Safety Politics as Ideological Homogeneity

Safety Politics as Ideological Homogeneity

imageOne of the reasons you don’t hear much discussion about politics and ethics in the safety industry is due to naivety and unprofessional approaches to education. One cannot claim the word ‘professional’ unless one is prepared to acknowledge that all decision making and judgment involves political and ethical trade-offs. The study of ethics and politics should be the foundation of any risk and safety curriculum, but it is not. Strange how lawyers build their profession on a study of ethics and politics in understanding the law but Safety doesn’t build such a foundation in understanding the law and regulation???

One of the experiential learning activities Human Dymensions do in risk and safety training is a simulation I made up called ‘Polistown’. You can see some photos of a group playing Polistown here: Polistown is a place where teams form around community and business activities and through various realistic inequities, seek to work with others towards common goals in risk. Experiential learning is a critical mode of learning that involves discovery, emotional realization and immersion. You can see a video on experiential learning here: I have developed over 50 experiential learning activities that form part of Human Dymensions training some like Polistown take a day to play but the learning outcomes are so powerful. We discuss the importance of experiential learning in book six in the series on risk: Tackling Risk, A Field Guide to Risk and Learning ( )

The word ‘Polis’ means ‘the affairs of cities’ and implies the nature of relationships and the nature of power-exchange between groups. One of the reasons we play Polistown in risk and safety training is to make participants aware of the non-neutrality of risk and safety itself. All decision making in risk is not just subjective but also political and ethical. The practice of work in safety is all the poorer for its naivety of politics and ethics.

Social politics is about the distribution of power in any setting. Awareness of power in various settings is essential in understanding the nature of coercion, obedience, conformity, compliance and prejudice. How strange that Safety wants compliance ( but knows so little about the nature of social politics. Indeed, the quest for compliance and obedience in itself has set Safety on a trajectory of social political homogeneity. There is nothing more important in the safety industry than compliance to regulation and rules. And when your mantra is ‘safety is a choice you make’ there is no greater enemy of Safety than fallible human free thinking. In the strange world of safety neutrality and naïve objectivity, the only reason people don’t comply with regulations is because they are stupid or want to suicide.

The ideology of zero is the ideology of total compliance, when the absolute rules language then, absolutes rule. In the naïve world of zero when everyone is the same and all rules are obeyed there will be no harm. Fallibility must then be made the enemy of zero ( The richness of fallibility must be rejected because it is the cause of mistakes and mistakes means harm. There can be no room for diversity, variability, creativity, imagination, discovery or learning in zero.

Conformity is the dynamic of zero and disruption the enemy of safety. In this safety world of compliance, confirmation bias rules OK, dissent can only cause harm. Critical and independent thinking must be discouraged because compliance is the dynamic of Safety.

I look at many of the advertised promotions of the associations and conferences for safety and no one is even asking good questions. Everything is structured to endorse the status quo in order to complain that nothing is changing. Paperwork in safety keeps increasing, bureaucracy in safety is expanding under the absurd assumption that non-compliance is based on a lack of regulation. One of the healthy things about unions is that they own their politics and associated ethic.

Have you ever wondered what the difference might be between a Marxist safety or Capitalist safety? Does the Left or Right think differently about safety? Are Conservatives or Liberals different in the way they think about safety? Of course, the distribution of power and its economic determinants affect what one thinks about safety. Let’s no be naïve about it.

In the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) paradigm that dominates safety, there exists enormous ‘faith’ in objectivity. It is based on the myth of objectivity that compliance is constructed and the binary ideology of homogeneity is rewarded. It is on the foundations of STEM that Safety is seduced by lower order goals and the naïve belief in metrics, numerics and measurement. The pyramids, objects, counting, matrices, bow ties and recording of numerics rule safety. This is why critical and divergent thinking must be suppressed when compliance is made the foundation of safety. When association in safety is based on the dynamic of compliance then questioning and interpretation (hermeneutics) must be rejected. Association is a political activity.

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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