Originally posted on September 7, 2020 @ 10:35 AM
Science and Acts of Faith in Safety
The language of scientific ‘proofs’ is the language of positivism, behaviourism and empiricism. Such a language often gives away a discourse of control, power and security in the face of uncertainty. It is one thing to seek knowledge ‘scientifically’ and something completely different to undertake discourse analysis of the ways in which science ‘speaks’. The two are inseparable, the medium of the message is part of the message.
It was scholars like Kuhn, Feyerbend, Laktos and Law who first introduced the idea of the subjectivities in science, not just in method but methodology (philosophy of method). Also embedded in such concepts as ‘scientific method’ is the language and discourse in how Science expresses itself. Science can be understood as an activity, a discourse and an archetype.
In many ways when Science speaks of ‘truths’ or ‘proofs’ it means correlation between subjective assumptions and outcome. The idea that a process could be void of human subjective involvement is one of the myths of objectivity/positivism and certain safety approaches that propose that something is ‘scientific’. When one looks at the disconnect between many propositions in the safety industry about science they have much more to do with acts of faith in science than scientific proofs. The conclusions of Behaviour Based Safety (BBS) are a case in point. Many of the claims of BBS are acts of faith and attributions not empirical proofs.
Indeed, even the idea of ‘safety science’ (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925753513001768) openly display a bias towards mechanics, materialism, behaviorism, positivism and empiricism. This bias is its subjectivity and that’s fine but don’t speak of conclusions that this is somehow both objective and holistic.
Many critical aspects that could be offered by a transdisciplinary approach (https://safetyrisk.net/transdisciplinary-safety/) are completely omitted from much safety science discussion especially critical aspects of Anthropology, Education and Learning, Discourse Analysis, Poetics, Semiotics and Social Psychology. Similarly, many critical disciplines are completely omitted from the AIHS BoK.
Lets take for example the recent publication on BS (https://www.fqmltd.com/post/what-is-behavioral-safety-workplace-examples-and-strategies). The discussion is full of endless assertions; undefined psycho-babble and BS gobbledygook that one assumes make sense to an initiated readership. Let’s address two critical omissions, what is the human unconscious? What is consciousness?
Of course, no one knows. Whilst neuroscience is trying to find some source of consciousness in materiality it has progressed no further with answering these questions than any other scientific endeavor. Yes, but here we have BBS knows all about consciousness and unconsciousness and ends up with simplistic assertions like ‘slips on concentration’, ‘errors’, ‘violations’, ‘mistakes’ and a host of other language about consciousness without definition. When you examine the Discourse of this discussion about measures, monitoring and reporting its all about assertion, attribution and assumption. Such critical discussions about concentration (consciousness) and loss of concentration (unconsciousness) are just assumed to need no discussion. For example, let’s look at this discussion from the text:
‘We all make unintentional errors from time to time. It’s important when you see another person doing this, that you bring it to their attention right away. This may prevent them from harming themselves or others in the future’.
OK, what is an intention? Please explain this act of will and why such will is lost? Perhaps explain how 90% of all decision making is not consciously enacted anyway. Humans develop heuristical acts so they don’t have to ‘think’. Is this how one gets an ‘unintentional’ error?
The real crux of the discussion is not about understanding consciousness but rather this line ‘It’s important when you see another person doing this, that you bring it to their attention right away’. Ah, the power and control, that’s what BBS is really about. Or what about this comment:
‘Often it is the individual that holds our imperfect systems together – The fact that things are working, and people have not been hurt, is down to your employees efforts and luck’.
So, systems are imperfect, humans are imperfect and yet most of the time we act safely and unconsciously maintain order, process and methods. Yet the focus of BBS remains on behaviours, of course. Just as well we have the mystery of luck to pull us through.
And there it is, an act of faith wrapped up in the discourse of BBS. Of course, the by-products of BBS are never discussed. The brutalism of enacting a BBS regime are one of the silences of this so called ‘safety science’. One would need to embrace a transdisciplinary approach to engage with this problem (of dehumanizing persons) but why expand safety horizons when a good delusion will do (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-naivety-and-the-delusions-of-kiss/ ).