The Safety Cacophony Cupboard
I often get contacted by people in safety after they ‘try everything’ and they discover that ‘none of it works’. Safety is so good at exploring every yo-yo theory possible from BBS to useability in search for the ‘silver bullet’ when there is none. With so much cacophony in the industry and so many distractions, is it any wonder that the very basics of conversation, listening, helping and caring are pushed to the background. How strange this industry that prefers to count numbers than focus on people. How strange this industry that makes its projected outcome a number losing all perspective on the way the medium contradicts the message. How strange this industry that even when it talks about humans it’s focus is systems.
When the medium contradicts the message people simply add whatever is being presented to the cupboard of cacophony along with the last box of yo-yos that didn’t work.
One of the greatest challenges in safety is getting the basics right before venturing to the cacophony cupboard for a yo-yo. Perhaps more importantly, is ensuring that there is congruence between the medium and the message so that one doesn’t cancel out the other. Unless there is congruence between the purpose of communication and the unconscious in communicating (eg. semiotics, poetics, aesthetics etc.) it is most likely that whatever is desired will not be effective. For example, one can talk about humans as much as one wants but if the symbolism and paralinguistics that accompanies the message is about objects and numbers then the message won’t work. Congruence between message and medium is essential for effectiveness in communication. In the world of paralinguistics (all that is not visible) congruence is essential for effective messaging.
A classic example of incongruence between medium and message is a clash of two parliamentarians in the hallway of Parliament House between Tanya Plibersek and Craig Kelly (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7sQ67vFczA) on perspectives on Covid-19. Craig has been spreading misinformation about Covid-19 and since this slash has been banned by facebook and Instagram. But let’s look at the interaction and look for congruence between linguistics and paralinguistics. Paralinguistics concerns things such as: gesture, symbols, volume, pitch, stance, body language, movement, semiotics etc. Paralinguistics is most often delivered and received unconsciously.
In this clash the first thing we notice is that Tanya affectionately touches Craig on the arm, in a way to ‘disarm’ him. Craig’s first response is to point with two fingers. Their smiles hide the medium of the message and soon Tanya points with one finger back. The content of the exchange is not about listening but rather argument, and winning an argument. This is evident in interrupting and the way words are projected. Tanya opens using the word ‘crazy’ and Craig responds by trying to argue his point. Tanya puts her hands to her head in a frustrated gesture. As you continue to watch in comes the music sound track and text banners to tell you how to think about the clip. My point about this clip is to draw your attention to the paralinguistics and congruence between medium and message. The exchange achieves nothing.
In Safety there is no congruence between the mantra of zero and any hope of communicating care for persons. When your mantra is zero people know they are relegated as objects. When the paralinguistics of safety are about control and power you know that the industry has no idea about the fundamentals of helping. When the language is about numbers and the discourse about compliance, regulation and enforcement we know there is no ethic of personhood. When the semiology is about control, brutalism and power there is little chance of conversation or listening, just more noise for the cacophony cupboard.
If you are interested in doing safety that works so that persons matter, you can read about it in Brian and Rob’s latest book ‘It Works, A New Approach to Risk and Safety’ (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/it-works-a-new-approach-to-risk-and-safety/).