The Need for Critical Thinking in Safety


imageThe moment one invokes that special word ‘safety’ it seems all critical thinking ends. You can’t criticize safety what, don’t you want people to be safe? If you want to cut off criticism and scrutiny, just invoke the magic word ‘safety’ and all critical thinking and critique ends.

This is one of the problems with the binary constructs that plague the safety world. Its how the industry ends up with a global mantra of zero in the denial of fallibility.

The trouble is, without a sense of critical thinking all kinds of safety propaganda that masquerades as safety, gets endorsed and results in a naïve industry that wonders why nothing gets better. A recent example of this is the discourse associated with facial recognition technology (FRT).

The propaganda of facial recognition technology is being trotted out lately ( as a good move that will make Australian society safer. The home affairs minister Dutton wants government agencies, banks and phone companies to use the technology. What this means is a mass surveillance scheme rolled out under the guise of safety. The language of safety propaganda is masked by appeals for protection and safety. The recent push by government for the Identity-Matching Services Bill 2019 (  ) was rejected but this was only a first effort, Dutton will get his police state soon ( There is nothing that cannot get through easier than propaganda masked as safety.

The trouble is the home of facial recognition technology (FRT) San Francisco, where FRT was developed, has just outlawed the technology ( In San Francisco FRT has been rejected because ‘it will put people’s safety at risk!’ What do the developers of FRT know that dumb down Dutton doesn’t know? They even call it ‘facial surveillance technology’.

Why is it that one group can invoke safety to justify surveillance and another group can invoke safety to reject surveillance? This demonstrates the naivety of the general populace to being paralyzed by the invocation of safety language to justify any outcome.

If ever there was a need for critical thinking it is in the safety industry. Unfortunately such study, which is a critical part of understanding politics and ethics, is not part of any safety qualification ( ). So, we can march through any initiative, invoke the word ‘safety’ and all critical thinking ceases. This is the way of safety orthodoxy. It’s how will end up with a surveillance state and then wonder why people are abused by Safety.

The real challenge of critical thinking is knowing how to interrogate the unquestioned assumptions of propaganda and a naivety that says ‘anything in the name of safety must be good’. A lack of critical thinking ensures we end up with offensive and dumb initiatives like Hazardman, Mums for Safety Campaign ( , the Dumb Ways to Die Campaign ( ) and a recent video for a safety symposium ( Just scratch under the surface of any of these examples and just ask some simple questions about assumptions, trajectories and what is being normalized.

The unquestioned assumptions in these campaigns/videos demonstrates the need for critical thinking in the sector more than ever. Here is Safety rejoicing and celebrating dumbness and the Emperor marches by with no clothes on!

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.

2 Replies to “The Need for Critical Thinking in Safety”

  1. Critical thinking or discernment is way beyond most corporate safety managers, especially amongst tier one contractors. Most of them are as dumb as a box of rocks and remain bamboozled by the risk matrix and the hierarchy of controls.

    If you mentioned names such as Orwell, Huxley, Montaigne, Swift or HG Wells they would think it was a Melbourne Cup sweep

    1. Bernard, myopic safety defines itself by PPE and regulation. The video from the safety symposium shows just how myopic the industry is. Meanwhile, Dutton rules supreme because obedience and compliance are the archetype of safety.

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