It’s such a funny (peculiar) situation. As fallible people we develop routines, habits and heuristics in order to make life and living efficient and yet there is so little discussion in the safety world about the importance of understanding implicit knowledge. The worldviews of engineering and regulation so typically resourced in a review on safety, have next to no expertise in the area, hence the idea of routines, habits and heuristics (implicit knowledge) are never discussed or understood in the industry. The Brady Review is a classic example of this (https://safetyrisk.net/brady-review-nothing-new-no-way-forward/ ).
When we develop routines, habits and heuristics, they disappear from consciousness. That is the purpose of implicit knowledge, to help fallible humans be efficient – unconsciously. The purpose of routines, habits and heuristics is to stop thinking! If humans had to process everything cognitively on a minute by minute basis, we would get about one task done per day. When we make knowledge tacit/implicit (https://infed.org/mobi/michael-polanyi-and-tacit-knowledge/ ) we cease to know that our unconscious is ‘thinking’ for us in a certain way or why it is ‘thinking’ in such a way. Most of the day humans perform multiple tasks, complex tasks and intricate tasks with precision because of tacit knowledge. Everything goes well, when everything remains steady. Most often things go pear shaped when we act in routine, habit and heuristics and the context is changed, when turbulence in culture emerges.
Familiarity, insulates humans in tacit knowing from perceiving things. We don’t see anything or any activity as a neutral object, all knowing is ‘enculturated’ and learned. We learn from a very young age before we can talk or read text, how to interpret facial expressions and interpret contexts and act on them implicitly. By the age of five we know when the full gamut of emotions and feelings and how to respond to them instantly, in a fraction of a second. This is often the key to protection, safety and fight or flight activity. Everything goes well, when everything remains steady and when we act in routine, habit and heuristics and the context changes, when turbulence in culture emerges, things go pear-shaped.
How strange in safety, that by experience we develop everything to become implicit, then when something goes wrong we punish people for not thinking! This is what happens when you put an engineering and regulatory construct of cognition on humans. This is what a mechanistic anthropology creates, punishing and blaming people for the very human system we enact in implicit knowledge to be efficient. No wonder the sector has so little idea about ethical professional conduct! (https://safetyrisk.net/the-aihs-bok-and-ethics-check-your-gut/). If 95% of what all humans do is enacted by routine, habit and heuristics, why is implicit/tacit knowing a critical part of the WHS curriculum or the AIHS Body of Knowledge?
One of the most astounding assertions in the AIHS BoK on Ethics was the notion that safety people were innately ethical and that ethical decision making could be made by ‘checking your gut’. The absolute epitome of Deontological ethics.
So here we have Ethics, the very ‘soul of professionalism’ (BoK on Ethics p.1) hinging on implicit/tacit knowledge but we never learn about it in the BoK or the WHS curriculum.