Who is Responsible?
This is the question that consumes safety and it most often leads to blame, finding fault and superiority. This is evident in the language of the ‘safety is a choice’ discourse ( Safety Is Not Just a Choice , Safety Is a Choice You Make). The reality is that life is random, things are unpredictable, humans are fallible and, events ‘emerge’ in ways that are unpredictable. Dekker, Reason and Hollnagel all talk about the challenge of ‘emergence’, where there is no known cause. The best I have read on emergence is by Letiche et. al. (2011) ‘Coherence in the Midst of Complexity’.
Whilst we would like to attribute ‘choice’ to others there are many pressures in life that offer very little choice and are socially conditioned. The research is extensive that shows how much of our decision making is affected by social psychological factors (eg. Abelson, Frey and Gregg (2004) ‘Experiments With People, revelations from Social Psychology’). So, whilst it is always the quest to find cause, sometimes there is no cause and we are left with the challenge of how to cope with mystery.
People don’t get good sleep. don’t eat well and aren’t fit and in many cases their condition comes from very little ‘choice’. I would like to watch the brave ‘warrior’ tell the folks at Wayside (https://www.thewaysidechapel.com/) or any other social service that they were ‘victims’ or were ‘playing victim’. Regardless of a person’s condition, we certainly don’t seek empathy from someone who proclaims ‘warrior’ success and uses the language of ‘victim’. If one wants to be a ‘helper’ perhaps start by reading Gerard Egan ‘The Skilled Helper’ or Edgar Schein ‘Helping, How to Offer, Five, and Receive Help’. Schein’s book is particularly good when thinking about how organisations seek to help their workforce. One thing we should note, the semiotics of superiority are never helpful.
I went to a funeral yesterday, always a very sobering event for us all. One of the sobering moments at the funeral was when the service was over and we all walked outside silently watching the coffin being place into the vehicle. There we all stood in the sunshine, not a word as a single bell was rung. In that moment there were no words, only hugs that were of value whilst the solitary bell echoed into the air. It is strange how we seek responsibility after the event in safety but at the funeral only speak in eulogy and tribute for a life lost.
When we go to court seeking a determination for who was wrong or responsible, it seems like no one ‘wins’. When we regulate care to an employer for responsibility for safety and fatigue, the whole issue of responsibility shifts. When we professionalize care in many ways, we absolve ourselves of responsibilities that help us learn and mature. There are many trade offs we have accepted for the benefits of professionalization and regulation. In many ways we have enculturated the projection of responsibility to many third parties and this creates new sub-cultures of ‘learned helplessness’. Our response? The best way to help others is the walk alongside, listen and wait.