What’s Faith Got To Do With Safety
Guest Post by Dr Rob Long from www.humandymensions.com
Risk is all about uncertainty, and uncertainty is one of the things that characterises what it is to be human. There is little in human living that is certainly predictable, there is little that is absolutely certain, this is the nature of life and living in the real world. We are often surprised by life, for example, how can a plane with hundreds of people, complex GPS tracking technology, sophisticated communications technology and experienced pilots and staff disappear without trace? How can a person we know make choices we don’t understand? How can someone one minute be healthy and next minute be unwell? This is the nature of being fallible and human. Unfortunately, there are traditions, discourses and ideologies in safety that deny this reality eg. the nonsense language of ‘all accidents are preventable. Such language is a total denial of humanness and fallibility. Furthermore, perfectionist language and discourse in absolutes primes a population for intolerance and rigidity. Binary oppositional discourse is a foundation for the alienation of people, the tyranny of authoritarianism and the delusion of absolute control. Just thinking and speaking of life in disallows space for imperfection, tolerance, compassion, understanding, forgiveness and the in-between. When all is black and white, there is no space for grey.
The reality of humanness is that most of us live life in a state of automaticity and faith. Faith, hope and trust are not just essential characteristics of religious life, they are characteristic of all life. We step out of our door in the morning on the way to work in faith that after we have undertaken one of the most risky activities in society, driving on the road, that we will arrive well. Whilst we have rules, technology and systems to try and ensure certainty and control, we can’t guarantee it. Any language that guarantees an incident free future or talks about the possibility of achieving absolutes is dehumanizing nonsense. For example, talk of guarantees of safety in driving would be received by anyone as nonsense. So, why do organisations think that talk about safety in such ways makes sense? Why do organisations talk such nonsense without challenge?
This week we observed an organization that instructed employees to lie about injuries (http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/9083657/Tunnel-workers-told-to-lie-about-injuries), the same organization that designed and built the Pike River Mine. When I showed this to my post grad students this week more than half the group (all from tier one zero harm mining and construction companies in Australia) said, ‘oh yes, we do that’. One person said, ‘ yes we normalize lying and deception in our company, that’s considered OK’. There is no doubt, discourse in absolutes and language of perfectionism drives the ethical trade off of lying and deception for zero. It seems the cultural normalization of lying and deception trade off are OK, as long as the delusion of zero is preached. What a strange contradiction. I wonder what else these companies lie and deceive about?
All human relations demand trust and commitment. Those of us who are parents know that we entered the experience of parenthood and the relationship to become a parent, by faith. We had no idea of how to raise a child, we were about to enter into one of life’s most risky activities without a road map. When we came to the moment to procreate we had no idea of the future nor any certainty of what trajectory we were about to enter. We were even so sure in our uncertainty that we were numb to any lectures or telling. We had no past knowledge to parent and had no idea of the trajectory of our parenting, we entered the experience and continue in the experience by faith. We trust and hope that all will be well but there are no guarantees. So much of parenting is ‘trial and error’ learning, discovery learning and a kinesthetic journey of love and learning but it is all uncertain. How odd then that safety people freak out about some of the most petty and micro hazards and risks at work and yet in real life accept faith as a key part of learning. Why is it that safety people become known as the ‘petty’ people and think that lying and being deceitful to protect data is deemed a valid (yet unethical) norm for organizational culture?
Most of the measurement held forth as a valid measurement of safety and risk is attributed not real. Here we are grinding over lengthy reports and statistics with little correlation to safety, doing language and logic gymnastics trying to justify acts of faith as certainty and predictable controls. So much anxiety and fear about statistics that bear greater resemblance to religious artifacts than understanding the nature of risk and the realities of human decision making. This is what binary opposition creates, this is the trajectory of zero.