What is Your Safety Ethos?

imageIt is considered foundational in the study of Ethics to explore the work of Aristotle . Aristotelian Ethics has a focus on the nature of ‘character’ and virtue. The word ‘ethic’ comes from the Greek ‘ethos’ meaning character, linked to actions in society and culture. The purpose of an ethos is to guide a society toward right living for the well being of that society. Ethics are the outworking of one’s Ethic (individual and collective) that is, the philosophical foundation (methodology) for one’s method.

Before one discusses Ethics one should discuss the philosophical assumptions of one’s theory of being (ontology) including defining such things as: community, society, morality and personhood. It is poor Ethics indeed if these are left undefined and assumed, leaving such things as Pragmatism, Utilitarianism, Relativism and Positivism untouched, lying in the background as if they have no relevance to the discussion.

One cannot discuss Ethics without also understanding and defining: ideology, justice, wisdom, learning, philosophy, morality, being and personhood. Mashing these together is evidence that one doesn’t understand one’s own Ethic. Similarly, making the notion of ethics and morality interchangeable simply adds to the confusion. This is also evidenced by the mashing together of concepts of methodology and method, as if they are the same thing. It is also misleading to anchor Ethics just to behaviours. Ethics is just as much about ‘knowing-that’ as ‘knowing-how’ (see Varela, Ethical Know-How).

Right and wrong, right and wrong behaviour and, the concerns for compliance, are manifestation of one’s Ethic. This is why the risk and safety industry need to articulate ‘An Ethic of Risk’.

To talk about ‘doing the right thing’ without defining one’s Ethic, is like defining culture as ‘what we do around here’. If Safety wants to remain dumb then let’s all leave it up to ‘common sense’ to work out what to do. If one wants to be intelligent about risk then one needs to define one’s theory of being, personhood, community and moral meaning well before a discussion of Ethics. One thing is for sure, there is no neutrality in the matter, anything that doesn’t declare and define an ethical position (Ethic) at the outset is deceptive. I have made known my position many times previously and in my books (https://www.humandymensions.com/shop/).

One of the most glaringly unethical aspects of the safety industry is the dominance of the ideology of zero. One simply cannot maintain an ethic of personhood and human fallibility and then crusade as Safety does, in the ideology of zero, numerics, metrics and the mechanistic work of safety. Zero is the global ideology of the safety industry (http://visionzero.global/node/6). Zero by its nature must exclude the moralities of: tolerance, care, acceptance, trust, honesty and helping, all essential values to humanizing risk.

Zero and the quest for perfectionism is unethical, immoral and psychologically pathological. No wonder Safety is known for its fixation on policing, intolerance and brutalism. The reason why Safety can maintain a regime of brutalism is because it has never defined or articulated ‘An Ethic if Risk’.

The starting point for any Ethic should be human fallibility (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/fallibility-risk-living-uncertainty/). The reality of fallibility cannot be maintained ethically in the face of the ideology of zero. It is impossible to be wedded to the ideology of zero and maintain an ethical notion of being professional.

Whilst there are many theories of ethics one that stands out in importance for the safety industry is ‘Care Ethics’. Care Ethics ((https://www.iep.utm.edu/care-eth/) emerges out of Feminist Ethics (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-ethics/ ) and denotes Socialitie as Ethics that is, the foundation that humans are fundamentally social. All Ethics should be based on an articulation of personshood in relationships and human interdependency.

At the core of Care Ethics is the morality of personhood, community, care and helping. Unfortunately, the safety industry is known for its ideology of zero, and therefore locks it into: counting, mechanics, regulation and policing, all common to a Masculinist Ethic.

A good place to start in understanding Care Ethics is here:

· https://voidnetwork.gr/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/The-Ethics-of-Care-Personal-Political-and-Global-by-Virginia-Held.pdf

· https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-61291-1_4

· https://pe-med.sakura.ne.jp/main/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/6-6ONOTANI.pdf

The reason why Safety is locked into a Masculine Ethic is because it has not articulated ‘An Ethic of Risk’ (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/the-social-psychology-of-risk-handbook/ ). Silence in the safety industry in articulating an Ethic helps maintain this Masculinist Ethic regardless of whether one calls oneself ‘Women in Safety’. (To see a Feminist perspective on Ethics and safety see: https://vimeo.com/237511120).

A Masculine Ethic is founded on dualist, Cartesian and monist ontologies. The language of zero is the language of: dominance, absolutes, intolerance, dehumanizing, numerics, counting, bullying, brutalism and binary logic, all vices in any articulation of Virtue Ethics.

Of course, none of this is discussed in the recent AIHS BoK publication Ethics and Professional Practice thus enabling nothing to change and the maintenance of Pragmatist Masculinist Ethics and the tyranny of zero.

If you are interested in learning about an Ethic of Risk there is a workshop on 5,6 February in Canberra for Interest: https://spor.com.au/home/one-week-intensive-2-modules-february-2020/

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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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 “What is Your Safety Ethos?”

  1. In a climate of casino capitalism with regulatory capture and the merging of state and corporate interests, how can a corporation be ethical if its only corporate social responsibility is to maximise profit?

    1. Bernard, as long as the ideology of zero remains untouched then all is good in safetyworld. Smack the plebes and pass the stock reports, obviously the key to being professional.

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