The Fear of Freedom in Safety
For some reason people have recently become most interested in the Two Day Workshop on Due Diligence run by myself and Greg Smith (https://safetyrisk.net/none-so-blind-as-those-that-dont-want-to-see-due-diligence/). The next Due Diligence Workshop is on 20,21 February (https://cllr.com.au/product/due-diligence-workshop-unit-13/)
In feedback on the Workshop it became clear that people liked the idea of reducing petty pointless safety bureaucracy that didn’t have anything to do with safety but were afraid to do so. The feedback was clear: ‘the government wants it’ or ‘clients want it’ so, there is nothing we can do about it. Even when there was some freedom from government and client demand, people were still afraid to let go of the totems to which they had become religiously addicted. Safety is indeed in the land of Norom (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-in-the-land-of-norom-from-the-book-of-nil/ ).
Let’s just all fall in line with the nonsense conga line and like lemmings perform the Heinrich Dance forever and a day. So lets keep counting statistics that mean nothing, TRIFR rates that create pettiness and reporting and writing endless risk assessments, hazard records and JSAs that contribute nothing to tackling risk. As one person in the workshop put it: ‘its pointless, everyone expects this crap’. Yet, Greg demonstrates so clearly in his new book Paper Safe (https://www.booktopia.com.au/paper-safe-gregory-w-smith/prod9780987630001.html) that most of what we ‘count’ as safety is not much more than theatre performance that provides no legal protection when things go wrong.
Maybe change is not possible, in an industry that profoundly mis-educates itself, that deifies mechanics and counting, we could just give up and be safety lemmings. With no vision forthcoming from safety peak bodies immersed in territory/fortress protection and endorsing the already closed STEM WHS curriculum (https://safetyrisk.net/isnt-it-time-we-reformed-the-whs-curriculum/) and zero, there seems little hope.
However, I received an email last night from a GM of safety in an International tier one organisation that is getting rid of zero. A bold move, equivalent to removing any religious object from a church. It’s so easy to dump more refuse in the safety temple but so hard to take something away.
Taking away zero is the symbolic start to a new approach to people and risk. If you want to learn about myths and cults, just suggest it in your organisation and listen to the language in response – fear and trembling.
Sometimes the best way to start a change is to take away models, change language and replace symbols. These are often your ‘tipping point’.
Eric Fromm is one of the founding members of the Frankfurt School and a critical read for anyone interested in risk and safety. One of his best books is The Fear of Freedom (http://realsociology.edublogs.org/files/2013/09/erich-fromm-the-fear-of-freedom-escape-from-freedom-29wevxr.pdf). Situated in the height of Nazi Germany Fromm discusses Negative Freedom (Freedom from) and Positive Freedom (freedom to). Fromm argued that one without the other was not helpful. One can know what one needs to be free from but must also have a strategy of how to move forward and what to do next. Anyone who has been liberated from an addiction knows about ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to’.
The creative, imaginative actions of Hope need to have an avenue on which to travel. In the Due Diligence Workshop Greg Smith facilitates the ‘freedom from’ and I facilitate the ‘freedom to’. The Social Psychology of Risk provides new ways and tools (https://spor.com.au/downloads/tools/) of tackling risk once one has dropped much of the myths to which Safety has become cultically addicted.
Sometimes the first moves are simply to change models, symbols and language. It is amazing what happens when those dumb symbols of cones, pyramids, matrices, boots, hard hats, gloves and glasses are substituted for humanising symbols.
In another organisation I work with they have just removed the crazy Life Saving Rules and Cardinal Rules nonsense and replaced it with ‘Critical Conversations in Risk’. Again a bold move for a religion that attributes saving effectiveness to propaganda that has no influence on behaviour. Ah, we now police 10 Life Saving Rules and have put up posters everywhere – everyone is safe.
Another company I work with has just removed the coloured matrix and bow tie from their risk assessments, again a bold move. Sometimes taking away that religious icon breaks dependencies and begins that necessary conversation needed towards humanising risk your workplace. None of this is revolutionary. There is nothing to be afraid of. Most of what has been brought into safety and deified has no meaning. Most of what we currently do in safety is not connected to effectively tackling risk.
Soon it will be time for a New Years resolution. If you want to become diligent in safety what will be your ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to’?