The Safety Worldview and the Worldview of Safety, Testing Due Diligence
Following the World Congress on Safety and Health 2017 (https://safetyrisk.net/no-evidence-for-the-religion-of-zero/) I begin to wonder just how more absurd the safety industry can become.
It is clear from the Congress that safety is now the filter through which one views life rather than, life being the filter through which one views safety.
When one gets such a distorted religious worldview no wonder the outcome is speaking nonsense language to fallible people.
A worldview is essentially a philosophical disposition, or as some might say, a cosmology. A worldview is an orientation to the world and universe evidenced in one’s ethic of risk. This is why the ideology of zero is unethical (https://safetyrisk.net/how-can-the-ideology-of-zero-be-ethical/). The idea that zero is the only ethical goal based upon binary black and white thinking, totally ignores the fundamental realities of mortal fallible living. Speaking the language of perfection and absolutes to limited and vulnerable humans can only have a trajectory of brutalism.
My wife’s car broke down last December, blew a cylinder and was due for the scrap heap. With Christmas approaching she needed a car and we didn’t have much time to get another one. So we researched hard, looked at as many options as we could, trawled the Internet car sites and walked the numerous car yards listening to the spin of numerous car sales people. In the end, we needed a decision, we couldn’t wait to February to get another car. So within the constraints of time, research and leather soles on our shoes we bought another little car. Like everyone we wanted something reliable, comfortable, safe and economical. It was only weeks later we noticed little flaws in design and annoying characteristics that didn’t suit us.
It was Gerd Gigerenzer (2008 – Rationality for Mortals, How People Cope with Uncertainty) who came up with the notion of ‘satisficing’. Satisficing is the point when time runs out in seeking to optimize for a decision. This is what ALARP is all about (https://vimeo.com/162637292). Satisficing accepts the heuristics in decision making so that we can balance efficiency with risk.
Whilst humans would love all the time in the world to seek all knowledge about a risk, glean all the evidence and history, survey all possible options and likelihoods for a decision, there comes a time when a decision has to be made with the knowledge that is available. This is the reality of satisficing.
The only way to optimize is to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. When humans get to full optimization then and only then will the language of zero make sense. There is no hope in zero ideology for fallible people.
The courts don’t expect humans to make optimal decisions but only satisfactory decisions. The courts don’t expect humans to be infallible. This is the meaning of Due Diligence (https://vimeo.com/162493843 ). The most repeated word in the regulation about Due Diligence is the word ‘appropriate’. The WHS Act doesn’t desire tight definition like naïve and binary Safety expects for how to manage risk.
Here is how the WHS Act defines Due Diligence (I have highlighted text in bold to emphasise elements of satisficing in the legislation):
due diligence includes taking reasonable steps –
a) to acquire and keep up-to-date knowledge of work health and safety matters; and
b) to gain an understanding of the nature of the operations of the business or undertaking of the person conducting the business or undertaking and generally of the hazards and risks associated with those operations; and
c) to ensure that the person conducting the business or undertaking has available for use, and uses, appropriate resources and processes to eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking; and
d) to ensure that the person conducting the business or undertaking has appropriate processes for receiving and considering information regarding incidents, hazards and risks and responding in a timely way to that information; and
e) to ensure that the person conducting the business or undertaking has, and implements, processes for complying with any duty or obligation of the person conducting the business or undertaking under this Act; and
f) to verify the provision and use of the resources and processes referred to in paragraphs (c) to (e).
So we see that the Act doesn’t expect optimisation. Executives are not prosecuted for not being perfect. Prosecution is only likely if executives have been negligent.
What the court expects is that people will have taken ‘reasonable’ steps to make the workplace safe, there is no expectation of perfection (http://www.safework.nsw.gov.au/law-and-policy/employer-and-business-obligations/due-diligence ). In the limits of fallible living there is always a trade-off and by-product for decisions, there is always a tolerable level of risk in human living. Risk aversion and elimination is the nonsense religious fairy tale of zero.
The response to the binary question: ‘how many people do you want killed on the road today’ is not a number but another question, ‘why do you ask stupid binary questions?’ The absurdity of the question demonstrates the insanity of zero ideology. I have another question for the various government road authorities: ‘how’s that ‘toward zero’ language working?’ (https://safetyrisk.net/towards-dumb/) and BTW, that’s an open question.
In the real world of fallible people, fallible systems and a random world the best we can do is live with satisficing.
Satisficing is not the acceptance of apathy, this is the projection of binary zero. Living within the confines of fallibility and risk uncertainty is not the acceptance of fatalism, this is the binary projection of zero. Accepting a tolerable level of risk is not an admission of defeat about risk, this is the binary projection of zero. The nonsense zero language of ‘prediction’, of ‘all accidents are preventable’ and ‘safety is a choice you make’ is the projection of binary zero. Satisficing ensures that humans are not paralysed by uncertainty but can live their lives reasonably.
Let’s leave the last word to Gigerenzer (2008, p. 66) ‘every intelligent system has to make errors; making none would destroy the intelligence of the system.’
If you want to better understand the meaning of Due Diligence there are still places available in Sydney for the Due Diligence Workshop with Greg Smith and Dr Rob Long: https://cllr.com.au/product/due-diligence-workshop-unit-13/
The workshop explains the real meaning of Due Diligence and the nature of satisficing. The workshop provides many practical tools and skills for exercising Due Diligence that don’t include more bureaucracy or checklists.
The Workshop is accredited by The Centre of Leadership and Learning in Risk (https://cllr.com.au/) and qualifies as an introductory unit to the four unit Certificate in the Social Psychology of Risk.