The Last Thing is, Don’t Start with Safety
The study of theory of being is called ‘ontology’. How would you explain your being? What do you live for? What drives your sense of being ethically and morally? What gives you meaning and purpose in living? What is existence? These are big questions and ones that philosophers have been wrestling with for thousands of years. Ontology is a branch of metaphysics (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontology) and concerns not only questions of existence but ‘reality’ and ‘actuality’.
Last week I saw a statement that said ‘everything in life starts with safety’ and I felt sad to think of just how silly such a statement was. When I think of life and living, the last thing I think of is safety. When we read statements like this it demonstrates just how fixated and preoccupied the safety industry is with itself. Here is this myopic little industry consumed with itself so much that it can’t see much outside of its own gaze. Safety is not life and living, safety is not learning, safety is not maturation, safety is not a purpose of being. We don’t exist in the world just to be safe. Safety is not our reason for being. Everything does not start with safety.
Unfortunately, the safety industry doesn’t really engage with philosophy and certainly is not studied in the WHS curriculum. The purpose of philosophy is of course the love of wisdom (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy). Philosophy is not much about getting answers to the big questions in life such as: suffering, evil, fallibility, death, uncertainty, personhood, consciousness and the good. Philosophy is about a discipline in tackling such issues to assist the development of wisdom and learning. When one stands beside a graveside wrestling with the questions of death, there are no answers. Life is a wicked problem, fallible people don’t have all the answers.
Safety of course does have a philosophy and an ideology, it just doesn’t know how to articulate it. The idea of reflective thinking is not of much value to an industry that is consumed with checklists and regulation. The idea of metaphysics is alien to an industry that is consumed by its love of objects (materialism). The notion of discussing transcendence or metaphysics is really not on the radar of an industry consumed with absolutes (determinism). Of what value is metaphysics to an industry fixated on prediction and practical outcomes associated with work (pragmatism)? No wonder such a pragmatist materialist and determinist philosophy has so much difficulty in talking about fallibility, mortality and uncertainty (risk).
Without a sense of philosophy it makes perfect sense to set infallible goals for fallible people in a random world. In a pragmatist determinist philosophy it makes perfect sense to believe that ‘safety is a choice you make’. These are the philosophies that define the ontology of safety. These philosophies are clearly the worldview of an industry that speaks the language of ‘all accidents are preventable’. Safety is indeed a fascinating study in the philosophy of linguistics (semiosis) itself, because in light of the reality of fallibility and mortality, it says some pretty irrational things.
Back in the real world where we tackle questions of suffering, fallibility and the unconscious, the reason for being doesn’t start with safety, its starts with questions of meaning, purpose, living and learning.
Craig and I just completed the iThink Masterclass with the Centre for Leadership and Learning in Risk and Craig and it was a pleasure to introduce people to the basics in philosophy, ethics and critical thinking (http://cllr.com.au/product/ithink-critical-thinking-dialectic-and-risk-unit-12/). The group comprised many people from the risk and safety industry and most had never heard of or, take time to think about, the getting of wisdom or, critical thinking. Unless the safety industry begins to tackle its own pragmatist materialist and determinist philosophy it will keep on wondering why it can’t get rid of its obsession with checklists and its ignorance of personhood.
The next program on offer with the Centre for Leadership and Learning in Risk is the SEEK Investigations Program on 5,6,7 July (http://cllr.com.au/product/seek-the-social-psyvhology-of-event-investigations-unit-2/).