Safety Isn’t Sexy, and it Shouldn’t Be!
It’s amazing how some people in safety spend more energy trying to rebrand and market the product than reflect and change the nature of the product. Everyone knows that the word ‘safety’ conjures up associations with words like ‘dumb’, ‘embuggerance’, ‘dollard’, ‘checklisting’, ‘policing’ and ‘bullying’. If you want to kill conversation at a party just tell someone you work in safety.
It is no surprise that Safety got to this state with it’s nonsense language of ‘zero’, ‘safety is a choice you make’, ‘safety first’, blaming, bureaucracy and an obsession with objects. This is made clear in Acre Frameworks research (https://vimeo.com/157701980) but the solution isn’t rebranding. You can call safety sexy if you like but the research shows it doesn’t work (dont-believe-the-hype sexually-charged-advertising is-not-the-best-way-to-push-a-product?). The problem isn’t that Safety has an image problem, it has an ontological (state of being) problem.
When I was doing some work on culture and risk in Belgium I saw this van parked in the car park. I asked what it was about and it was a local safety company seeking to make safety sexy.
I see similar approaches to the problem of safety ontology by people who think it is clever to disparage themselves as ‘safety nerd’ or ‘safety geek’. Changing linguistics is only effective if it matches a change in practice. People are pretty sharp at discovering ‘double speak’. Double speak drives scepticsm and cynicism and in the end discredits the message, this is why the mantras of ‘zero’ and ‘safety first’ don’t work.
One of the best examples of the safety sexy branding approach is observed at https://www.improvsafety.com/. Not only is Pamela Anderson paraded as an object (consistent with safety as objects) but people are insulted by name calling ‘don’t be a derk’ and of course it’s all about choices. Apparently people get injured at work because they are stupid and decide they want to be harmed. The logic of this is not just sexist but contradicts all we know about motivation and perception. Why is it that women accept the objectification of women in safety? Does it mean to be a ‘woman in safety’ one has to accept and condone a masculinist discourse of safety?
People know that wrapping a turd in gold foil doesn’t change the product. Change has to be made in ontology ie. in state of being. Changing the brand doesn’t change the product.
The best way to change the perception of safety is to move away from objects, hazards and ‘science’ to making safety a helping and facilitating activity. Safety shouldn’t be about ‘controls’ but rather about ‘helping’. If safety is to ever be professional it will have to become a helping profession. Safety isn’t a ‘science’, engineering or regulatory process, it is a people activity. Safety is a ‘scaffolding’ (Vygotsky) process. That is, a process that supports the upbuilding of others to better tackle and manage risk. This creates ownership and without ownership there is no motivation for change.