place for change is for Safety to question systems and processes that don’t work. The insistence that current approaches to safety ‘work’ is delusional. Repeating more of the same bad method doesn’t confirm anything other than the idiocy of those with their heads in the sand. Such is the cognitive dissonance of the sector.
The beginning for change will depend on how much one can articulate and question foundations. Such questioning depends on skills acquired outside of the current culture of safety, change will not come from within the current cycles of blind affirmation. The current approaches to curriculum and AIHS BoK simply confirm belief systems already in place. We can’t hope for change from within, there is no envisioning capability in safety orthodoxy, everything about is institutionalized against dissent and resistance.
If Safety were to invite in different disciplines to discussion about risk, then maybe something may change. If Safety could close down the mechanics of the curriculum and open up to the organics of personhood then something might changes. If the AIHS BoK could look outside of safety to non-safety disciplines for learning then maybe something might change.
Hope and envisioning (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/envisioning-risk-seeing-vision-and-meaning-in-risk/) is unlikely to come from within the current politicization and religiousity of safety and I remain doubtful that anything will move in my lifetime. I think things will come to a head when we continue to do 3-4 hour SWMS and risk assessments to undertake a 5 minute task that involves no risk. When we create systems that are so complex that they cannot be understood, maybe something will change. Maybe safety will have to become even more brutal before there will be change. Such is the trajectory of an industry that doesn’t know how to escape the malaise of its own creation.
Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below