The Safety and ‘New View’ Debate
How Many Angels Can Dance on a Pinhead?
Let me first acknowledge that I do not find any ranking of safety such as S1 or S2 helpful, so I try to avoid such language and will do my best to avoid it in this paper. Indeed, ranking language in safety is unhelpful in general and demonstrates one of the flaws in the evolving conglomerate of ideas that have emerged from what has been called the ‘new view’ (in safety).
Similarly, I perceive no ‘new view’ from the works of Hollnagel, Dekker and others nor any sense of ‘vision’ in method for humanizing risk in their work. Whilst Hollnagel and Dekker have been most effective at criticizing Traditional Safety, they have no method anchored to such criticism and so, after a flirtation with a few slogans and questions, return to Traditional Safety management systems and a mechanistic worldview.
Rather than publish in academic journals edited and closed to a club, endorsed by like-mindedness not learning, I publish as much as I can in a more open environment. This method although not academically conventional receives thousands of views rather than the few who read academic journals and this too incurs a cost for subscription and limits dissemination. I also self-publish books which gives much greater control on dissemination and so have had over 300,000 downloads of my books rather than be limited to the editorial and ownership restrictions of a publisher. However, here is not the place to discuss the meaningless traditions of academia. I can play that game but have chosen not to.
The view offered by this paper comes from the perspective of the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR). The basic argument of SPoR is a that all theories in schools of safety require recognition yet limited validation. The current debate highlighted by Cooper (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0925753520304446 ) in this so called ‘debate’ (between S1 and S2) in an attempt to draw similarities and distinctions between Traditional Safety and the Hollnagel/Dekker (HD) school of safety. I use the language of ‘school’ in the sense of institutionalized identity.
For the purposes of this discussion I will just use the tag ‘HD Safety’ as an identifier for this notion of ‘new view’ (which it is not) and S2 which it is not. One thing the Cooper paper does well is demonstrate that the Safety Differently school, is not ‘different’. Yet this too is a common characteristic of these two schools in the culture of safety. Safety (as archetype) does so well in naming things by their opposite, most often in what it is not eg. Lean safety is never ‘lean’ usually systems multiply, culture is not about culture but rather systems and behaviours, zero is never zero and different isn’t ‘different’.
This debate reminds me of theological wrangling in the 17th century about dogmatics. Once part of protestant apologetics, this question of ‘how many angels can ‘dance’ (or balance) on a pinhead’ occurred while Constantinople was being overtaken by invaders and serves as a metaphor for the nature of this debate created by Cooper. In reality, there is no debate between opposites when both have the same worldview. The point of the metaphor (angels dancing on a pinhead) is about undertaking an academic exercise while real and pressing issues remain untouched. It could be like living in Kyiv in March 2022 and arguing with someone about what brand of car you want to purchase to escape the invasion.
Although the safety industry is yet to debate theological dogmatics, it has already entered into spiritual apologetics and theological apocalyptic with the video The Spirit of Zero (https://safetyrisk.net/the-spirit-of-zero/ ) and all of its associated Discourse of ‘saving lives’. With all of its identification with heroes and super heroes, Safety is not far from the theology of Aquinas and the context about debating angels on pinheads. And this so called ‘argument’ between S1 and S2, reminds me of that debate. You can read more about angels and pinheads here: https://www.roma1.infn.it/~sciortif/Convegni/2017/ljubjana.pdf
Let me also make clear that criticism offered in the discussion of this paper is not about the character of persons (Dekker or Cooper) but rather a challenge to ideas and non-methods they present. Neither does this paper seeks consensus (as I think Cooper does) but rather to pose an alternative understanding of a method to humanize risk that stands outside the propositions of Traditional Safety or HD Safety.
So, before I venture into this paper it is also apparent from my experience that people in safety rarely read to learn. What happens most often is safety people read to affirm what they know, read headlines and tend to be outraged and vilify what they don’t know. It is quite clear that when something is presented outside the sphere of safety knowledge, it must be condemned, demonized and rejected even though Safety has no skills with which to critically consider it. So, here is a challenge to the safety industry to read about something that is yet to be recognized nor acknowledge as valid yet, poses amazing opportunity for growth and maturity in tackling risk.
What is the Debate About?
The first thing we need to note in this debate is, that it is not about philosophy/methodology. Neither Traditional Safety or HD Safety have articulated a philosophy or ethic of risk. Similarly, neither have articulated a politic of risk or a vision for how the safety industry could be (by method) ‘humanised’. Even the latest trend in HD Safety in the search for ‘learning teams’ is still an idea/slogan searching for a method. Indeed, it is also a common attribute of Traditional Safety and HD Safety that seeks meaning in things outside of its own expertise eg. Education, Teaching, Learning as Transdisciplinary Disciplines. For example, no-one in the ‘learning teams’ discourse defines its learning theory or educational style nor has any expertise in such. Education and learning are not objective or can be assumed.
Neither Traditional Safety or HD Safety show much interest in Disciplines outside the small sphere of Scientism/Positivism. Both rule out of hand a host of Disciplines (eg. Theology, Religion, Semiotics etc.) that could help inform the practices of safety. How strange to rule out what you don’t know (Theology or Semiotics) and then use the language and semiotics of what you don’t know to explain what you know. Indeed, both schools are highly resistant to critique and one wouldn’t want to critique the sacred cows, gurus and lords of safety. Any expressed dissent to safety orthodoxy especially zero, usually leads to dismissal. What associations-as-fortresses anchored to zero are most characterized by is non-listening and non-learning. Learning as a minimum seeks engagement with ‘the other’, not so Safety.
Indeed, both ‘approaches’ of Traditional Safety or HD Safety pay little attention to: personhood, semiotics, poetics, motivation, perception, religion, ethics, Justice, theology, power-relations, collective unconscious, human unconscious, linguistics, institutionalization, hermeneutics (theory of interpretation), subjectivitiy, Transdisciplinarity, wicked problems, Discourse, Discursive practices (power in practice), Power, Intercorporeality, Interaffectivity, embodiment and a host of other foundational cultural identifiers. Whilst Cooper wishes to think of safety culture as ‘what we do around here’ (Cooper, 2001, p.1), such is naïve and omits many critical aspects of culture as listed above. These omissions (silences) are also a good example of what Traditional Safety and HD Safety have in common. Traditional Safety and HD Safety share the same worldview.
As just one example, it is simply breathtaking that any definition of culture in safety would exclude consideration of Religion/Theology. No wonder Safety is so naïve about its own religious practices/Discourse/soteriology (power in discourse and salvation theory). No other discipline would think for a second about culture without the inclusion of Religion.
At least Dekker acknowledges a place for Theology and Religion in his critique of safety (Dekker, 2017; Dekker, 2018, pp. 119ff) but doesn’t acknowledge this in the AIHS BoK on Culture (2014, p. 20) or in his work on ‘Just Culture’ (2012). Indeed, as Dekker acknowledges he is no theologian, perhaps this is why Dekker makes no direct reference that anchors Theology/Religion to culture.
It takes some theological knowledge (2017, p.x) to decipher the theological and religious Discursive practices of safety but Dekker is certainly on the money when describing Safety as a ‘priesthood’ and church-like (2018, pp. 118ff). All of the symbols, myths, models and language of soteriology (eg. ‘safety saves’ etc.) are prominent in the culture of Traditional Safety more so in the cult of Zero. Indeed, safety is not even aware of its own theological discourse when it speaks theologically and religiously (https://www.aihs.org.au/news-and-publications/news/what-do-when-vision-zero-new-global-line ).
Interestingly, Cooper states clearly from the outset of his paper that his concern is with HD Safety and its’ ‘faith’ in safety science. What strange language from a so called scientific view. What would this ‘faith’ be? What is Cooper’s own undeclared ‘faith’ in the assumptions of his paper and his idea of ‘science’? I would much rather read what he thinks this ‘faith’ is than count angels dancing on a pinhead.
The recent paper by Cooper suggests that HD Safety has created ‘a stir amongst OSH practitioners’ (p.1) because it challenges Safety to be viewed in a ‘different’ way yet he argues there is not much difference.
(In this paper, capitalisation of Safety should be understood as an archetype, lower case safety as the name for Safety practices/industry. Safety is not a profession.)
Having read Cooper’s paper it seems his conclusion is that HD Safety is much to do about nothing, like counting angels that can dance on a pinhead. In several places, Cooper seems to demonstrate that HD Safety is the same as Traditional Safety. In this I must agree, HD Safety has no methodology or method indeed, it doesn’t want a method (Dekker, 2018) and just poses excellent criticism (a deficit view) of Traditional Safety.
I need to also make clear that I have only met one person in the HD Safety group and only one person from the HD Safety group has shown any interest in connecting with SPoR. So, the comments I make are from reading HD Safety publications. Neither have I met Cooper and the discussion of this paper is based on reading Cooper’s recent paper and books.
The loose conglomerate of ideas across the so called ‘new view’ is somewhat diverse but has in common: the rejection of Traditional Safety and its outcomes that dehumanize persons. I share this in common with the group but that is about where it ends. It is quite a paradoxical that this so called ‘new view’ of safety and its focus on positives has been formed by a deficit view of Traditional Safety. Indeed, I find its uncritical acceptance of key principles of Positive Psychology (Seligman) problematic as is effectively criticized by Cooper in his paper. In this sense, HD Safety is closed to the value of Critical Theory, Discourse Analysis and post-Marxist/postmodernist critique and is the worse for being fixated on positivity.
Whilst some of the HD Safety group have tried to develop a methodology and method from HD Safety ideas, such is not evident. Even efforts at a method such as Functional Resonance Analysis Method (FRAM) and Human and Organisational Performance (HOP) still maintain an engineering-type worldview, a mechanistic worldview that is no different from the worldview offered by Traditional Safety.
Without a clear philosophy (methodology) there can be no method. Philosophy is much more than a collection of slogans and arguments against the brutalism of Traditional Safety. Without an ethic of risk it seems unlikely that HD Safety will find a method. Indeed, Dekker makes clear he doesn’t seek a method, ethic or politic (https://safetydifferently.com/i-am-not-a-policy-wonk/ ).
Yet, HD Safety does have an ethic and politic, it is just not articulated, owned or identified. The ethic and politic of HD Safety can to be deciphered from what is hidden in such texts as The End of Heaven, Disaster and Suffering in a Scientific Age which despite denial, is a theology of suffering (with over 30 biblical and theological references in the text). Whilst Resilience Engineering suggests it has a method (preface), it has none.
So, what is this debate about?
From a SPoR point of view HD Safety is about the problem with Traditional Safety and what it does to persons. Yet, HD Safety poses no new methods, articulates no ethic/politic of risk and offers no alternative method for humanizing risk other than the reduction of bureaucracy. You won’t find anywhere in HD Safety discourse a definition of personhood or what ‘ethical responsibility down’ is.
Both Traditional Safety and HD Safety both claim the authority of ‘science’ yet so many of the things accepted in Safety Management Systems (eg. risk matrices, hierarchy of controls) are not scientific. Much in Traditional Safety and HD Safety is about ‘faith’ in semiotics that are not scientific. Traditional Safety and HD Safety actually use the language of ‘faith’ with reference to trusting ‘safety science’ (2022, p. 1).
Cooper’s Paper – The Emperor Has No Clothes
Cooper’s main concern in his paper is that the ideas, rules and principles of HD Safety have not been ‘tested’. He refers to Resilience Engineering (RE) as a ‘philosophy’ yet Hollnagel never discusses it as such. Whilst Hollnagel refers to RE as a ‘paradigm’, this is only with reference to ‘safety management’. RE is not a philosophy that includes a holistic understanding of persons or society that includes an ethic or politic of risk. If one were to seek a philosophical label for both Traditional Safety and HD Safety it would be ‘Positivist Materialism’ with a Deontological ethic.
Cooper’s paper proposes an ‘academic challenge to the New View theories’ and seeks a co-existence in harmony (p.1). Both views personify the language of Systems in their arguments and it is perhaps here that coexistence is realised.
Cooper’s table on page two of his paper draws a limited but excellent comparison (according to limited criteria) to the commonalities and differences in language between Traditional Safety and HD Safety.
As Cooper’s criticism rightly analyses, much of HD Safety has no defined steps to achieve a particular end nor measures or activities to design ‘resilient systems’ (2020, p.2). Indeed, using HD Safety literature he states HD Safety ‘is more a mental model or a way of seeing the world’. I would add, not for seeing the world but just the world of Safety.
Cooper’s analysis of common ‘propositions’ of HD Safety is quite good (p.2) and each of these propositions are about what HD Safety rejects rather than what it owns by method. From my observation I see no interest of HD Safety in seeking to establish a ‘formal discipline’ indeed, how could it do so without a methodology and method?
Copper’s agenda is about ‘scientific testing’ that is, using traditional empirical experimentation methods to establish validity. According to this assumption apparently, we get validity of methods in proven field experiments. Such an assumption about ‘proofs’ doesn’t even come close to tackling the mysteries of consciousness, which I would argue should be the most pressing investigation for the safety industry.
Even though there is no conclusive ‘scientific data’ on the nature of consciousness (Gennaro, Searle, Dennet, Chalmers, Damasio, Fuchs, Meyer, Tversky, Thompson, Van der Kolk, Noe, Panksepp, Durt et.al., Barrett, Ginot, Varela et.al,, Jasanoff, Colombetti) why would Traditional Safety and HD Safety be completely silent on the issue. Surely an understanding of consciousness, unconsciousness, embodiment and human judgment and decision making is the place where both Traditional Safety and HD Safety ought to start their investigations on why people do what they do? This silence is again a commonality of both schools.
The Common Silences
Whilst Cooper seeks to make commonality palatable between Traditional Safety and HD Safety, I would prefer to find commonality in both through their silences, through what they don’t say, in what they are not interested. It is through silences that we best find what Traditional Safety and HD Safety have in common.
One of the most profound silences of Traditional Safety and HD Safety is Ethics and Politics. In both ‘camps’ there is simply no discussion of ‘an ethic’ other than a slogan about ‘ethical responsibility down’, ‘do the right thing’ or duty. Of course, other language like ‘drift into failure’ comes easy when one doesn’t define what one ‘drifts’ from or what failure is.
Without ownership of an ethic/politic, the industry (including HD Safety) wanders aimlessly in the myth of objectivity and this is evident in all investigations products on the safety market. For example, HD Safety has no investigations methodology. Indeed, no investigation method on the market raises the issue of the subjectivity, persona, psyche, hermeneutic, personality or cognitive/social bias of the investigator. The beginning of any method in investigation should be ‘know thyself’ and understanding this is essential. Neither Traditional Safety or HD Safety show any interest at all in a psychology of the self, or the selfhood of persons (Taylor, 1989).
It is from ownership of an ethic/politic that we understand our hermeneutic (theory of interpretation) including, interpretation of regulation and law. You will not hear a discussion of subjectivity or a theory interpretation from either Traditional Safety or HD Safety. Yet, it is often a shock to the safety industry when it goes to court and a Lawyer shows that the law and regulation are interpreted, such is the strength of the myth of objectivity in the safety industry. More so, in SPoR we assert that the way a story is presented affects all legal outcomes (Amsterdam and Bruner, 2000). This is why early in my venture into the safety industry that I engaged with Greg Smith and published our video series and book on SPoR and the Law https://vimeo.com/showcase/3938199 – Risky Conversations (Long, 2016).
I find it quite comical that Cooper (p.10) lectures HD Safety about ethics (as the emperor without clothes) when Traditional Safety and BBS Safety have no articulation of an ethic of risk.
A second profound silence in this debate is about non-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) Disciplines, thinking and knowing. The fixation of both camps with scientism, trust and faith in Science and materialist dogma is breathtaking. Indeed for Traditional Safety faith in the scientific method in quite religious. Faith in Science is still faith, and in much of safety discourse there is this bizarre trust and faith in what it knows and distain for even exploring anything it doesn’t know. For example, you will find nowhere in either camp a discussion on the problem of consciousness despite this being the core function of being safe. Neither camp show any interest at all in the body-mind problem, unconsciousness or any non-materialist worldview that might contribute to the nature of safety. Anything that emerges with a conclusion in mystery or uncertainty is rejected and so both camps are quite closed to any form of collaboration or Transdisciplinarity.
Cooper is particularly taken by his faith in Science and unless there is some empirical or evidence-based field study, it is deemed not valid. How fascinating, when Science doesn’t even know how language is acquired, what consciousness is, why, how and where emotions reside, what faith is, intuition, conversion and so many unanswered questions about human ‘being’. Scientism simply knows by faith that the assumptions it accepts as true ‘work’ and that any other form of knowing is invalid. This is what Kahneman referred to as paradigmatic knowing (https://www.edge.org/adversarial-collaboration-daniel-kahneman ), that is, giving reasons to believe, based on faith in conclusions.
Whilst many silences are common to both Traditional Safety and HD Safety listed at the start of this discussion paper, there is simply no articulation of personhood in either school despite both acknowledging that dehumanizing of persons is morally wrong. How interesting for HS Safety to take a focus on resilience (Resilience Engineering) and yet make no reference to persons or personhood! How strange that when Traditional Safety and HD Safety think of resilience they don’t think of persons but rather the resilience of systems, matter and quanta. When I hear the word ‘resilience’ my first thought is about the psyche of persons. The first line of Resilience Engineering states it is about ‘efforts to improve the safety of systems’. This is an ultimate statement of Technique (Ellul). Efficient and safe systems don’t’ necessarily lead to the humanization of persons. Indeed, forces and principles that humanise persons are most often inefficient (Ellul, 1964; 1965; 1969; 1976; 1979; 1981; 1990; 1997).
The quest for of Technique (the archetype and force for efficiency) is the energy for dehumanization. When the god of Zero (Long, 2012), the archetype of efficiency, rules the culture of safety, there is only one trajectory – brutalism.
Another common silence is that of the unconscious, social or individual. Similarly, both HD Safety and Traditional Safety are silent on motivation and perception indeed, neither come close to an understanding of what motivates or alienates persons. Such is the level to which both are anchored to materialist/positivist methodology and show no interest in either the individual or collective unconscious.
Is the ‘new view’ a New View or ‘Different’?
Whilst Cooper seeks an academic challenge I am much more interested in practical method. After all, what is the point of HD Safety and Traditional Safety if the outcome simply continues to brutalise people? It is one thing to label something as ‘different’ and an entirely different thing if it makes a difference in method, a difference to persons.
At this point we also need to make clear the distinction between method and methodology. A methodology is a philosophy from which a method emerges. In both Traditional Safety and HD Safety you won’t find a clearly articulated methodology (philosophy). In both approaches, there is no articulated ethic of risk, politic of risk or articulated view on personhood, Justice, power-relations, collective unconscious, linguistics, institutionalization, Transdisciplinarity, wicked problems, Discourse or Discursive practices.
Indeed, the accidental strategy of Traditional Safety (anchored globally in zero) is the brutalization of persons. Behaviour-based safety (for which Cooper is most identified) is a good example of this as is the deontological ethic articulated in the AIHS BoK Chapter on Ethics (https://safetyrisk.net/the-aihs-bok-and-ethics-check-your-gut/ ). It is also interesting that Dekker uses the language of ‘common sense’ (Dekker, 2018, p.xiii) and ‘do the right thing’ that echoes this ethic.
The language of ‘new view’ and ‘different’ supposes a distinction between Traditional Safety and HD Safety. If this distinction is being argued, where is it evident in difference in method? After all the argument, slogans and Discourse, what is ‘different’ about HD Safety? Cooper in his paper argues there is no such difference (Cooper, 2022, pp. 4, 6, 8, 10). Further on the meaning of ‘difference’ and ‘differance’ read Derrida (1978).
So, let’s explore the language of HD Safety and see if we can spot a difference using just two examples.
Example 1. Resilience Engineering (Hollnagel)
The book by Hollnagel et.al (2006, p.1) makes clear that it’s focus is the ‘safety of systems’. This is no different than Traditional Safety. Whilst Cooper finds this source one of ‘controversy’, I struggle to find any. The book is an engineering approach to safety seeking the resilience of systems. Personally, I find the participle of engineering an abhorrent metaphor to consider when thinking about the safety of persons.
Resilience Engineering (RE) certainly isn’t a book that has a focus on the resilience of persons. Indeed, the language of ‘engineering’ is common to both Traditional Safety and HD Safety. Both schools of thought argue from the same position, trust in Scientism and Engineering. I use the word ‘Scientism’ because if either were interested in anything outside of themselves it would be prepared to be ‘scientific’ about what they don’t know eg. Trandisciplinary approaches to epistemology. Indeed, the idea of science (https://www.inquirer.com/philly/blogs/evolution/The-Essence-of-Science-.html ) should be far more open to the unknown than either of these schools approach safety.
Ever since the separation of Science from Metaphysics (and non-materialist philosophies) in the post Enlightenment, approaches to knowledge in Science has been more about Scientism (faith in Science) and Positivism (verification only by empiricism) rather than exploring questions it now rules out of discussion. Neither Traditional Safety or HD Safety show any interest in notions of faith and uncertainty despite the fact both use the language of theology and religion throughout their works. An approach to uncertainty (risk) that rules out things it cannot measure is a closed approach. Indeed, Cooper regurgitates the tired old aphorism ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’ (2022, p. 5) instantly ruling out what is mysterious, immeasurable and fallible. Indeed, ‘we can’t count all that counts’ is a far more realistic slogan for safety if it wishes to humanize risk.
Resilience engineering is defined as an expression of ‘methods and principles’ to prevent safety system instability (2006, p.16.). Interestingly, the same dynamic and the very purpose of organizing (Weick, 1979) is to resist change and this drives resistance in learning. There is no learning without movement. Both zero and this notion of RE have a trajectory of stasis. Organizing to reduce equivocality, ambiguity and paradox in systems is not in the best interests of learning.
The focus on stability of systems is later described as the dynamic to inhibit ‘drift into failure’. What an odd expression, based on what notion of success? If humans and systems are both fallible, in what sense can humans and systems ‘drift into failure’? If humans and systems are fallible, in what sense are they successful? Surely not on the absence of injury? If humans and human systems are permanently fallible, is not failure present and inevitable? Is not success (and safety) only ever temporary?
When thinking about resilience often the definition uses a metaphor of ‘bouncing back’ and/or adapting to the environment. Yet, whenever persons are disrupted or the ecology is turbulent, there is no ‘bounce back’ to a previous state but rather a new state developed through learning and movement to a new state of being, albeit better (educationally) than before?
On page 189 of Resilience Engineering we see validation of the mythology and semiotics of the ‘risk matrix’. This focus on the myth of the matrix is all you need to know about RE as a form of faith in Science. What a shame the book is in black and white or we might see the matrix in all its splendid colour attributed with measurement meaning when it has no meaning. Then jump up to page 348 and you realise that RE is all about control so, nothing new here, systems safety and controls, same discourse as Traditional Safety. Again, here we see in RE the quest to limit variability, volatility, equivocality, dissonance and disruption, all necessary elements for learning.
The book concludes with the statement: ‘The purpose of this book has been to propose resilience engineering as a step forward from traditional safety engineering techniques’. How fascinating to propose something ‘different’ using the tired old methodologies of engineering, a mechanistic worldview and complete silence on ethics, politics, culture or persons.
Example 2. ‘People are not a problem to control but resource to harness’ (Dekker)
We can see this slogan in Dekker’s marketing for the sale of his book Safety Differently See Figure 1. Book Promotion.
Figure 1. Book Promotion.
The slogan is the repetition of the same thing. Understanding people as a ‘resource’ (object of value) to ‘harness’ is the same a viewing people as a problem to control. The harness metaphor is anchored to the control of animals (and humans). Do a simple search for ‘harness’ in Google or in Google images and see what semiotics pop up?
Harnesses are a form of restraint (read ‘control’) and are used in situations where a problem needs control. So we see, the language of HD Safety is the same, just as we saw the focus on engineering and controls in RE is the same. Persons are neither problems or ‘resources’ to control.
The second of the slogans uses the metaphors of ‘up’ and ‘down’ but reverses them. Usually the notion of ‘up’ is associated with something morally good and something ‘down’ is associated with something negative (Lakhoff and Johnson, 1980, pp. 15ff). Here we see bureaucratic accountability posed as a vice and ethical responsibility (never defined) associated with responsibility ‘down’ as a moral good. Neither is the case. There is no inherent moral or ethical problem with bureaucratic responsibility, yet there might be with a lack of it or an excess of it. However, bureaucratic accountability in itself is not necessarily wrong and, is mostly driven down, from hierarchies and hegemony.
As for ethics, this is not addressed anywhere in HD Safety or Traditional safety so it’s hard to know what ‘ethical responsibility down’ means. Similarly, Dekker likes to discuss notions such as ‘common sense’ and ‘do the right thing’ that seem to echo the same deontological ethic of Traditional Safety.
In the end, the only real difference between Traditional Safety and HD Safety is about intent but not methods or methodology. The language used of systems is the same. The Safety Differently website has articles on: militarism as safety, embedding safety differently without a different approach, Conklin spruiking ‘Quanta’ and a common focus on traditional safety issues. Dekker poses in front of machines (planes) symbolic of control, power and objects of Technique. The Art of Work website imagery is all about technology and the mechanics of work. So often the semiotics and poetics is about objects and systems, the same as Traditional Safety.
In the next section, there is a brief discussion on this focus on ‘the absence of negatives and presence of positive ‘capacities’, the third of the HD slogans.
A Comment on Positive Psychology
In his paper, Cooper picks up on the theme in HD Safety of Positive Psychology yet, doesn’t anchor this to the school of thought associated with Seligman. Perhaps he doesn’t know of it? There are striking similarities between HD Safety and the philosophy of Seligman and I would argue significant cautions are needed with this focus on Positive Psychology.
Cooper does effectively point out that there is no particular moral imperative or inherent value in a sole focus on positives. Surely, there should be a balance? In the mix of all of this too must come ethics once again. There is no great positive or merit in injustice, brutalism or naïve positivity nor is there any merit in remaining silent about such negatives.
Unfortunately, what we read in HD Safety is binary and lopsided, captured in the slogan ‘safety is not the absence of negatives but the presence of positive capacities’. By making safety a binary choice (eg, S1 or S2, positive or negative) the HD Safety school of safety has played straight into the binary playbook of Traditional Safety. Surely safety is about a balance of negatives and positives? Surely safety is more than just positive ‘capacities’? Surely Safety ought to be about a Transdisciplinary approach to tackling risk?
Here we see the language of quanta (capacities) not a balance between quanta and qualia. The notion of ‘capacity’ is the language of measurement, of the maximum something can contain. The language of ‘container’ and ‘product’ is not the language one associates with humanizing risk, the language is the language of engineering. Why has HD Safety chosen such discourse and language? I would argue because it is not different, it has the same worldview as Traditional Safety. And so, it can only speak the same language and even its slogans speak the same political and ethical Discourse.
Of course, Seligman likes to frame his work as ‘science’ too, when it is not. Indeed, even behaviourist psychology that primes Cooper is not science, nor are its methods anything like hard science. But we see both HD Safety and Traditional Safety so keen to use the word ‘science’ in how it understands itself. How fascinating, when it has no interest at all in the mysteries of consciousness that are foundational to understanding human judgment and decision making, the foundation of understanding why people do what they do!
Seligman states in the preface to his book (1990, p.8)
‘When I first began to work on learned optimism, I thought I was working on pessimism. Like almost all researchers with a background in clinical psychology, I was accustomed to focusing on what was wrong with individuals and then on how to fix it. Looking closely at what was already right and how to make it even better did not enter my mind.’
Sound familiar? He also states in the introduction (p.11):
‘Individual failure used to be buffered by the second force, the large “we.” When our grandparents failed, they had comfortable spiritual furniture to rest in. They had, for the most part, their relationship to God, their relationship to a nation they loved, their relationship to a community and a large extended family. Faith in God, community, nation, and the large extended family have all eroded in the last forty years, and the spiritual furniture that we used to sit in has become threadbare.’
Some of this even sounds like HD Safety and its language associated with ‘second victims’, just culture and ‘faith’ in science.
Unfortunately, what we realize in Seligman is a reaction to the negatives of Critical Theory, Post-Marxist, Deconstruction and Poststructuralist/Postfeminist theories of the 1970s and 1980s. Seligman rightly moves the pendulum but unfortunately has thrown the ‘baby out with the bathwater’.
In many respects Cooper identifies the same dynamic in the language of HD Safety and right demonstrates that such rhetoric is disconnected to its own claims of ‘differently’. Regarding science, there is nothing in Seligman than even remotely qualifies as science. Positive Psychology like HD Safety is much more a collection of stories, anecdotes and desires (1990), as valid as they may be, but no field-work or data to satisfy what HD Safety or Traditional Safety might define as ‘science’.
Were either school of thought even slightly interested in something ‘different’ they could entertain the idea of a Transdisciplinary conversation with those outside of its paradigm. But alas, such interest is not evident. Both paradigms remain binary and closed to any such dialectic.
What Safety (old or new view) are NOT Interested
Neither Traditional or HD Safety have any interest in balance or diversity in perspective on risk indeed, neither map a Transdisciplinary approach nor acknowledge holism or collective coherence (Ashhurst).
I mapped the diversity of Schools of Thought in Risk (Figure 2. Schools of Thought in Risk) years ago.
Figure 2. Risk and Safety Schools of Thought
What this mapping does is seek to validate and acknowledge all theories or ‘schools of thought’ in safety and at the same time acknowledge that there is no one cohesive theory of safety. Indeed, I think Cooper’s wishful language of reconciliation (p.10) seeks a uniformity that is not helpful. What is clear about the Cooper paper and HD Safety is that neither want to map the terrain. Both are insular, closed, territorial and locked in stasis. Niether Traditional Safety or HD Safety have produced such a map or have anything to say about the safety curriculum, propaganda, industry pedagogy and the insularity of associations.
In many respects, each one of the ‘schools of thought’ (including my own on the Social Psychology of Risk – SPoR) competes for space and place in the management of risk. Each has picked up on an aspect or a single characteristic and framed a ‘school of thought’ on it. For example, bureaucracy, positivity, injury rates, legal responsibility, well-being etc. However, no one school of safety is ‘THE way’, including SPoR.
What I would argue is that all of these together tell the journey of an industry that struggles with diversity and seeks compliance in uniformity. If a sense of balance prevailed and there was mutual acknowledgement, they would all form a whole. If one recognizes a unity in diversity or, validates the necessity of Transdisciplinarity there could be a level of tolerance and acceptance just as long as binary notions of methodology were disbanded. For example, in all of my work on SPoR my argument has been for one of inclusion not exclusion. What SPoR seeks is recognition of validity and the contribution it can make to the whole – safety.
Whereas, the ideology of zero (associated with Traditional Safety) by its very nature seeks exclusion as one can only join if one has faith-belief in the ‘impossible’. This is the rhetoric of DuPont Sustainable Solutions (now DSS+), the creators of the zero delusion (https://www.consultdss.com/belief-in-the-impossible/ ) and the Bradley Curve. Of course, it was DuPont that harmed people for over 50 years through cover-up and corruption documented so well in Dark Waters (https://safetyrisk.net/dark-waters-the-true-story-of-dupont-and-zero/ ). This is also the rhetoric of global Traditional Safety (https://visionzero.global/videos ) so ‘good will’ and tolerance are excluded by the ideology of zero. Zero by its very nature rejects one.
There could be some possibility of validation and recognition if all schools of thought in safety (except zero) accepted the value of the other, if the safety industry embraced the idea of inclusion and community in diversity. However, this is not the case as is demonstrated by the Cooper paper, and the focus on compliance to a particular view. This is what dominates the division and fragmentation of the safety sector. This is amplified by associations that seek political territory rather than represent the sector and its diversity. Indeed, diversity is anathema to the logic of compliance.
Unfortunately, at this stage, with the absence of an ethic/politic of risk, all the safety associations have simply developed is a fortress mentality and political discourse that doesn’t seek community or Transdisciplinarity but rather uniformity. Indeed, if one criticizes anything of Traditional Safety such is demonised as anti-safety.
Unfortunately, the language of ‘care’, ‘helping’ and ‘community’ are also not a part of the discourse of Traditional Safety of HD Safety.
The Parable of the Elephant
We have all heard of the parable of the blind men and the elephant which dates at 500 BCE originating in India. Each blind man feels a different part of the elephant’s body, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then describe the elephant based on their limited experience and their descriptions of the elephant are different from each other. (See Figure 3. Blind Men and Elephant)
In some versions, they come to suspect that the other person is dishonest and they come to blows. The moral of the parable is that humans have a tendency to claim absolute truth based on their limited, subjective experience as they ignore other people’s limited, subjective experiences which may be equally valid.
This is a challenge for the risk and safety industry. What we see in the Risk and Safety Schools of Thought is the Parable of the Elephant, with Traditional Safety and HD Safety furiously grabbing a part of the beast, counting angels dancing on a pinhead whilst so much more is available and knowable that could be of such benefit to the industry. And who knows, perhaps one day it might one day become professional.
What we see in this so called ‘debate’ between two schools of thought is little difference because nothing changes in method. Maybe each has a view of a different part of the elephant but it’s still an elephant. The real problem is that neither school wants to learn beyond what it already knows, neither have a curiosity that should be common to science. Both speak of science but are instead captivated by ‘scientism’ and ‘positivism’.
Figure 3. Blind Men and Elephant
Neither school of thought of Traditional Safety or HD Safety is remotely interested in a Transdisciplinary conversation. Neither is able to let go of territory and agenda or make a ‘move’. Like the fixity of zero ideology, the message is ‘come and dwell in my territory, because we have an exclusive faith’. Unfortunately, both Traditional Safety and HD Safety remain binary fortresses, yet to learn. Then again, why should we expect such schools of thought to understand learning? Neither school of thought make a dent in the trajectory of brutalism in the industry, fixated on engineering and science, not persons. Listen to the language of each, it is always about hazards, controls and systems.
There are however other ways of being and doing regarding the tackling of risk that place persons, ethics, politics and culture at the centre and in balance. This has always been the message of the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR). SPoR is not silent about any of the things that Traditional Safety and HD Safety are silent about. Furthermore, SPoR delivers proven methods that enhance safety, should anyone want to listen and learn.
SPoR Models, Balance, Methods and, the New View
The Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) is concerned with what works (Long, 2021). Indeed, all publications in SPoR offer practical methods to humanise risk as they emerge out of an ethic and politic of risk embodied/articulated in SPoR methodology. The philosophy of SPoR is thoroughly articulated in many places (Long 2018, 2019, 2020) and is named as a Radical Existentialist Christian Dialectic. If one wants to understand such a methodology one can also read the works of Jacques Ellul (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Ellul ). Neither Traditional Safety nor HD Safety actually describe or define a philosophy.
As a start, SPoR acknowledges the limited effectiveness and foundations of Traditional Safety of which HD Safety is a part, there is no Safety Differently. Neither view advocate a balance in Transdisciplinarity because neither acknowledge or recognize views outside of their own paradigm. Neither know what they don’t want to know nor, want conversations with those outside of their ‘club’. Yet there is so much to know that could enliven safety and improve safety, leadership and culture if either Traditional Safety of HD Safety were prepared for a conversation about Transdisciplinarity, about inclusion of disciplines they don’t validate, understand or recognize.
It seems these two schools of safety thought are so busy arguing about how many angels can balance on a pinhead that they don’t want to engage in real science, that activity of curiosity and discovery that seeks learning from the mysteries of being and asks questions about what it doesn’t know. Even questions about the challenge of consciousness. Indeed, neither Traditional Safety or HD Safety map their body of knowledge nor, own an ethic/politic of risk. Yet, a Transdisciplinary conversation would enable learning.
Here is a list of some knowledge such a dialogue with SPoR could offer:
· Wicked problems
· Social Politics
· Patoral Care
· Discourse Analysis
· Critical Theory
· Feminist Perspectives
· Theories of Learning
· The nature of Pedagogy
· Collective Unconscious
· Holistic Ergonomics,
· Tacit Knowing
· Social Psychology
· And much more
Just think of how impoverished Safety is without knowledge of any of this, nor any related skill development. Traditional Safety and HD Safety speak of none of this.
When we introduce people to the journey in SPoR we often talk about balance, of not throwing out the baby with the bathwater, of not an ‘either-or’ binary notion of safety but an acknowledgement of Tradtional Safety, HD Safety and their limits. This is conveyed in a model we call the Risk and Safety Maturity Matrix (Figure 4. Risk and Safety Maturity Matrix), a simple semiotic that shows a gradation in steps and what is needed to develop balance in tackling risk. This includes all aspects of Workspace, Headspace and Groupspace. When we present this model we also present it as a set of escalators, moving, dynamic and variable (The model obviously cannot be animated in this paper).
The model embraces the strengths of Traditional Safety, the intent of HD Safety and much more. This model is supported by extensive practical methods to develop this balance. It’s not about three slogans but rather a methodology and method to humanize risk and safety and it works as is documented in the recent publication: It Works, A New Approach to Risk and Safety (Long and Darlington, 2021). SPoR is practical and doable and adds value to safety because it goes beyond the red steps.
Figure 4. Risk and Safety Maturity Matrix
The ideas of HD Safety are primarily about intent but not method. Intent without method remains intent. Unfortunately, such intent has no vision or methodology to a method. Yet HD Safety is packaged as an either-or thing, not S1 but S2, such language is completely alien to SPoR. It’s not ‘either-or’ but ‘both-and’, a dialectic that opens conversation to possibilities, not more of the same.
A Personal Journey
The reason for this interlude and personal reflection is simply to make the point that I have not come to this criticism of Traditional Safety or HD Safety as some weird sense of contrarianism but rather a well-researched and considered position that emerges out of a philosophy and ontology just as valid as any other.
I started my career life working as a ceramic tiler in a family company in 1970. Back then there was no thought of PPE, safety as a discipline, safety legislation and regulation and working life was about self-preservation and intuitive care. I quickly moved into Teaching, Clergy and then to Community Work in not-for-profit institutions particularly with high-needs and high-risk families and young people, always with a focus on education and learning.
My interests in the nature of human ‘being’ and the collective unconscious commenced early in my Teaching career and then in Master’s studies in the early 1980s. It was then I became more interested and articulate in phenomenology, semiotics and existentialist thinking. In my first Masters study I began reading French philosophers like: Merleau-Ponty, Foucault, Sartre, Derrida, Deleuze, Lacan, Ricoeur, Bourdieu, Kristeva, Serres, Girard and especially Ellul. In my Teaching degree and career I majored in English/History and was fascinated by semantics, linguistics and semiosis. This led to further studies in: Pierce, Kierkegaard, Lotman, Semetsky and theologians like: Elliot, Moltmann, Bruggemann, Jeremias, Banks and of course again Ellul in a second Master’s thesis.
In Education and Learning I was drawn to poststructuralism and critical theory in the form of studying: Illich, Buber, Postman, Apple, Freire, Michael, Claxton and Neville.
In Psychology, my ideas are informed by Jung and Phenomenologists such as: Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Ricoeur, Fuchs, Damasio and Varela. Phenomenology is considered a branch of Metaphysics and Philosophy of the Mind, Mind in this sense doesn’t mean brain but rather whole embodied person.
I only list these influencers so that one might understand my worldview and how I came to develop the notion of a Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR). It is from this background and ontology that I came into contact with the risk and safety industry in 2001. My PhD was in the philosophy of fundamentalism in institutions through social policy.
So, it is from this worldview that I approach the wicked problem (Wagner, 2010) of risk, fallibility and the collective unconscious. The acceptance of these ideas in themselves is contingent on this worldview. What I do in being this worldview is offer others just as they offer me, a diversity of worldviews and disciplines in thinking and experiencing, that might inform learning, education and the way people tackle risk.
It is from this diversity in worldviews that we could benefit from a Transdisciplinary approach to education and learning about risk. It is from this worldview that critique is offered of other worldviews in the interests of learning.
I often explain my ontology by using the following map, Figure 5. Evolution of SPoR.
Figure 5. Evolution of SPoR
My understanding of the world as a semiosphere (Lotman – Universe of the Mind ) means that I privilege knowing that is Semiotic, Poetic and am constantly conscious of communication to the unconscious. I am much more interested in the non-rational (arational) nature of human being and its mystery than the realm of quantified mechanics or STEM subjectivity. This doesn’t mean that I don’t understand or appreciate the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) world but rather am drawn to the challenges of better understanding: faith, risk, ‘radical uncertainty’, the individual and collective unconscious, subjectivity, myths, culture and semiosis and their relationship to risk.
I have no problem with the STEM disciplines but find the STEM-only worldview closed and unable to contemplate Transdisciplinary knowledge outside of its own comfort zone. I have engaged with this world but it doesn’t want to recognise or validate another worldview outside of its own. I find the world of Poetics-Semiotics has much to offer the STEM worldview and I think we are all caught in a dialectic between the two, even though most would not recognize it, Dekker’s Biblical Theology on Suffering (2017) made this clear.
It is for this reason that I represent a SPOR Body of Knowledge semiotically not in text. (See Figure 6. SPoR BoK)
Figure 6. SPoR BoK
In a way, seeking to explain this map of interconnected bubbles defeats the purpose of the semiotic language of the map itself. Perhaps, it helps to imagine all these bubbles or balloons filled with helium with a script written on each naming the discipline and principal scholars, if one pops one balloon or bubble it affects all the others.
Thinking semiotically helps one think relationally and SPoR is all about ethical relationships. All of life is social, there is no such thing as an individual, there is only i-thou (Buber). SPoR calls this ontological view Socialitie.
It is also unfortunate in the academie that semiotic thinking is devalued against the primacy of text and numerics. There is however an extensive body of work in Semiotics revolving around the excellent work of Lotman at University of Tartu (https://www.flfi.ut.ee/en/department-semiotics ).
Perhaps that is enough by way of introduction to explain my worldview and perhaps why in the risk and safety world confronts a dialectic and collision of worlds (Ashhurst, 2020). So, this position I now find myself in is not some ‘last minute’ concoction of contrariness but an essential ontological way of being. My colleague Dr Craig Ashhurst’s PhD at ANU on the phenomenon of colliding worlds within the discipline of Transdisciplinarity (Brown et.al., (2019), Nicolescu (2008) helps explain much of this ‘differance’.
Being is about -isness, and the experience of being. The existential reality of being is risk. I define risk as: ‘the faith and trust required to undertake movement in living’. There is no learning without risk and no risk without movement and any human movement requires faith. I am not like many in the risk and safety world who have become afraid to use the word ‘faith’ (eg. see forward of Dekker’s book on Suffering). Indeed, it is this fear of mystery and the fear of uncertainty that locks the risk and safety world in its own cocoon of scientism and positivism.
Risk is one of those fundamental certainties of being fallible. Fromm (1970) defines faith as: ‘the certainty of uncertainty’ or ‘paradoxical certainty’. This is the risk of fallible human being. There is no risk without some expression of movement or ‘leap of faith’.
We ought to not shy away from the language of ‘faith’. Faith is a methodology for visualising and envisioning risk. When someone says they have faith in something or someone they declare their trust that something is possible that others out of relationship cannot ‘see’. If I thank someone for having faith in me I acknowledge the value of their trust, despite possible doubts. Kierkegaard (1974) reminds us that the human disposition to live forward in leaps of faith (in uncertainty) is ‘absurd’, such is the human condition. We either learn to live with fallibility (Long. 2018) or spend most of our lives constructing delusions of infallibility. Becker (1973) calls this The Denial of Death. Of course, the ideology of zero in the risk industry is an example of such a delusion.
My first foray into the risk and safety world was with a book entitled Risk Make Sense (2012). It seemed strange to me at the time that this world of risk and safety was unable to make sense of risk. Even to this day I have seen no publication anywhere in the industry on an Ethic of Risk. Surely an Ethic of Risk should be the foundation for understanding risk and safety? What a strange world that spends all of its time battling the challenges of risk, arguing about angels on a pinhead and yet is unable to define how risk sits within a human ontology (theory of being) and ethic.
As an outsider looking in, I see so many strange leaps of faith in an industry that denies faith. Indeed, it seems the industry deludes itself and imagines there is no paradox in human being. All of the language that surrounds the global safety mantra of zero (http://visionzero.global/node/6) is about ‘belief’. All of the so called ‘evidence’ that is paraded to demonstrate zero is faith in itself, there is no evidence and never can be. Faith is faith because it is arational, it believes without evidence. Such is the nonsense discourse on zero.
Kay and King (2020) state: ‘The problem of radical uncertainty has supposedly been tamed by probabilistic reasoning’. They demonstrate how clearly humans make leaps of faith in the face of wicked problems. Who could have ever predicted the state we are in now with COVID-19? What a wonder Hindsight Bias that proposes that forward living is certain and predictable. If so, why pay insurance? Why so many systems to create a sense of assurance in safety?
Of course, the risk and safety world doesn’t entertain the notion of faith but rather concocts a faux world of certainty and supposed measurement by its belief in behaviourist-positivist philosophy (so evident in Cooper’s paper). Then when things go wrong explain backwards how there was no leap of faith.
Unfortunately, the industry because of its fear of discussing faith has become so much more religious-like in discourse and language. Just do a reading of any text in risk and safety and find words such as ‘mystery’, ‘belief’, ‘trust’ or ‘uncertainty’ and challenge that language for its connection to faith (paradoxical certainty). See what you find. The industry is so fearful of faith that it has no skill to recognise its own theology or religiousness. What a strange industry that doesn’t know that Risk Makes Sense.
It was great to see that the Australians of the Year for 2019 were adventurers (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-26/australians-of-the-year-craig-challen-richard-harris-inspiring/10753288 ). The idea of adventure and learning in risk is central to all they represent. Even when they were in the midst of their rescue of the boys in the caves in Thailand they expected to lose some or all of the boys, they were prepared to risk death for life (https://www.sbs.com.au/news/australian-of-the-year-winners-thai-cave-heroes-message-to-kids ). As they say: ‘we had no choice’. As they stated, ‘If you couldn’t die, I wouldn’t be interested’.
The only reason these men had the knowledge to rescue the boys in Thailand is because of all they had learned through risk. Just imagine if these men had lived by the nonsense mantra of ‘zero harm’ or ‘all accidents are preventable’. Can you imagine how dumb they would be – certainly, with no capability to do anything. There is nothing like risk-averse dumb down safety infused with zero harm ideology to make you the dumbest person on the planet. How strange, our two famous Australians describe their friendship as ‘hanging about each other at our own peril’.
Dr Challen, joked that: ‘it was the greatest regret of my childhood that I never had a plaster cast on my arm’. What a comparison to an industry that counts band-aids out of the first aid kit and has a Spanish Inquisition if you twist an ankle. I dare say these blokes count what they learn not by the number of times they nearly died on an adventure but how important it was to embrace risk.
In SPoR, all being is semiotic and the world is understood as a semiosphere.
There is no experience of being without: embodied emotions, feelings, images (semiotics), words, semantics and the questioning of meaning (semiosis). Why is it that Traditional safety and HD Safety have no interest in these? The answer is a closed world of Engineering and Scientism and a desire not to learn.
A focus on semiotics acknowledges the visual nature of being and perception. So much of what humans learn comes through visual and embodied perception. More so, visual perception and absorption in learning by experience means that the human and collective unconscious is affected by the visual world of signs, symbols and metaphor (textual images). Indeed, humans live by metaphor and our philosophy of being (Lakoff and Johnson 1980, 1999).
We return to the projections and assertions of this paper by Cooper and the projections and assertions of HD Safety. It has been an assertion of this paper that there is no safety ‘differently’ in ‘safety differently’ and so in this sense the paper is in agreement with Cooper. However, this is in no way an acknowledgement that Traditional Safety and even more so Behaviour-Based Safety (BBS) has much value to add in humanizing risk. Indeed, BBS is a well-known contributor to the dehumanization of persons in risk.
Whilst HD Safety provides valuable critique of Traditional Safety it has no humanizing method with which to enact anything ‘different’ and so in the end falls back to systems, controls, hazards and a mechanistic approach to systems. As Cooper notes, more of the same.
What this so called ‘debate’ requires is not more binary alternatives, less counting of angels on pinheads but an open Transdisciplinary approach to knowing, conversation and identity/validation. If such an approach was possible, if a dialectic was entertained and other views validated who knows, safety might become a learning and helping industry and one day become professional.
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