Safety Sacraments and Rituals
As Australians approach the time of year most dense with symbolism (ANZAC and Easter), it may be helpful to ponder the nature, power and significance of symbols, sacraments and rituals in relation to the safety industry. After all, the safety industry is now imbued with as many rituals as any religion, none more religious than the faith/belief in zero harm.
We know that symbols are the foundation of all ritual and sacrament, and when a symbol is made sacred, regardless of its meaninglessness, its compliance becomes an identity factor in any society. Once a ritual is made sacred it then takes on political significance in any organization.
When I was a child Friday abstinence (from meat) was a significant part of Australian life. It kept the local fish shop quite busy. We still see the rush on fish markets on a Good Friday but people no longer know why this ritual continues (https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6080680/seafood-frenzy-for-easter-weekend-begins/ ). The ritual of abstinence of meat goes back to early beliefs about Good Friday indeed, the ritual of Lent is also attached to abstinence. Further read Douglas on symbolism, rituals and sacraments in Natural Symbols (http://www.aquilealiberada.com.ar/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Douglas-Mary-Natural-Simbols.pdf). It’s easy to find out if some thing or a ritual has been sacralised by a group by trying to take it away. You will pretty soon find out the power of its political significance.
All symbols are interpreted and are given meaning by a society or group. As Australia has become more secular, the yearning for rituals and sacraments has not disappeared but rather has simply shifted somewhere else but is no less intense. We see the developing Nationalism around the ANZAC sacrament/ritual as a good example, even the deifying of football players into warriors and hero’s at ANZAC football games (https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/article/2018/04/24/owens-opinions-anzac-day-football-special-australian-occasion ). When something is made sacred it takes on a life of its own and its symbolism becomes identified with belonging, compliance and in-groupness. Then once politcised becomes fair game in playing for territory and loyalty/identity.
I was at a school function for my grandchildren a few weeks ago and happened to be talking to the Deputy Principal (DP) and he mentioned in passing that he wanted to bring in some ‘free play’ into the curriculum. In our discussion he mentioned he had downloaded a risk assessment and was content that the risks of ‘free paly’ in the playground were ‘covered’. I asked to see the assessment and so he emailed it to me. I received 16 pages of unmitigated safety gobbledygook, and when reading it realized that most of it would make the school more liable should something go wrong.
In the document of course were the sacred sacraments and rituals of the Risk Matrix, Bow Tie, Pyramid and Hierarchy of Controls. The DP had no idea what these were but felt comfortable that some safety person had sacralised them as essential to a risk assessment. When any of these are challenged most safety people can’t even rationalize why they are used or how they make sense. This is similar to most theologies in the church. And this is an essential of a sacrament. You don’t have to know what it is in order to believe it is efficacious.
I read the document and on return asked the DP if I could go on a walk and do an actual risk assessment. We took nothing with us, no checklist, no ritual sacraments and no safety mumbo jumbo rituals. All we needed was some basic questions about how children think and behave at play along with some mutual study in the study of child development psychology. We walked for about 40 minutes and I wondered what all the anxiety was about, there was only one place in the school yard where there was any significant risk and if anything this was over-supervised. The school was easily covered by how it had tackled risk and clearly exercised due diligence. As we walked back to his office I offered to write his risk assessment and to keep it under two pages. You would have thought I’d given him a birthday present, he was so appreciative.
It’s so easy to take safety rubbish out of a risk assessment when most of it is a ritualistic sacrament. Unfortunately, in the safety industry, the attachment of analysis to meaningless rituals and sacraments in risk assessment ads no value to thinking about risk. But when a sacrament becomes a political tool for belonging/identity it actually creates legal liability because none of this could ever be explained rationally in court (https://vimeo.com/162637292, https://vimeo.com/167228715, https://vimeo.com/166158437 , https://vimeo.com/162034157 ). This is the theology of the risk industry. The sacrament of the risk matrix will get you in a whole heap of trouble in court if you think you know how to explain its efficaciousness.
Most of the rituals and sacraments in safety are delusional myths that convince people that they have undertaken a risk assessment. Most symbols and myths are much more about acts of faith/belief than thinking about risk. They serve the same values as a sacrament/ritual in a cult. Similarly, all this preoccupation with injury rates and trifr rates is also ritualistic mumbo jumbo that has no cultural meaning. In this case a 40 minute walk and chat about supervision and we achieved a sensible outcome. Here we were with 500 children in 5 different areas of the school all playing, running about, excited and being normal and what a responsibility it is with accountability for the safety and risk of 400 people’s children. Could there be any greater responsibility? Why then would someone want to ruin that life with the rituals and sacraments of safety that ad no value to tackling risk?
What has Safety turned itself into? Why all this religious like beliefs and attributions of effectiveness to rituals that have no meaning (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-as-faith-healing/ ). Ah yes, of course, zero harm, the ultimate act of faith and denial of fallibility (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/fallibility-risk-living-uncertainty/ ). Why does this idea that the production of a document full of safety sacraments and rituals keeps people safe? It makes as much sense as a St Christopher medallion or cross bringing eternal life. Oh I forgot, safety too has its ‘cardinal’ and life saving rules! Safety saves! (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-people-dont-save-lives/). Sounds like a Hillsong convention (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-for-true-believers/, https://safetyrisk.net/zero-vision-as-propaganda/, https://safetyrisk.net/no-evidence-for-the-religion-of-zero/ )
Obviously what we need in safety is more sacraments and rituals to save us from our sins. It always helps the guilty feel much better when eternal life is processed through rituals, sacraments and cardinal rules.