Standing on the Myths of Safety
Most people confuse the definition of myth with fable, when this is not the case. When I use the word ‘myth’ in the tradition of Social Psychology its meaning is synonymous with symbolic reality. In Social Psychology a myth and symbol are the flip side of the same coin (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305078334_Ricoeur_on_myth_and_demythologising ). Such an understanding is common in the disciplines associated with Semiotics, Poetics and the arts. For example, when discussing the power of a symbol we associate a narrative with the symbol and this is coupled to the symbol as its myth.
Something can be factually false but be mythically/symbolically true.
The best way to understand myth/symbol is through example. Let’s take the myth of Simpson and his Donkey (https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/forging/australians/simpson). Most of the story attributed to Simpson is simply not factually true. His name was not Simpson it was Kirkpatrick, a two times deserter who was confused in art for another person who used a donkey to work with the injured at Gallipoli, a New Zealander Richard Henderson.
· Wilson, G., (2012) Dust Donkeys and Delusions, The Myth of Simpson and his Donkey. Big Sky Publishing. Newport. https://www.bigskypublishing.com.au/books/dust-donkeys-and-delusion/
Research the Simpson myth and the history and making of the myth and you find out that most of the story is factually incorrect. Yet, the power of the symbol remains and the statue of Simpson and his donkey stands at the entrance to the Australian War Memorial.
You can read the myth here: https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/forging/australians/simpson
Mythical truth is like metaphorical truth, as we find meaning and purpose in the symbol/myth not necessarily any factual truth. When we make symbols of things and raise up the myths attached to such symbols, we make the meaning of the symbol a truth, to us. We do this all the time in culture, where we turn cultural events and stories into symbol myths. One such myth is that of the ANZAC, often immortalized in memorials that never represent the truth of war . We also see this in religion/theology where events are immortalized as myth/symbol that have only a small skerrick of factual truth.
The point is this. Myths are constructed and attributed with meaning regardless of factual truth and are made truth by a culture that wants them to be so. We see this all the time in the safety industry where various projected theories and ideas like: Heinrich ratios, bow-ties, swiss-cheese, pyramids, risk matrices etc and all kinds of symbolic metaphors created by Safety to try to understand risk then given mythical status regardless of reality or truthfulness.
However, when it comes to truth telling in a court of law, none of these safety myths stand. As Greg Smith has stated these are often his ‘go to’ starting points for pulling apart are defence of method in court (https://vimeo.com/showcase/3938199 ). One of the most important things people in safety need to do is sort out the myth from reality. Most of the concocted myths/symbols that safety believes in are simply unhelpful in a court room. Just try for one second in a court room to bring up a discussion on the nonsense of zero and see how far you get. Perhaps tell a lawyer about Heinrich ratios and see where it goes.
You are standing in a court room being tried for a fatality or serious injury and then tell the court that you believe in zero, you would be laughed out of court. The whole purpose and meaning of the court exists in denial of the myth of zero. That’s why the court exists, because zero is factual nonsense.
So, if you ever get to court and I hope it doesn’t happen to you, and you want to come out the other end in one piece don’t try for a second to stand on the myths of safety.