Short-sighted Safety

Short-sighted Safety

There is nothing more debilitating to human ‘being’ than hyper-fear, hyper-risk aversion and hyper-safety. Hyper-fear and hyper-risk aversion is the outcome of blind safety and ignorance.

imageI was contacted by a person who is a parent at a school that had just banned children in the school from doing handstands and cartwheels on the grass ‘for safety reasons’. The new rule, punishable by detention, was called the ‘heads below knees rule’. Attached to the email was a note from the school and yes, it was real.

The same week I presented to a group at an insurance company and from the moment I entered the room I could feel the fear and trepidation about the chord to my computer and the position of my bag. The ‘freak out’ over my computer lead and my bag on the floor leaning up against a wall sent the organisers into a tail spin! Here we were 20 stories up in a high rise and walking about traffic in the streets for coffee and yet the freak out was about leads and bags. If there is one thing Safety does well is the propagation of disproportionality and paranoia about the petty pissy safety ( ). I’m sure this is all fostered by the nonsense of Heinrich, TRIFR rates and zero.

So, I met with the parent and she made an appointment with the school to discuss the ‘heads below knees rule’. I was curious to hear how basic body movement had now become a ‘safety problem’. The meeting was cordial and polite with many questions and the principal committed to looking further into the matter. I’m not sure he was even aware of those who had brought in the rule. It was also clear that he and the school had little clue on the fundamentals of ‘duty of care’ and ‘negligence’. Greg Smith and I find the similar ignorance on the nature of Due Diligence in the risk and safety industry ( ).

What is most disturbing about hyper-fear, hyper-risk aversion and hyper-safety is its short-sightedness. Hyper-safety only thinks in the moment not the long lasting by-products and trade-offs that in the end are more harmful. Hyper-safety is preoccupied with petty risk. These are risks and possible injuries that will never end up in court. You aren’t going to be prosecuted for a lack of duty of care or negligence for a broken arm, sprained leg or cut finger. The court knows that accidents happen and that for a prosecution to become active a school and staff would have to be shown to be demonstrably and wilfully negligent. There is a very good overview of duty of care and negligence on the website of the Association of Independent Schools ( or here: The formula for demonstrating negligence is quite onerous.

The crazy thing about the disproportionality of hyper-safety is that it is not about living but an escape from living. The only way one can live in the real world is to accept the vulnerability of humans in the face of risk. The opposite is the delusion of zero. The key to wisdom is not avoiding risk but learning how to tackle it ( ). I can just imagine what kind of world we will have with all our children on Ipads anxious about cut fingers and yet chronically obese!

The real problem with short-sighted safety is its blindness to long-sighted trade-offs and by-products. In Being and Time Heidegger uses the term being-in-the world to define human ‘being’. Although a very difficult read Heidegger explains that being-in-the-world is also about being-at-risk. From the day we are born we tackle the vulnerabilities of being fallible. However, we don’t seek to escape from the world we seek to engage with it because this is how we learn, grow and develop. How can we learn about our own bodies if we can’t cartwheel and handstand?

In the end hyper-safety is unethical. This is why zero is unethical. Hyper-safety doesn’t care about the well being and learning of the subject (person) it only cares in fear about an object. When a child is an object in a system of objects that counts injuries in fear of the next number then we have totally lost the plot in living. Heidegger calls being-in-the-world Dasein that is, being ‘present’ in the world ( ). How can one be ‘present’ in the world if one hides from risk?

I read a report the other day that stated that 30% of children in Australia now don’t know how to climb a tree.

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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