The Great Safety is a Choice Delusion

The Great Safety is a Choice Delusion

safety is a choiceThe simplistic worldview about choice plagues the safety industry into the nonsense slogan ‘safety is a choice you make’. The delusion centres around an inability to consider the complexity of life and the many things one has no choice about. The only way one can come to this simplistic view embedded in this silly slogan is to ignore the totality of social, psychological, anthropological, heredity, cultural and scientific evidence to the contrary. The truth is many things in life are determined. As fallible humans in fallible organisations in a fallible world we are subject to randomness and circumstance. The only way to live in the mythology of ‘safety is a choice you make’ is to deny misfortune, bad luck, circumstance and risk The book Luck by Ed Smith or Black Swan by Taleb is a good place to start to knock this nonsense worldview on the head. To be fallible is to not know.

When the mantra ‘safety is a choice you make’ becomes your simplistic worldview then all is interpreted by the delusion of ‘free will’. If this is the case then all ‘choice’ to harm must be a death wish and all fatalities must be suicide. This is the only conclusion one can come to as a result of this simplistic mantra. Reality is much different.

Fallibility places us in a world of movement, learning and randomness in a dialectic between limits in determinism and choice. It is not either-or but both-and.

The work by Viktor Frankel Man’s Search for Meaning is misused by safety people who hold simplistic views of free will just as much as safety people distort the understanding of error used by Pope ( This primarily comes about because safety mis-education lacks an emphasis on critical thinking as an essential for being professional. The kind of critical thinking one needs in STEM knowledge is nothing like the critical thinking that comes through a study of sociology, politics, philosophy and ethics. None of these are present in a WHS curriculum and SIA BoK that are 75% study of objects, checklists and regulation.

Of course Frankel would have never written his book if he was born in Australia nor if he was not born an Austrian Jew. He had no choice in the birth date nor the death camp to which he was sent. He had no choice in the people who ran the camps that determined where he would eventually go (Turkheim) whilst his mother and brother died in Auschwitz. The circumstances that led to his vocation and his political interests were very much shaped by the context of his birth and family life. These are all things in which Frankel had no choice. So to use Frankel as a champion of free choice and free will is a nonsense.

One of the important themes in Frankel’s book amidst the suffering and evil of the Nazis is the construction of meaning (semiosis). It is in the context of meaning that Frankel’s discussion of choice should be understood. We can distort anyone’s view by taking a single page out of anyone’s diary or line out of context in a poem. Frankel’s story is primarily about reflections on meaning in the face of risk. One can just as easily use the work of Frankel to endorse an ethic of fate! He often discussed how fate (as archetype/force as circumstance) makes choices. In his book he mentions choice 4 times but speaks of fate 32 times. Hey but when your selective worldview wants to prove that ‘safety is a choice you make’ you must read Frankel through the lens of attributed causality and naïve simplistic free will.

There are times when Frankel seemingly has some choice over small things but absolute lack of choice over many big things. His circumstance and luck in his transfer to Turkheim is nothing short of amazing. His wife went to Bergen-Belsen where she died, she was not so fortunate.

The trouble with the philosophy of free will is that it has a trajectory of blaming and self aggrandizement in decision superiority. ‘Safety is a choice you make’ is simply a delusion to constructing lies ( ). This is where safety attributes blame to choice like the Danny Channey Investigation fiasco. Here we see suicide attributed to a fatality without evidence ( ). Look at the closing slides of the presentation ( you will see that under the pressure of ‘all accidents are preventable’ and ‘safety is a choice you make’ that obviously Danny (who no one spoke to) wanted to die that day??? And this example and case study is used by Safety as an exemplar of accident investigations. A good dose of the SEEK program (  ) will shake such nonsense out of you.

We need not be afraid of not knowing. We don’t have to fear uncertainty and risk. There is no great reward in risk aversion or the determinism of safety eugenics (, There is no great education in self delusion about fallibility. The language and delusion of zero belief ‘primes’ such silly mantras as ‘safety is a choice you make’ and ‘all accidents are preventable’.

If we really want to humanize safety we need to be honest about fallibility and comfortable with the challenges of risk and uncertainty. We can’t humanize safety through the ideology of zero, the love of objects ( ) or the fixation on checklists. It is only through humanizing approaches (dialectical approaches) to risk that safety can be humanized.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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