There are many other ways of knowing that could be offered in Safety other than those of science, engineering and behaviourism. One’s worldview is one’s bias, especially when it comes to the construction of models as myths in safety. There is no such thing as non-bias or non-prejudice when it comes to safety, science and engineering. As a start these are basic reading:
Let’s start with some basics.
All models are semiotic representations of something. The model or graphic is NOT the thing in itself.
All models are like metaphors, they seek to describe something by what it is not (Lakoff and Johnson).
All models are constructed by someone for a purpose and are either useful, helpful or ethical depending on their outcome. Without some level of critical thinking the purpose of such models often remains hidden.
So, any graphic, whether drawn in science, engineering or safety is not the thing in itself but a representation of it. Such a representation is an interpretation of a concept or idea.
To understand graphical representation, symbolism, associated mythology and bias one would need to study Semiotics. In Semiotics one leaves behind the assumptions of science to embrace a new way of knowing. In Semiotics one leaves behind the myths of ‘scientific method’ to understand other ways of knowing – Transdisciplinary ways of knowing.
- The moment Science moves to metaphor to express meaning it requires some expertise in Linguistics to understand the use of language
- The moment one moves to myth and symbol one needs metaphysical, philosophical and anthropological knowledge to understand what is being communicated.
- The moment one moves into religious metaphor and the language of ‘faith’ one needs theological knowing to understand what one is saying.
- The moment one moves into models, iconic expression, sign systems and symbols, one needs Semiotic expertise to know what one is doing.
- The moment one moves into expression by model or metaphor one needs some expertise in Ethics and moral philosophy to help work out if its outputs are ethical or helpful.
- To understand the philosophy of interpretation one would need to be somewhat familiar with the notion of Hermeneutics.
All these forms of knowing are NOT known to the Safety industry. Hence Safety quite readily adopts myths such as the Risk Matrix and then assumes it is objective, Scientific and rational. It is none of these.
When it comes to understanding myth, models, Linguistics and Semiotics one cannot use a monodisciplinary paradigm to understand something that requires a Transdisciplinary worldview. This is why Linkedin lights up to any challenge to a safety myth (https://safetyrisk.net/why-is-myth-so-scary-to-safety/) and protests expertise in mythology without any expertise in it.
If one is not studied in these diverse ways of knowing, then one is trying to apply a known paradigm to an unknown paradigm.
The reality is, knowledge in risk and safety that emerges from its narrow curriculum reveals inexperience in diverse transdisciplinary ways of knowing or learning.
For example, the myth of a ‘scientific method’ only makes sense within the assumptions of a singular assumption of what science is. So, let’s recap:
- No models in safety are scientific
- Graphic representations are representations, they are not the thing they represent
- Graphic models are symbols
- All symbols are interpreted
- All symbols generate myths
- Myths are neither objective or true
The real question then is: Is the model helpful or ethical?
Let’s look at the myth of the Risk Matrix. See Figure 1. Risk Matrix.
Figure 1. Risk Matrix.
If you do a search on Google for ‘Risk Matrix’ one finds over 300 million results matched by endless iterations of versions of the Risk Matrix.
The one pictured above seeks to explain risk using colours in a square ‘matrix’ and even has so called ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ descriptors of what each line represents.
Of course, the Linguistics and interpretation of each line of the ‘quantitative’ measures is not quantitative but qualitative. All descriptors are subjective as are how one locates a number on the matrix, that doesn’t represent actual risk, because risk cannot be quantified.
None of this is ‘scientific’. Indeed, Greg Smith as a lawyer calls the matrix ‘one of the most dangerous tools’ in the risk and safety industry (https://vimeo.com/162493843), ‘unmitigated gobbeldygook’.
4. DUE DILIGENCE from Human Dymensions on Vimeo.
And in will come safety to defend the indefensible. Why? Sunk cost, indoctrination, lack of critical thinking and religious mythology. So, some key questions:
- Would Safety be better off without this object? Yes.
- Is this model dangerous? Yes.
- Does the model lead to the making of a myth? Yes.
- Is the model used to make absurd judgments? Yes.
- Is the model used to hide risk? Yes.
- Is the model scientific? No.
- Will safety be able to dump the object? No.
- Are there better models that could be used in its place? Absolutely.
- Does safety want to explore such possibilities? No.
Why broaden horizons, when behaviourism will do.
Kate McInnes says
I think boards and owners are the ones who haven’t moved forward. At home occasionally we may cut our finger with a knife. We don’t assess how often we have done this, we look at why it happens. Often because we’re in a rush or distracted. Work is no different. Engaging with the people who do the tasks and getting them together to tell you how it’s done helps reduce the hazards as they understand the risks better than anyone. I’ve had the history of working in manufacturing for years and have very low injury rates for long periods, however occasionally they have been altered due to sudden runs of injuries. For me it’s results of the outside pressures of not only work but like. All are part of the puzzle. Human behaviour is not simple and totally controlled.
Rob Long says
Kate, I’m sure you are right but I would add in there the safety associations. Similarly, the safety curriculum. Both are in the dark ages and perpetuate the many myths of safety.
You are right about engagement with those doing the work. Simply asking open questions and listening is the key.
However, I don’t talk about behaviour simply because it is the outcome of a decision, nor do I speak of controls. The language of behaviours and controls is traditional safety and BBS.
Nancy Ayabei says
Thank you for your kindness and generosity to make the security Proffesionals under this topic I must say personally I have learned a lot and in a better position to stand in a podium to explain Risk’s Matrix myths by myself and with alot of confidence for other security professionals.
The list is long Rob, Wynand, David and everyone who has made an effort to do a write up
Rob Long says
Hi Nancy, I know the engineers to wrote the SRMBOK and of course there is nothing about persons, ethics, semiotics or culture in it. No surprise and the security industry loves it. All about the control of objects.
Of course, if its unethical then its not professional.
My comment to most people who insist that the risk matrix is essential is “If you put 6 safety people in a room with a risk matrix, you will end up with 8 different risk scores.
They usually nod or laugh nervously and then use it anyway. I always look at it as a ‘best guess’.
Rob Long says
A skilled iCue Conversation is worth 5000 risk matrices.
Chris Hotchkiss says
I’m interested to know what other models you feel are better suited. As you rightly point out quantifying risk is impossible, but when this is taken as a given and assessors and those reading risk assessments and risk matrices understand that they are inherently subjective, all the risk matrix serves to do is to ‘show your workings’ to justify the risk mitigation strategies or lack therefore that you have chosen to implement. They are not meant to be scientific documents, likelihood, impact and vulnerability have no mathematical relationship, but their representation in a quantifiable manner allows for more informed, or at least more ordered discourse between subject matter expert and layman alike. Fundamentally the outcome always has to be actionable and defined risk mitigation strategies that can be shown, by whatever means, to be proportional to the risk. If Risk Matrices are well known and understood, provided all are aware of their limitations, why not use them as the tool to show thought processes? Again, happy to be educated on better models.
Rob Long says
Chris, thanks for you open questions and inquiry, I get very few. You rightly point out the subjectivity of the matrix and yet this is not how it is viewed in the safety industry. Similarly, the idea that it is used to ‘show your workings’ is rare indeed. On most occasions I have witnessed it is little more than a ritual ‘tick and flick’ thing that has to be done but few know what they are doing. Indeed, furthermore under the ribrik of zero harm the task is to somehow get the task down to green so that a job can proceed. Usually this is done by comments such as ‘be careful’ or use common sense.
Unfortunately the semiotics of the model give off an effect of things being managed when there is no correlation between selected point and proposed action.
Then you say ‘their representation in a quantifiable manner’ that shows how they are interpreted and considered.They are not quantifiable, this is the delusion in how the image works.
The fact that they are well known simply demonstrates and industries thirst for simplistic myths knows no bounds. It is certainly never requested in court and is considered by lawyers such a Greg Smith as their ‘go to’ interrogation to tie a witness up in knots.
I can think of many better models to help tackle risk Indeed, offer many in what we do that actually offer Due Diligence whereas the matrix does not. I make offers all the time to the safety industry on better and more positive and practical models but the industry prefers the myth.
You mention (correctly) that ” likelihood, impact and vulnerability have no mathematical relationship”. One of my many issues with the matrix model is that many of them add or multiply numbers with no mathematical meaning to get a final number that “magically” has mathematical meaning. (This is just one point on how absurdly it is applied in practice, not meant to be a discussion of validity)
BRENT R CHARLTON says
All you have to see to know these things don’t work is all the people standing around scratching their heads when something happens they didn’t predict. “Why the hell didn’t we think of that?!?” Oh, and sack the safety guy because he’s obviously no good.
Rob Long says
Spot on Brent.
Most of these myths inoculate people from assessment of real risk. The silly matrix limits critical thinking, rather than fostering it.
The risk matrix is simple, easy to (mis)understand, easy to manipulate and looks impressive in a report. All these probably add to its popularity. One only has to sit through (or lead) one “risk assessment” and be sensitive to the discussion to realise how senseless this is. However, doing a review on a risk matrix is an easy process that leads to an easy tick-off for having “done” a risk assessment. I have tried to convince people to move away from risk matrices. Colleagues want to move away from them since they make so little sense, but management loves them and “Safety” insist on their necessity.
Rob Long says
It’s so amusing to watch those espouse engineering and science use semiotics to explain something. Like me trying to explain an illness with no medical knowledge. The very design, colours and structure of the matrix works on the human unconscious and has nothing to do with science. The fact that descriptors are put in against each box, shows a desperation to try to quantify using linguistics, again with no expertise in linguistics. The matrix has no meaning, its meaning is attributed through nondiscrimination and mythical imagination. It lasts as long as a snowflake in hell in a courtroom.
David Slater says
I thought there was originally a bit of science before it was dumbed down!
It sounds very scientific due to scientific terminology being used in the descriptor columns.
Rob Long says
Wynand, there is nothing scientific in this language.
Rob Long says
David, this has never been about ‘science’. there is no scientific anything attached to this graphic. It’s just one more effort to attach a symbol to something to try and explain the inexplicable, risk. In so doing the myth is created that using this matrix is somehow methodical or effective. It is no more effective than a conversation about risk. Indeed, a conversation about risk is far more useful than this tool.