SIA has a Bet ‘Each Way’ on Zero
Following in the wake of the Vision Zero spectacle at the XXI World Congress on Safety and Health at Work 2017 the SIA decided to release a statement on Zero on 20 September 2017. The Statement is nothing short of simple spin-doctoring to ‘have a bet each way’ on zero . Let’s look at what the SIA Statement says (What to do when Vision Zero is a new global by-line?
It is clear that the SIA is somewhat embarrassed by its attachment to the Global Vision Zero mantra, hence the need to issue a Statement. However, this is surprising given the strong attachment of the SIA to the Congress and in particular The Occupational Health and Safety Professional Capability Framework, A Global Framework for Practice: Singapore Accord (INSHPO, 2017, http://singaporeaccord.org/box/INSHPO,CapabilityFramework-3a,SingaporeAccordReference.pdf )
We know from the XXI World Congress on Safety and Health at Work 2017 that the Vision Zero was no ‘by-line’ (https://safetyrisk.net/no-evidence-for-the-religion-of-zero/). The SIA knows that language matters, even though it contradicts this in the body of this Statement. So, the SIA reframes the Zero Vision mantra as a ‘by-line’ but in the body of the text de-emphasises the Zero language and discourse as just a goal, target or program. Everyone in safety knows that Zero is an ideology that shapes culture and has a life of its own driving calculative thinking, numerics, counting and a focus on minor ‘petty’ risk and objects.
The SIA Statement makes clear that Zero is an ideology when it states: ‘But from there, we go into whether all incidents/accidents are preventable, and the ideological rabbit hole begins to open up’. I discussed the ideology of zero in my second book For the Love of Zero, Human Fallibility and Risk (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/for-the-love-of-zero/). (The videos: Zero, The Maintenance of a Dangerous Idea https://vimeo.com/230093823 and The Problem with Zero Harm https://vimeo.com/120019541 receive over 1000 views globally each week)
We also know that the ideology of Zero is a religious narrative (Dekker, S., Long, R., and Wybo, J., (2015) Zero Vision and a Western Salvation Narrative. Safety Science. Vol., 88). We observe this clearly in the Congress parade of ‘We Believe’ and in the language of this SIA Statement itself. Of all the words that could be chosen in the SIA Statement on zero, the choice was to use the word ‘agnostic’. Agnosticism is when one ‘confesses’ that one ‘doesn’t know’. The position of a-gnosis (not knowing) is religious language (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism ). How curious that this SIA Statement endorses the religiosity of the ideology of zero in its quest to sit on the fence.
How strange for an organisation that parades the importance of knowledge as the bedrock of establishing a ‘profession’ (http://www.ohsbok.org.au/) to then come out on a critical issue and say ‘we don’t know’. How strange to endorse the foundation of ‘professional practice’ as founded on science, intelligence, knowledge and critical thinking (The Occupational Health and Safety Professional Capability Framework, A Global Framework for Practice: Singapore Accord (INSHPO, 2017, pp. 10-15) then take a position on perhaps the most critical discourse in risk and safety and state ‘we don’t know’. How can safety be a profession if the stance on critical knowledge is ‘we don’t know’? is this a part of a Non-Body of Knowledge?
The thrust of the SIA Statement is a strategy of deflection. Rather than contesting zero ideology the Statement digresses to the concept of Zero Programs. Even though the Statement itself confirms that Zero is an ideology it decides to confirm Zero Harm Programs as a ‘school of thought’ without any position on such programs. Of course taking no position is a position in itself. There is no neutral position in ideology and the ideology itself is not benign. So the SIA decide to be ‘agnostic’ about zero (paragraph 4), then state ‘it’s not a cop out’ in admission that it will be perceived as such.
In seeking to remain an association that seeks to be professional it states: ‘We promote discussion rather than philosophy’ (see endnote) which is of course a nonsense because the SIA Vision Statement (see SIA, Position statements – Section 1.The Health and Safety Profession or SIA Strategic Plan 2016-2017) is a philosophy. More importantly, an ethic (which is critical factor for professionalism http://www.co.wise.tx.us/constable/Downloads/Professionalism%20and%20Ethics.pdf) is a moral philosophy and in this critical issue of zero (that has a trajectory of dehumanising people, privileging numbers, objects and is anti-learning) the SIA says ‘we don’t know’ and wants to have a ‘bet each way’. What this demonstrates is that the SIA is yet to discover an ‘ethic of safety’ thereby ignoring the destructive and dehumanising elements of zero ideology. Instead, lets just keep talking about zero and have a ‘bet each way’.
Without an ‘ethic of safety’, Safety can never be professional. (I will be publishing an academic position paper on the professionalization of safety in the safety week). An ethic is the bedrock of professionalization (http://www.pogar.org/publications/finances/anticor/publicserviceethics.pdf ).
In a second confirmation of zero as an ideology the Statement then says (paragraph 5) ‘ideology is one thing, evidence is another’. So in the quest for science, intelligence, evidence-based-practice, knowledge and critical thinking, we want to remain neutral on the fundamental ideological denial of fallibility, mortality, randomness and risk in the name of safety. In what world is it ‘scientific’ or ‘professional’ to speak perfection to fallible workers and then count injuries as a demonstration of non-safety? How can safety be ‘professional’ when it is naïve and ‘agnostic’ about fundamental binary discourse that creates zero. How can one adopt a ‘philosophy of care’ (paragraph 6) when the ideology one endorses is fixated on a number? How can one adopt an ‘ethic of safety’ based on a moral absolute?
The SIA Statement concludes by playing the culture card of cultural difference, ignoring the fundamental archetypal power of the zero ideology in further demonstration of unprofessional naivety. If anything, the attraction of other cultures to zero ideology demonstrates the cross-cultural power of the archetype (https://safetyrisk.net/making-the-world-fit-the-safety-worldview/) itself and the naivety of safety institutions in those cultures to think critically.
So, the SIA remains ‘sanguine’ about zero ideology, how can that be so when there is so much evidence that safety has buried itself in an ideology it cannot now escape. We know the dynamic of ‘sunk cost’ requires deep dissonance and conversion to escape from fundamentalist and religious ideology (For the Love of Zero, 2012, pp. 63ff). We see the same sunk cost and fear in the reluctance of safety to cut back on excessive paperwork. Once something is in and ‘professionalised’ it is nearly impossible to take out such is the dynamic of the ‘insititutionalization of the charisma’ (http://aejt.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/486593/AEJT11.16_Max_Weber_Revisited_Taylor.pdf ).
One thing is for sure the SIA is not going to take a position of leadership on making any change soon about this ideology and, until it establishes an ‘ethic of safety’, it is unlikely that it will ever be professional.
It is fascinating that the SIA wants to be a ‘discussion’ and debating organisation rather than take an ethical position on critical ideologies. It is also interesting that as the only book author globally on the ideology of zero in safety, that I have never been asked to engage in any debate or discussion on the topic in the last 15 years even while I was CFSIA for 8 of those years. So the evidence is clear about what matters.
The last time I did offer to present for the SIA (Visions Conference 2016 https://sia.org.au/downloads/Events/QLD/Visions_Conference_2016/Visions_Presentations/Long_Isn_t_it_Time_We_Reformed_the_WHS_Curriculum_3.pdf) I was robbed by 30 minutes of my keynote presentation time by the regulator who spewed statistical data for an hour. A clear demonstration of the demands of zero on SIA culture. When you define your reality by a number, then statistical regurgitation is a priority. The time before I was robbed of 30 minutes by a populist lawyer who was marketing fear and mythology about Due Diligence. So here is the evidence for wanting to be a discussion organisation and here are the identifiers of professionalism: statistical regurgitation, fear, religious ideology, agnosticism and mythology.