Snap, Crackle, Pop. That’s the Sound we Love to Hear
Rice Krispies were first released by Kellogg in 1928, and introduced in Australia as Rice Bubbles. The breakfast cereal is made of ‘crisped’ rice (toasted rice). The marketing that accompanied the launch of Rice Bubbles was associated with the sound of crackling as the milk broke through the rice sugar pasted shells. When I was a kid we could all sing the jingle for Rice Bubbles and say the slogan for Coco Pops, ‘Just like a milk shake, only crunchie’. Amazing that 50 years later we can easily recall slogans and jingles, demonstrating the power of words and music to get into the subconscious. We may be able to recall sounds and jingles but the real issue is if the product has any real value or substance to it. The key question is: is this healthy for you?
As kids, we used to beg our parents to buy Coco Pops and we loved the taste. We used to love Rice Bubbles and of course ‘chocolate crackles’. Great for fund raising and birthday parties. Unfortunately, as with many things, there are equal and opposite competing goals associated with the trade off for fun and taste. The key question is: is this stuff good for you?
There are many products (programs and services) offered in the risk and safety sphere that remind me a lot about Rice Bubbles. On the outside there is plenty of snap, crackle and pop but scratch below the surface and there is little value, ethical goodness or substance beyond spin and jingle. So much is promised, it sounds so good but the question has to be asked: is this good for you? However, there is an even deeper question inferred by this question: how do you know if something is good or bad? On what basis can you discern if something is of value and substance or is just spin and jingle? Discerning good from bad, right from wrong and substance from spin requires wisdom, knowledge and experience. More importantly, one has to juggle competing goals and value trade offs to ask the question: is this ethical? On the outside many things look enticing and attractive but underneath play insidious values that are anti-learning, anti-human and anti-community. Programs that play out in such unethical values ought to be rejected by the risk and safety community.
Capability and competence in risk and safety requires much more than just knowing the content of the Work Health and Safety Act. Whilst it is good to obtain a diploma in Work Health and Safety, there are many experiences and forms of knowledge that a required to be a good risk and safety advisor. Simply policing legislation is not enough to make one competent in understanding and managing risk and safety. Risk and safety at a simplistic level is nothing more than Rice Bubbles risk and safety.
Rice Bubbles risk and safety unfortunately confuses the ‘sound’ of something with the substance of something. Rice Bubbles risk and safety seeks simplistic answers for complex ‘wicked’ problems and when it doesn’t get the answer it wants, it blames others for poor decisions as if leadership is like building a house out of lego blocks. Rice Bubbles risk and safety doesn’t want to ‘hear’ that risk is a ‘wicked’ problem, doesn’t want to hear that humans are fallible and that decision making is complex. It seeks to apply substance to one dimensional binary ideas that lack real substance and cannot discern real risk from attributed risk. Rice Bubbles risk and safety thinks that the ‘dumb ways to die’ campaign was successful because it got millions of hits on Youtube, despite the fact that the suicide rate increased. Rice Bubbles risk and safety thinks that an indoctrination campaign like a hazardman comic will teach kids about risk and safety despite the fact that similar strategies have failed. Rice Bubbles risk and safety thinks that ‘zero harm’ is a wonderful aspirational goal despite the fact that such language ‘primes’ failure and creates a toxic mindset for human relationships at work.
The challenge for the risk and safety professional is to humanize the process and activity of risk and safety, to ensure that people are prioritized in the practice of safety. Unethical efforts to ‘Lord’ over others and indoctrinate others simply don’t fit a model of respectful learning or the notion that ownership in risk is important. Maybe it is time the risk and safety industry changed breakfast food.