Safety People Don’t ‘Save Lives’

Safety People Don’t ‘Save Lives’

The naivety and delusions of the safety industry know no bounds as is evident by this language that surfaces at safety conferences about how safety ‘saves lives’. An example is below.


Such language should not be part of safety discourse and certainly endorses the many articles on this blog site about the religious nature of the industry ( ). Of course when one’s discourse is about zero, absolutes, death and fallibility denial the natural trajectory must be about salvation and faith. Most language I read about zero is most certainly about faith and belief in the impossible.

The study of salvation is called soteriology, its 101 in any theology degree. As part of that study one gets an insight into the delusional language of saviors. The language of saviors as heroes is also common in the safety industry. What does this kind of language portray? Is this a healthy kind of language to promote everyday care for safety? I would suggest not.

Thankfully the nonsense rhetoric of Hazardman projected by the ACT Regulator has left the Internet (, but it was up for several years as a testimony to the ignorance and stupidity of the sector. However, the language and heroics continues to dominate safety discourse throughout the sector.

The language and archetypes of heroics and saviours is counterproductive to the message of safety. Safety doesn’t ‘save lives’ and the more the industry speaks such rhetoric the more it elevates itself to levels of dangerous superiority. The key to safety is not about being superior but about being alongside others, helping others, listening and knowing that human fallibility reminds us of the need to be humble, caring and forgiving to each other. A little dose of Schein’s Humble Enquiry would be helpful. After all, the safety hero on a pedestal can’t last long, fallibility has a mysterious way of exposing false saviours ( ).

Heroes and saviors are perfect. Heroes and saviours don’t make mistakes. Heroes and saviours are all about telling, crusading and overpowering. What a terrible metaphor to project about how safety works. Perhaps this was what Dekker was trying to say in his theology on suffering??? After all, if you keep speaking the language of salvation to people they will eventually believe it.

Interestingly, real professionals like doctors, social workers and nurses don’t use the language of ‘saving lives’. The language of ‘serving’ and ‘helping’ is professional language, not something you find much in Safety, obsessed with the projection of the title ‘professional’.

Here’s a project for you. Do a language audit of safety conferences and policies and just count the number of times the language of heroics and salvation surfaces compared to the language of listening, helping, caring and humility. Discover something? I would certainly like to hear a sensible argument about what safety method ‘saves lives’.

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.

9 Replies to “Safety People Don’t ‘Save Lives’”

  1. Rob I have been disheartened lately to hear more language from the very top execs at my place of business that are not even subtle about being the “safety messiah”. We recently had an uptick in recordable injuries in March, so of course now is the time to get “serious” and re-focus on safety (as if that were the cause that would lead them to be able to foresee the unexpected and stop this from happening) with a Stand Down. Anyway this executive said (and this has been repeated by several others since) “In March, WE hurt 25 of our colleagues.” And the other part of the message is no injuries are acceptable and all are preventable.
    The flip side of “We hurt” of course is we can (or more likely HE can) save employees from future injuries. (I find it interesting this language of taking responsibility for others injuries is so freely thrown around and YET no one that says this seems to be willing to pay fines, take a pay cut or do jail time to be accountable for these “sins” they committed against these employees).

    I do understand about cognitive dissonance and I do understand the propaganda of the pyramid seducing otherwise capable people into the pit of a reductionist, positivist world view. But in the several of the Stand Downs I was in, I did a quick poll and asked “Who wanted to get hurt that day or sometime in the near future?”. No hands go up. Second question, “Can anyone tell me unequivically, exactly what you will be doing and where you will be in the next 5 minutes, 1 hour or even tomorrow at this time?” Again no hands go up. Number 3, “Is anyone here infallible and thereby immune to making any errors at any point in the day?” No hands.

    So this group of people just made a public commitment that, if given the choice, they would not choose injury, they cannot see into the future and are, by nature, going to make errors. And yet, no one can say outlout what a crock of BULLSH%T these executives are spouting. It is the craziest thing. It is literally a living, breathing playing out of the fable “The King has no clothes”. Think about. it, the executives either 1) do not understand that everything has significance and the trajectory of their language leads to blame, punishment and brutalism 2) they do understand what they are saying, don’ care because they view employees as disposable parts of the profit machine 3) they are delusional and actually believe they can “save” people.

    None are good options. When one is sensitive to what creates culture I suppose this stuff just slaps you in the face as being glaringly obvious. Actually I do think others feel “something is not right”, they just cannot aways name the principles or the orthodox plot that is driving the alienation they feel. These executive can get away with promoting a Utopian dream of zero and yet if they tried equally as much to convince people Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy were real most (I can’t say all) people would laugh them off the stage.

  2. Dyno, you have provided a clear case study of the industry of dumb. On what planet of vulnerable, fallible and mortal humans can this nonsense duplicity exist? Of course, never applies to executives and their mistakes. Nor does it apply to mental health, broken relationships or any form of social and psychological harm. In this way the ideology of brutalism takes hold and is alive and thriving in the empire of dumb. I’d rather have the tooth fairy.

  3. I appreciate the thinking, just the fact that folks are thinking is nice.
    What I don’t understand is why some feel the need to viciously attack others verbally. If you understand psychology you know people don’t change for the good when threatened and told that their beliefs are stupid. Try a different tact and try the kindness that you talk about.
    thank you.

  4. Erin, unfortunately the activities are dangerous and not ‘good’. It would be unhelpful to be uncritical and not critique such dangerous language.
    I never attack people but discuss how the archetype attacks people. Most of what I expose in critique is the way Safety dehumanises people. There is no great virtue in being ‘kind’ to an industry that dehumanises people. Indeed, the industry through its naivety fosters the most astounding brutality.

  5. The language in boardrooms is far more brutal than on many construction sites and to quote Bob Dylan…….Money doesn’t talk it swears.

  6. Bernard, only Safety thinks it is apolitical. Easy when you don’t study politics, cultural theory, ethics, anthropology, or sociology to see the language of safety as neutral. It’s so easy to be brutal to people when the checklist tells you what to do and zero is your sacrament.

  7. It’s great to read the thoughts and out workings of others regarding safety in the workplace. I think we all have experienced both types of management, the ones that talk the talk and those that actually walk the walk.

    I wrote the following some time ago. I’ve posted it in these comments to contribute.

    Working in circumstance that some of us do, fly in – fly out, drive in – drive out, or just working long hours, can have its own set of problems.

    Most of us work long hours and for many days at a time. Think about this, we actually spend more time together as a work team than we do with our own families, so it is important that we get along.

    Stress at work will happen. When you get hard working people, with timeline pressures, practical and technical issues to balance every day, boy, it’s got to get to you sometime. It affects your work quality, your sleep and how you eat. All in all not a good mixture.

    This is where we need one another to bring us back in balance. After all, who else can we turn too, especially if we are so far from home?

    Below are a few ideas that we can use to defuse possible personality problems we can and do encounter throughout the day:

    Be aware that you have a hot button. Just being aware sometimes helps us to think before we act.
    Learn to read your own emotions. Sometimes it’s easier to read the emotions of others but not our own. Just like the Take 5 type booklets that help us to be aware of hazards in the workplace, let’s do a Take 5 on ourselves.
    Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. Sometimes we just have to share how we are thinking. I know it is not easy being butch and all, but if we have an issue with one of our work colleagues start by saying ”John, do you mind if I share a concern I have about our work, it’s just that I am feeling a bit stressed at the moment”. You just might be surprised how this type of approach can help all parties and defuse a potential volatile situation.
    Try to focus on the positive and look for the upside. Again, whilst this might sound easy it is not always a piece of cake, but it is better than the alternative.
    Where important, learn to say no. I don’t mean “No, I don’t want to work today”, but maybe “No” to a way you are expected to do your work that might cause you concern and possible stress.
    Think about the other person. How are they feeling? Chances are they may be feeling pretty much the same as you. Positives strokes do help.
    Whilst this list can go on, finally, learn to forgive. None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes and can bottle up and be ready to explode without reason.
    Whilst the above is a list of things to do, a quick word on what we should not do.

    Don’t over or under eat. Both can have bad consequences.
    Drinking and smoking too much might seem good medicine, but feeling good one minute and not the next is not good for you in the long run. Drinking too much also loosens your ability to be restrained.
    Procrastinating can give you ulcers. Don’t keep putting things off until later. Talk to your work mate today!
    Don’t take your stress out on others,
    Don’t withdraw. If anything get closer and confide in someone, and
    Never ever forget to ask “Are you OK Mate!
    Yours in Safety,

    Stan Sykes

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