The Foundations of Safety
One of the introductory subjects for beginning teachers is the ‘Foundations of Education’, this is a study of the nature of people, learning development and maturation. When I observe beginner training in safety the ‘foundations of safety’ seem to be: regulations, systems and policing. Of course, these are not the foundations of safety, the foundations of safety are hope, compassion and empathy. The care for the well-being of others is the foundation of safety. Unfortunately, the technicists that dominate the safety sector seem to believe safety is founded on a study of objects.
The reality is that safety is not about the study of hazards (objects) but about the interaction of humans with objects. Somewhere along the line the technicists have hijacked the focus and now safety seems to be the study of systems, objects and policing. Unfortunately, this perspective drives such a focus on control that it has shaped ignorance and intolerance of human interactions as protective behaviours. Even the discussion of ‘soft’ skills seems just a pejorative description of something to manage objects.
I read a newsletter the other day for the SIA OHS Accreditation Board and the whole focus is on an eagerness to register and accredit but no focus on what people are being initiated and accredited in. So here is the proposition: lets expend all our energy, thousands of hours and dollars to accredit the training of yet more people in the love of objects and zero. What a primitive undertaking. Have a look at the text books prescribed with most introductory safety qualifications and the proof is in the eating.
The strange thing about safety training is a total lack of recognition of safety as a social activity. It is so focused on objects that it loses sight of the fact that safety is a social, communal and caring activity. The preoccupation with ‘where the buck stops’ is driven by the obsession with objects when in reality, ‘the buck doesn’t stop anywhere’. Safety is about trade-offs, by-products and social interactions, and all human activity is undertaken in a social context. Whilst orthodox safety wishes to keep the focus on objects, certainty and zero, the reality in the human focus is that many things are uncertain, unconscious and uncontrolled. It seems the safety industry is the only player at the table who doesn’t know there is a ‘wild’ card in play. Talk of uncertain, the unconscious and the uncontrolled is the big taboo in the technicist world of objects.
I was on a plane this week and saw the “Germanwings Procedure’ for the first time. The first officer wished to go to the toilet, the steward went into the cockpit and a second steward stood on guard. When the first officer had finished, all changed places and went on with their business. The ‘cascading effect’ is the foundation of safety, no person undertakes an activity that doesn’t flow on to others, this is even the case with suicide. Surely, someone has the right to chose to take their own life? Yes, but socially, there are 150 in the plane.
Again, even most things we think we do in isolation and individually are socially situated. Human living is not an individualist, behaviourist and rationalist activity. No person is an island, that is why we care about safety. This is where hope, compassion and empathy come in. Safety is not about ‘getting things right’ as if disconnected from people, it’s about helping others (Safety as a Helping Profession). If one doesn’t care about others, then don’t get into safety.