Guest Post by Brian Darlington
In preparation for an upcoming diving vacation, I have for the past two weeks, been observing my wife, Aneta, partake in training sessions for her Open Water scuba diving qualification. Throughout the two weeks of theoretical sessions, exams and practical observations, followed by many hours in the water, I kept thinking how different things were during the training and the practical sessions, compared to what industry does in traditional risk and safety.
For those who have read my book It Works, A New Approach to Risk and Safety, you will know about my passion for diving (Pp. 3-7).
Learning rather than Training
Unlike induction safety training in many companies, the PADI diving training program focuses on ‘embodied learning’ and understanding. In ‘embodied learning’ the focus is on experience, felt knowing, heuristics and movement in being. This is very different from the industry induction standard that tends to be just a tick and flick exercise and focused on cognitivism (everything from the neck up). The PADI modules provide theory that is reflective and connected, short videos highlighting the critical and essential elements and most importantly, engagement connected to motivation, practicality and the psychology of goals.
Without meaning and purpose, there is no motivation to learn. Without a change in meaning and purpose content data remains dis-embodied.
Each section and PADI module end with a test based on reflection and experiential knowledge, anchored to understanding the realities of diving.
In PADI, there are no such things like a crash course, to get you into the water as soon as possible, with the main plan of selling diving equipment and maybe more courses to the newly inspired diver. PADI is about the person and making sure that in all dives to follow, the student will be able to do so in a safe manner, feeling relaxed and enjoying the journey, risk makes sense. This is a journey that communicates with the embodied Mind (whole person), being: head, heart, and gut.
Risk Makes Sense
I remember a few years back a friend of mine asking me how I, who was employed in the safety and health field, could partake in the sport of scuba diving, it being such a high-risk sport.
Yes, it’s a high-risk sport, with each dive presenting a degree of risk (regardless of all the best laid plans) including for example: equipment malfunction, getting lost under water, suffering decompression sickness (“the bends”) or pulmonary embolisms from surfacing too fast, running out of oxygen, becoming claustrophobic during wreck dives, or panicking when diving among an abundance of sharks. There is also the added risk of being attacked by an underwater creature. Although this is rare, it’s not impossible – just think back to the wildlife TV presenter, Steve Erwin (crocodile hunter), who was fatally injured in 2016 by a stingray.
Risk is not a bad thing, there can be absolutely no learning without risk, there can also be no learning without motion. I recall reading a chapter in Rob Long’s book, titled Risk Makes Sense, where he mentioned that “Effective thinking and acting is not only about the preservation of life, but the living of life”. Can one imagine having life without risk, there would never be any learning, experiencing, enjoyment, never mind the need to ban sports such as scuba diving, sky diving, motocross, and probably most other sport disciplines.
Principles of Social Psychology of Risk
The aim of this blog is to apply some of the main principles of Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) to scuba diving and therefore, I will focus on Workspace, Headspace and Groupspace as well as the embodied feeling one gets from participating in the sport of scuba diving.
Yes, there are many rules, procedures, and training requirements in place which all divers are required to understand (embody), prior to being certified at the specific level that one is training for. However, the difference between scuba diving and industry Induction, is there was no ‘flooding’ of information. The learning diving is ‘embodied’ because information is not understood as just ‘data’, the information is motivational and inspirational because it is anchored to real goals.
The training did include theoretical training but with motion, real learning moves you somewhere. Therefore, after passing all the on-line modules, assessments, and exams, Aneta was required to conduct almost two days of practical training and coaching in the pool.
Lived learning, experiential learning and felt learning trump head learning (cognitvism) any day.
I joined for the water sessions and observed as the instructor, explained what is required from each exercise and then demonstrated how it should be done. This was done on a one-to-one basis thereby giving full attention. Aneta was then required to conduct the exercises and repeatedly coached until she could do them comfortably, without stress and correctly.
It made me think about safety induction trainings in industry, where people are packed into training rooms, flooded with information, some of it having no value whatsoever, disconnected from reality, non-motivational, boring and no focus on embodied understanding. In most cases, Safety inductions offer no demonstrations and or any sort of coaching as well as allowing for ‘trial and error learning’ until correctly understood. Most safety inductions I have observed, are just a tick and flick exercise. And then leaders wonder why people do not follow rules on site and learn hardly anything from the inductions and incidents occur. Most inductions in safety I have seen are simply ‘Death by PowerPoint’ rather than learning through motion.
In diving the best equipment for the dive is provided or owned to ensure that diver is well prepared for the dive. There are various checks, however, checks that make sense and focus on the main issues.
Regarding Headspace, one of the most important aspects of diving is that the diver remains calm, never holds their breath whilst under water and feels comfortable prior to, during as well as after the dive. No person is forced to enter or descend to the required depths if they do not feel comfortable.
When a diver experiences difficulties when descending or during the dive, be it pressure, failing to equalize or being nervous, they are entitled to signal they have a problem and ascend until comfortable and then either stop the dive or continue with the descent.
The groupthink in diving is focused on people first and should someone call time-out it is a norm that there is no blaming or bullying of the person. Because of this, divers feel comfortable to make the call. Much of the communication under water is symbolic, using signs, gestures and para-linguistics. So much of safety training and inductions is focused on text, often with an audience with low levels of literacy.
Many companies inform employees and contractors that they have the right to refuse to work on grounds of safety and health, however it is questionable how many will or do so. In many cases failing to exercise their right is due to the culture and sub-cultures of the company, site, or team.
Groupspace is an important element of diving, if not the most important. It is a heuristic called the “Buddy System”, where divers are paired with a partner for the dive. They are then responsible not only for their safety before and during the dive, but also for their assigned buddy. This means that prior to the dive, the buddies check each other’s equipment, air supply and pressure. Then during the dive, they always remain close to each other, communicating with signs and checking that each other are feeling good and that their air pressure is suitable. Should any difficulties occur then they are required to support each other, be it slowing down, doing a safety stop or providing an alternative air supply. There is nothing as powerful in learning as what Dr Long calls Socialitie.
The reason that the “Buddy System” works is that the culture in diving promotes things like support, responsibility, mutuality and caring for each other. And by conducting the activities of the “Buddy System” develops habits, ensures continuous learning, reduces stress during the dive and importantly develops a sense of trust between the divers.
I always say that in most incidents in industry, we have witnesses who can provide details of what happened. The question is then why the witnesses did not stop the person working in a manner that was not safe. I guess the answer comes back to culture and many unconscious pressures. Do leaders and those in the risk and safety field develop trust, allow persons to call time-out, encourage each other to look after each other, and develop a sense of belonging and positive groupthink. Most often the habits and demeanour of the safety industry unconsciously discourage open sharing or confession.
Scuba diving like everything we do in life has an embodied feeling. Some believe that all thoughts and feelings are brain based, but the reality is that our experiences are embodied, impacting head, heart, and gut – the whole person.
Scuba diving provides divers with a happy and excited embodied feeling and meets the meaning and need for purpose of those who want to learn.
One of the most important values in learning to dive is ‘connectedness’. What you learn is critical to diving and your life depends on it. None of the information you receive is disconnected from what you are about to do and you will soon be tested experientially and practically on the relevance of that information. If it cannot be enacted and just remains ‘head knowledge’, it is not learning.
Content is not learning. Propositions are not learning. Disconnected ideas are not learning. Why is it then that Safety throws such much at people that is irrelevant, disconnected and useless? Even if one considers for a second the legal outcomes of safety training, so little of it is actually a protection in court. Why are people bombarded with regulations etc that cannot be learned and, in the end, will be governed by legal experts not safety?
The other main difference in learning how to scuba dive is, there is no fear of risk, no anxiety about compliance, no punishment for ‘trial and error learning’, no silly language about heroes, meaningless pyramids, swiss-cheese, matrices, no bluffing etc. It’s all about connecting the person to their goal, to dive safely. Isn’t that what we should be doing in safety?