Until Nothing Changes in Safety
The industry of safety becomes more and more fixed in its current trajectory through its linguistic practices, semiotic meanings and social reproduction. What does this mean?
Humans are the sum of their social relationships and the language that is used to communicate identity. Safety articulates itself through a discourse of objects and this is evident in WHS curriculum but also in its sign systems and symbols. Even when safety wants to talk about people it uses PPE objects to identify itself (https://safetyrisk.net/the-iconography-of-safety/). When your sign systems are objects and your curriculum focuses on objects then it doesn’t take Blind Freddy to work out that Safety will objectify people.
It doesn’t matter whether the focus is on women, young people, organisations or teams, the symbol of choice for safety is an object. Often these symbolic objects stand in contradiction to the discourse and language of intent. How amusing to talk about wanting people to be safe and then treating people like objects in action. Whilst text and language operate cognitively and rationally in the safety industry, the real power in the symbolic discourse operates on the collective unconscious.
I saw an advertisement this week for ‘safety leadership’ with all the spruiking of zero and associated binary propaganda. There can be no leadership in anything from a discourse in absolutes. In zero there is no reciprocation only authoritarianism. In zero there can be no connection with people when one sets all goals primed by a number. In zero there can be no leadership in thinking when zero promotes everything that is dumb down binary language. When the discourse is zero then any chance of leadership, despite all the spin about people, will be anti-people, anti-learning and anti-relationship.
Just do a Google search for safety symbology and see what you come up with? https://www.google.com.au/search?q=safety+symbology&client=firefox-b&dcr=0&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjbjpua8N3ZAhUGJJQKHdl5DBoQ_AUICigB&biw=1352&bih=1210 Not a person to be seen. How can the language of leadership match this petty fixation with boots, glasses, hard hats and gloves?
When there is incongruence between language and symbology then symbology wins. It sinks into the unconscious so that skepticism rules over the spoken word. One can talk about care of people and wanting people to be safe but when the discourse is set by a number and counting, there can be no care or safety. The disconnect between the words and symbols teach people that safety is non-sense. This is the power of semiotic meaning. We see this all the time with government advertising spruiking an ethic of governance whilst cutting funding to the disadvantaged and slipping more money in the pockets of the wealthy. When people are treated like morons they know it, similarly in safety. People don’t care what you say, they care what you do, and zero drives brutalism, authoritarianism and distrust.
Social reproduction operates at the unconscious level. Things are socially reproduced through cultural forces, artefacts, symbols and the ‘hidden curriculum’. When the goal is zero the focus must be petty. When the language is zero there can be no vision and where there is no vision, there is no leadership. So here we have, poor little mechanistic safety engrossed in its own counting cult, fixated on zero until nothing changes.
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