The Risk Aversion Delusion
We learn yet again from the latest research that risk aversion is life and learning denying (see ABC NEWS). Research by Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine specialist, Professor Ibrahim demonstrates that risk aversion robs people of dignity and independence. Risk aversion is learning aversion. Risk aversion is creativity aversion. Risk aversion is life denying. The more we speak in the nonsense language of absolutes and low order goals of perfection, the more we promote risk aversion and a climate of anti-learning. It seems some people would rather a number than the goal of ‘do our best’.
I had a phone call last week from a CEO who wanted some advice. A conflict had escalated up to his level over the wearing of shorts in a mechanics workshop. There was no air conditioning or reasonable ventilation in the workshop and the mechanics have been wearing shorts in summer in the workshop as long as anyone can remember. There have been no injuries in the history of the workshop to the legs or knee area. In comes a safety crusader Barry Spud. Spud comes in and without consultation circulates an edict that long pants must be worn or there will be consequences. (All the mechanics happily wear long pants in winter). In less than a week, Safety has been promoted front and centre to dumb down thinking and non-leadership. Spud makes no insistence on face covering, head covering or covering of arms in the workshop but Spud wants to make an issue of uncovered legs. Exposure to the sunlight is not an issue but the workshop gets mighty hot in summer. The excuse is that if any diesel gets spilt on the legs there would be a safety issue.
It only takes one day and the Union is called in. Where is the reasoning for this coming from they ask? Ahah, Spud has just come in from a zero harm company and has brought with him the illogical extremism of absolute rule. Safety must rule absolutely. How many people do you want to harm today is the catch cry.
Of course the by-product of heat fatigue is not considered or the high risk of poor morale and disharmony in the workplace. (There is plenty of evidence to show that disharmony is a major safety issue). Pretty soon the mechanics invoke a work to rule. They watch the temperature and the moment it gets close to regulation temperature they down tools and head home. All flexibility, understanding and relationship then goes out the window under an industrial dispute. Work comes to a stand still. In comes the phone call. All I put to the CEO is the concept of ‘reasonably practicable’. How reasonable is the request and what are the by-products. I don’t think Spud will last long as he is about to have his edict overturned.
When one sets goals in low order absolutes, one loses sight of what is reasonable. When one speaks in extremes and sets goals by extremes then the focus shifts to minutia and we drop the ball on high risk. The language of extremes ‘primes’ people to live and work in extremes.
My Mum is in an aged care facility and I’m so glad the care industry understands the dignity of the person over the nonsense of risk aversion. You won’t find the nonsense talk of zero anywhere in an aged care facility. I want my Mum’s final days of her life to be characterised by dignity and respect not by some crusader worried about counting band aids leaving the first aid kit. Wrapping people (at either end of the age spectrum) in cotton wool (helicopter parenting or aged care) is a life-denying and learning-denying disposition (http://www.gulbenkian.org.uk/pdffiles/–item-1266-223-No-fear-19-12-07.pdf ).
An 80 year old in the research story states:
“We are adults,” Ms Allison said.
“And we have always been used to making our own decisions and things like that.”
“I think you have got every right to do what we want to do here … And we do.”
How strange that one would want to inject fear into the culture of an aged care facility.
Trouble is, Safety knows best. Safety needs to override the thinking and decisions of others, Safety commands total control energised by the right of zero. When you try to establish validity on the basis of numbers then all power must be given to Safety through numerical reduction. The grand delusion is that if a number defines Safety it will only be achieved with fallible people at expense of free will, choice, learning, humanising and care. It is the cult of zero that maintains this grand delusion.