Thinking Outside the Safety Bubble
It is good to read that someone recognizes the ‘safety bubble’, OHS Thoughts Trapped In The Bubble = thanks Kevin. The metaphor of a ‘bubble’ conveys the idea of an insular, self-absorbed environment that is inflated by delusion.
Image Source (I must get one of these, ED)
So, is the metaphor true? Unfortunately when one’s discourse is all about ‘compliance’ and ‘zero tolerance’, there is little chance of exploring transdisciplinary thinking. This is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry.
Where is the debate and sharp critical thinking in the sector? Where is there a forum for discussing transdisciplinary views? Where is the discussion in the sector that doesn’t fit the positivist/behaviourist view of the world? Unfortunately, the industry is awash with confirmation bias and so demonizes non-conformity, criticism and marginalizes non-agreement as ‘outsiders’. What is their problem? Why don’t they think like us? Yes, you can join us, but you have to conform with zero!
To test the truth of the metaphoric ‘bubble’ one simply has to ask, ‘what happens when one criticizes zero?’ If you are in any tier one organisation it is the sack. A similar metaphor used to convey the same idea is that of a ‘fortress’.
Living in Canberra makes for being labeled with this ‘bubble’ metaphor on a regular basis (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-12-13/australian-word-of-the-year-canberra-bubble/10611238; https://meanjin.com.au/blog/the-canberra-bubble/ ). Of course the myth/symbol of the ‘Canberra Bubble’ sticks but it is simply not true (https://safetyatworkblog.com/2019/05/30/ohs-thoughts-trapped-in-the-bubble/). The word ‘Canberra’ is now not just the name of a place, it has itself become a metaphor for living in a ‘bubble’.
I have a number of friends who have recently tried to leave the safety industry but it seems once one is branded with the word ‘safety’ in a CV or resume that makes the task nearly impossible. One friend tried for 6 months to get out of safety and was told at interview that a career in safety limits any chance of trans-disciplinary movement. It seems that the brand ‘safety’ indicates dumb down checklist thinking with an inability to adapt. If one’s job has been branded more about risk, leadership and culture then it appears movement across occupations is easier.
Unfortunately, safety is commonly as a bureaucratic but necessary, ‘embuggerance’ at work. So how can this be improved? What can we do constructively to burst the bubble?
The first thing is to understand that there are other worldviews that are not in sync with the behaviourist/positivist view that dominates safety. And, that criticism from such views about the safety bubble is not some nasty demon but simply the discourse from that valid view/philosophy. Indeed, critical deconstruction is good for safety. It’s only the binary view that if your criticize safety you are a safety hater. I can only listen to you if you agree to zero.
The second thing is to focus more on the language of ‘risk’ than ‘safety’, this draws people away from conversation about objects/hazards to conversations about people.
The third thing that would be helpful is to embrace perspectives from the professions eg. nursing, social work, teaching, law, medicine etc. Just try to talk the language of zero with these groups and you won’t last long. BTW, some of the best safety people I know come out of nursing and understand the dynamic of ‘helping’ and ‘advising’.
The fourth is to read outside of the safety bubble. If the book has the word ‘safety’ in it perhaps put it aside and expand your thinking. Read books more about: people, people skills, communication, leadership, politics, management, ethics, philosophy, human mind, the human unconscious, personhood, helping, counselling etc.
The fifth thing would be to change your language and use the word safety much less. After all, the definition of safety should be an outcome not a process.
A sixth would be to take on some study from another discipline.
Finally, try getting away from safety podcasts and listen to creative innovative stuff like:
All in the mind
Unfortunately, thinking outside the bubble of safety or criticizing safety will result in marginalization. This is a necessary trade-off and by-product of bursting any bubble. However, one also broadens one’s worldview, increases diversity and expands horizons in stepping outside the bubble and this helps with maturity and engagement.