The Delusion of Numbers and a Number of Delusions
I have a friend who was recently threatened with the sack for challenging the delusion that injury rates represent something, safety. The attribution of significance to any number is a reflection of the ideology of the speaker not reality. Numbers in themselves say nothing, any value given to a number is an attribution. How numbers are interpreted depends of the hermeneutic of the ideological frame or worldview. One can easily project opposite findings to the same numbers used to make truth claims about injury rates attributed to safety.
The acceptance of numerics and metrics as a representation of safety says more about the ideology of an industry than about mathematics. When your ideology is zero, then the answer to the question what is safety, is a number.
The ideology of measurement itself is never questioned in safety (https://safetyrisk.net/the-seduction-of-measurement-in-risk-and-safety/ ) nor the attribution that data is neutral or objective. All data is interpreted according to the ideology of the interpreting framework. One thing is for sure, the idea of safety (the presence of being safe) has no connection at all to the history of injury rates in an organization.
Of course, in the real world most of what we do and value cannot be measured.
In our recent module on study of the Poetics of Risk (https://cllr.com.au/product/poetics-flyer-module-22/) we have been looking at what we can learn from the subjective-objective dialectic. One of the slides we discussed last week was this one, where I simply listed examples of disciplines, activities and states that are non-measurable:
However, when it comes to the mono-disciplinary worldview of safety none of these seem to have anything to say to risk. The focus of safety is always on a number eg. zero or 1% or similar (https://safetyrisk.net/its-always-a-number/ ).
Yet, whenever we are caught in the realities of life: in suffering, harm, fallibilities, uncertainty and risk we turn to Poetics to find meaning and purpose, it’s never a number. There is no comfort in numbers when persons are involved. So, the best thing in safety is never to talk about persons. There is no discussion in the safety world globally about the nature of personhood, how convenient. The global mantra for safety is zero and until this delusion disappears the brand of ‘professional’ is meaningless.