The safety-fication of everything

The safety-fication of everything

safety ladderAn interesting article by Steven Shorrock just posted on the Safety Differently Blog. We have certainly covered this issue many times and in different ways (check out our This Toaster is Hot Page – to see how “safety” has made its way insidiously into every aspect of our work and social lives).

I like Steven’s use of the term Déformation Professionnelle , a French term which pretty much means how it looks (a “deformed professional” – lol) – it basically means a tendency to only consider things from ones own professional, distorted perspective rather than that of society – how very apt for many in the safety and risk profession! Steven wrote an interesting article about this HERE.

Rob Long Wrote in Safety Should NOT be About Safety: Can I just say this, if your world is just about safety, then your world is too small…………Safety shouldn’t be about safety, it should be about living and learning. When safety is made into some bureaucratic, legal or club exercise, it has lost the plot.”

Rob Sams wrote in They’re only words aren’t they? If you look beyond the headline however, and consider the discourse, the ideology hidden within the words, you may discover that it might not be about trust, openness and honesty. When one analyses the discourse behind words, they can reveal much more than they appear on the surface.”

Mark Taylor wrote in “The Crazy Words of Health and Safety”: “Why do we complain about being portrayed as Policemen and then undertake ‘Accident Investigations?’……….It’s no wonder that health and safety has got such a bad reputation, when we continue to use all these confusing and often negative words?”

Dr Rob Long also wrote in It’s Only Words and Words are all I Have: “Some organisations use language such as ‘safety matters’, ‘safety leadership’, ‘don’t walk past’, ‘safety journey’, ‘safety first’ or ‘hear, listen and think before you act’. Whatever the words used, they need to connect and inspire others to believe in safety and also manage the importance of learning in risk and, the reality of human fallibility”.

Allan Quilley was quoted in What is Safety?: Many of us, myself included, use the word SAFE (and unsafe) in our writings and discussions. If you work in the Safety Management field, it is likely even in your job title. What I find amusing and sometimes disturbing is that when challenged about their definition of the word “SAFE” people in the Safety Profession often stumble and stutter when it comes to providing THEIR definition.

Anyway, back to the article. Steven writes:

Some time ago, I noticed the safety-fication of everything. I noticed that otherwise fairly ordinary words have been co-opted to give a specific safety meaning. Once I noticed this, I couldn’t stop noticing it. So a few months ago, I started to log two-word safety terms (and a few three-word terms) that I encountered when reading and communicating with others.  The log literally led to an A-Z of terms, which I have included below.

The terms are very different in terms of ontology, or their essential nature. Some of the terms are conceptual or abstract (e.g. Safety Culture, Safety Mindfulness; some are of arguable ontological status!), while others are practical or concrete (e.g. Safety Magazine, Safety Barrier [some of which really are concrete]). Some concern roles and jobs (e.g. Safety Officer, Safety Auditor), devices/equipment (e.g. Safety Valve. Safety Boots), documents (e.g. Safety Procedure, Safety Notice), processes (e.g. Safety Assessment, Safety Method), and organisational functions (e.g. Safety Department, Safety Division – interesting separators in themselves). Some concern a particular industry (e.g. Aviation Safety, Patient Safety), and some are general across industries (e.g. Occupational Safety, Process Safety).

The list has raised a lot of question for me, concerning the (real) purpose of the language that we use in safety professions and how this language is received by others. I wonder whether safety-fication is a symptom of déformation professionelle. I am not sure to what extent other functions and professions (e.g. quality, efficiency, production, sustainability) do the same (I guess they do). But I wondered to what extent the safety-fication of everything might have had the unintended consequence of alienating others by separating and isolating ‘safety’ (whatever we mean by that) from other prioritised organisational and personal goals or needs (e.g. efficiency, cost, production, quality, sustainability, excitement, fun, relatedness, community).


Lastly, one of my favourites by the late George Robotham:

Weasel Words in Safety



Weasel Words in Safety – Words that promise much but deliver little One of my favourites by the late George Robotham  Those of you who read my posts will know I am a big critic of the long, ponderous written communications, that seems to infect the safety world. Given a choice many people take a least time …… Read the rest of the article

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