We can Value Safety but Safety is not a Value

We can Value Safety but Safety is not a Value

spud safety valuesThere is a big difference between what we value (outcome and object) and what is a value (principle/ethic) when we consider strategy and thinking in risk and safety. The confusion of the two confuses understanding and blurs boundaries in learning in organisations. We see this when safety is articulated as an organizational ‘value’. The difference between what we value and a value should be quite simple. I value my children but my children are not a value, I value my car but my car is not a value and I value money but money is not a value. I care and love my children so, care and love are the values. It is important to know what values drive what we value. If we can’t tell the difference between a principle and an outcome, between process and trajectory, we will also confuse ethical and philosophical foundations.

So, is safety a value? No, safety is the outcome of self care and care for others. Try this exercise. Put the object of something you value in a sentence eg. A car. ‘I love my car’. Love is the value and car is the object of your value. How can you car something? How then does it make sense that so many in safety think that because we value something (a cultural artifact) that something’s importance makes it a ‘value’ (innate ethic/virtue). Values are personal, communal and cultural, they are the bedrock of ethical practice and virtuous living. No wonder safety is so confused when they can’t even get that ‘zero’ is a vice not a virtue. Tolerance is a virtue not intolerance. Honesty and goodness are values, tolerance (not zero) and trust are values, care and generosity are values, safety is not a value. Opposite to values are vices (or destructive anti-values) for example, greed, intolerance, distrust, cheating, dishonesty, lying. So, if we value safety, we need to uphold the value of tolerance because we value relationships. There can be no relationships based on intolerance, absolutes rule absolutely and create cultures that are punitive, lack empathy and become brutal. If we advocate the vice of intolerance then we don’t value safety.

It is amazing to look at so many organisations who confuse the object of what they value with the principle of why they value it. Many organisations set of values aren’t values at all but simply a list of object they value. A value is a principle we can enact, I trust my friends so, trust is the value and friends are the objects of my trust. I value safety but I can’t ‘safety’ you or me. I care for you and so I want to have a conversation about risk.

Cultural values are ethical principles, practices and ideas that are consensually validated. Tolerance, respect and understanding have been spoken about frequently in Australian culture following the Lindt Café tragedy. Terror, extremism and intolerance are understood as anti-cultural vices that have no place in Australian society. For a list of values here is a helpful list (http://www.barriedavenport.com/list-of-400-values/) notice that safety is not listed. Here is another list (https://www.calfarley.org/news/Documents/Values%20List.pdf).
The problem with the confusion of objects with principles is that we take the focus off core drivers of behaviour and decision making and put the focus back on objects, we become object focused yet again. I like order and dislike confusion so I value systems but systems are not a value. I understand the need for a safe work method statement (SWMS) but if I make that SWMS my focus I diminish the core driver of why they are important. If I objectify the object, in so doing, I devalue it.

Wouldn’t it be good (a value) if we had more conversations about driving principles rather than objects we value.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

2 Replies to “We can Value Safety but Safety is not a Value”

  1. Thought provoking, though I don’t entirely agree with you. It depends on how you define safety. In its purest sense safety is an outcome, the lack of harm, so in that definition you are correct. However ‘safety’ in industry refers to a mindset or rules put in place to achieve the desired outcome of safety. In this common interpretation safety is a principle. These days the words principles and values are used interchangeably, though in fact they are different (honesty is a value, do not steal is a principle). The benefit of saying ‘safety’ is a value (though I prefer principle) is that it expresses the idea that it is unchangeable and can’t be reprioritised.

    1. Jason, thanks for your response. I agree that safety is an industry but the mindset is one of care, this is the value. It’s because I care that I desire the outcome of safety. I don’t understand safety as a principle, it it neither a methodology nor belief system. This is why the notion of an ethic is essential to understanding the notion of a principle. Humanising is a principle that ought to under-gird our care for others, this is why zero is not an act of care but a vice that drives bullying. When we think of values and vices we must also think of moral and ethical principles and their outcome eg. safety, respect, personhood, community, resilience.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below