What Happens when Safety is a ‘Battle’?
One of the articles that sparked much attention over the past 12 months asked Are you a Safety Crusader or a Safety Leader? For some, this article resonated well as they understood that if we our aim is to support others, we need to be mindful of how we engage with people, and that being aware of our own agenda in our interactions with others is critical. There were some though, who struggled with the article.
Some people argued passionately that we must be ‘crusaders’ in safety. We must ‘protect people’ and we must ‘do everything we can’ to keep people safe, that’s the job! To these people, being a ‘crusader’ was being a ‘safety leader’, and that’s cool, we all have different views in the world.
I enjoyed the pursuing discussions with people as we explored how we go about our work in risk and safety. For some, they seemed so passionate and enthusiastic for ‘safety to be number one’, that it wasn’t until they took time out to reflect that they considered how their actions were possibly causing people to turn off to what they were saying, rather than engaging people which is what they thought they were doing. It’s great how reflecting with others can sometimes help us see what is really happening.
I also reflected on the blog and considered whether the key points may have been lost on people who thought being called a ‘crusader’ was insulting? I wondered whether labeling people (e.g. calling people ‘crusaders’) is really helpful. I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t and creating a label was probably a distraction from what I was really trying to say. I realise that this can upset people and although it can be a way of creating dissonance, there are other ways too. So for this reason, I’m wondering if the question may have been more useful if instead of labeling people ‘crusaders’, we explored how the act of ‘crusading’ (in anything, not just in risk & safety), may affect those who are subjected to it?
So I looked to the history of ‘crusades’ to see whether this might help highlight the key points I was trying to make? Of course, my starting point, as is so common in modern day research, was Wikipedia that describes ‘crusades’ as:
Some historians see the Crusades as confident, aggressive, papal-led expansion attempts by Western Christendom; some see them as part of long-running conflict at the frontiers of Europe; and others see them as part of a purely defensive war against Islamic conquest.
This reminded me of times when I may have ‘crusaded’, feeling like I had to battle for attention thinking it was ‘me’ against operations, or ‘me’ against marketing with their new product ideas, or ‘me’ and finance who just didn’t seem to want to spend money on anything.
The first thing to note about this is how this was about ‘me’ and how I felt. When we think like this in life, let alone in risk and safety, we tend to lose site of ‘others’. As I wrote about previously, the Reverend Graham Long from The Wayside Chapel in his book makes a point that will stay with me for life:
“At The Wayside, we tell people they are not ‘problems’ to be solved but rather ‘people’ to be ‘met’.
When we are thinking of ‘others’ and focus on ‘meeting’ people, we are not crusading. The emphasis moves away from us and our feelings and agenda, to ‘others’. There is no battle in ‘meeting’. I know that many of us got into ‘safety’ in the first place because of a care for others. However the social environment and context (e.g. compliance focused organisations and societies) often drive us to crusading, to battling and to controlling as these take precedence over ‘meeting’. Unless we take the time to critically reflect and think about how we go about our work, we may be ‘crusading’ without realizing.
The other point I consider when I think of ‘me’ going into battle for safety, is that it is just another example of me thinking in a very binary (black and white) way. When I think of safety as a battle, maybe that’s when I’m forgetting that risk and safety is grey and messy? That risk can’t be ‘won’ or ‘lost’, it’s not about what’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’, risk is subjective and seeing it as a ‘battle’ and ‘crusading’ for ‘safe’ probably only reinforces the binary thinking, and moves us away from accepting and dealing with the ‘grey’.
So back to my reflection, I thought about the ‘crusading’ that I may have done in the past. I know it can be tough working in risk and safety (and interestingly, I felt the same when I worked in Human Resources too). We are often odd ones out, not part of core operations or business, but as a support or corporate service. Often there is no set budget, businesses make decisions that don’t seem to value ‘safety’, people do things we can’t make sense of, and leaders and organisations will pressure us to ‘exert control’, because that’s what happens in an Obeyience Culture where ‘crusading’ is the order of the day. So when we find ourselves acting in this way, what can we do to move away from ‘crusading’?
I’m wondering if the most useful thing we can do is to find someone, or a community of like-minded people, to talk through things, to stop and reflect?
I’ve got some wonderful people in my small social networks that I feel privileged to be able to bounce ideas off, share frustrations with, and explore my thoughts. I’d welcome a call or e-mail from anyone who works in risk and safety (or in HR, or anyone really!) that feels like they are in a battle, but don’t really want to be. I don’t know if I will be able to offer you anything more than to ‘meet’ you, but sometimes that can be all we need.
As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and comments.
Author: Robert Sams
Phone: 0424 037 112