The Psychic Effect of Safety

The Psychic Effect of Safety and What to Do About It

Depositphotos_13777113_s-2015One of the flow on effects of the politics of Safety is unconscious fear. I met a host of officials in safety associations recently and was overcome with the anxiety of some as we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. I was due to stand up and give a keynote at NAOSH 2018 and the anxiety in demeanour by some was incredible. I might say something controversial? I might drift off the party line? I might not conform? I might even say something radical? Someone may be offended!

I had a similar experience in Australia recently when I was booked by a safety person to present at a conference. I received a phone call from the CEO two days before the presentation asking for a full script of what I was going to say. I promptly refused the request to present. When you micromanage to that degree you are beyond toxic.

The psychic effect of Safety and Conformity by archetypical nature, teaches the fear of new ideas and dissent. I might even say something like ‘safety isn’t a choice you make’. I might even say that metrics have no meaning. Worse still I might criticise the toxic discourse of zero. After all, the favourite word in Safety is ‘control’. Unfortunately, the psychic effect of Safety encourages anxiety of its own shadow.

Rene Gerard (The Scapegoat) helps explain the psychic effect of ingroup and outgroupness, a fundamental focus of Social Psychology. Gerard helps explain the dynamics of social formation with a focus on mimetic conflict and victimage. Gerard contends that the dynamic (mimesis) to belong to the ingroup creates a unanimity that is strengthened by a rejection of ‘otherness’. What emerges through fear is scapegoating, the projection of blame on non-conformists who are either demonised or blamed for self inflicted anxiety. This is especially amplified by the archetypical nature of Safety and results in an attraction to religious discourse evident in the language of belonging and the quest for absolutes. This is most evident in the denial of fallibility and the quest for zero.

The paradox of association in Safety is the politics of agreement.  It’s hard to be a ‘broad church’ when your language is religiously shaped by ‘conformance’, ‘regulation’ and ‘compliance’. Such language drives against diversity and quashes creativity, learning and innovation. This is the paradox of binary association in Safety. Unfortunately it motivates the ‘FIGJAM effect’, a social psychological effect most associated with hubris. It is not that people desire this, nor that people are naturally exclusivist but awareness of this psychic effect mitigates against the cultic energy generated by binary safety. A sophisticated definition of cult-ure (which is missing in the safety literature) would help mitigate against this.

What can be done about the psychic effect of fear in the shadow of conformity and compliance?


1. Read and listen to genres in risk and safety ‘outside the box’
2. Indeed, stop reading safety stuff entirely and pick up material on learning, ethics, politics and communications
3. Change the language of control to the language of influence
4. Resist and reframe binary expressions in thinking, language and symbols
5. Avoid binary texts that exegete the human mind as ‘fast and slow’
6. Open up discussion and welcome civil and respectful debate and, you won’t find this on social media
7. Shift the safety discourse from telling to open questioning and listening
8. Welcome connections with creative, visionary and innovative thinkers outside of the safety industry
9. Become more aware of the limits of association and accreditation
10.Step beyond the binary 1&2 model and redeem safety by not using safety language but people and human-focussed language

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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