One of the favourite pastimes of Safety is parading ignorance as expertise. We see this constantly with engineers writing on culture and psychosocial health. We even get Safety running programs on learning that have nothing to do with learning nor education. Ah, this is the Safety Way.
I was talking to a safety person the other day about one of these fraudulent writers who claims a recent book on culture written by an engineer was ‘great writing’. I then asked them if they would go to an electrician if they had an eye problem? Or would they seek a plumber if their child had learning difficulties? Of course not, so why does safety constantly seek out people with no expertise in what they are spruiking? Because it confirms the safety worldview!
None of this is learning. Just more confirmation bias and indoctrination.
Recently Safety published more of this fraudulence as it normally does: IOSH Magazine under the guise of ‘the value of safety’. The title of the piece was ‘Putting a Price on Safety’ and this should have already been a dead giveaway. Why do the alarm bells not ring when Safety puts out this goop?
So, the framing of the article is economic not values-based. Of course, written by engineers with no understanding of ethics, moral philosophy or values.
A value is NOT something one values!
- I can love my car but the car is not a value, love is the value!
- I can appreciate my home but my home is not a value!
- I can care about my reputation but reputation is NOT a value!
- How amusing to see safety write about ethics with no expertise, knowledge or experience in ethics. Never mind, lets write a chapter on it and claim it is knowledge in a Body of Knowledge.
Hey, but what would any of this matter. We now have a pyramid/triangle with a hierarchy of values that are non-values, as if some of this has credibility and competence.
If you want to fool people in safety just couple whatever you do to a pyramid and you are on a winner.
It doesn’t matter that none of this is true or real, such is the myth of pyramids and curves in safety (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-curves-and-pyramids/; https://safetyrisk.net/sexy-curves-and-the-paradox-of-risk/; https://safetyrisk.net/nonsense-curves-and-pyramids/).
Why learn about reality when a good myth will do?
Everything about this article on values can be sourced in an agency of no expertise in values.
This is how Safety comes up with the absurd idea that safety is a value, when it is not. Safety is an outcome NOT a value! Just because I value something doesn’t mean it is a value. The real value of safety can NOT be measured because it is founded in the care and help of persons. Things safety never speaks about.
Just look at the focus of this article, it’s all about a ‘sound return on investment’. This article is about an economic and political focus on safety. Of course, safety is so bogged down in the nonsense belief in measurement that it doesn’t know how to tackle anything abstract. This is admitted in the article (pp. 32-33).
The moment any conversation in safety moves into the unmeasurables of persons, ethics and moral philosophy it doesn’t want to know about it.
This is why this article doesn’t define values. This is why the article doesn’t discuss the complexities of ethics, persons or the value of safety – the care and helping of persons.
The trouble is, all this entry of Safety into areas beyond its expertise (eg. psychosocial health, mental health, values, education etc) is dangerous. That’s’ how we end up with projections that say the best rule in learning something is not to talk about it!
How typical that Safety is so noisy about things in which it has no competence.
So, let’s have a quick look at the pyramid thrown forward by this article/report: Figure 1. Hierarchy of Environment, Health and Safety
Figure 1. Hierarchy of Environment, Health and Safety
The first thing to note is, be careful of all hierarchies. Life is not structured in hierarchies. Values are messy, ethics is a wicked problem. Ah, but not so Safety, all is linear, neat and controllable – and a myth.
It’s hard to know where to start with such incompetence and fraudulence, especially when such things as ethics have been historically of no interest to the industry. Then to have reputation as the pinnacle of the pyramid is simply sickening. This is the measure of this article, this is what Safety thinks is at the top. Oh yes, there is an ethic right there. There is your example of what Safety thinks ethics is. And even when it describes ethics its NOT about ethics but ‘the perception of justice and fairness in safety activities’ and NOT about ethics. You couldn’t make this s&*t up.
This is what you get when you visit the plumber for an eye problem or consult a chemical engineer about culture.
This is how Safety can discuss mental health as an economic problem (p.34) as ‘human capital’. By the way, there is no mention in this article on morality, personhood, power, caring or helping – the foundations of ethics.
However, all is well, you now have a pyramid where health is on the bottom!
The article recommends: ‘that employers implement a values-based safety management system’ from an article that doesn’t discuss what it is to be ‘values-based’. Economics is NOT a value and to be values-based in anything requires expertise, knowledge and experience in understanding moral philosophy as the basis of values.
This article is all about ‘measuring’ the value of safety NOT the values of Safety!
This is what you get when you let the engineers loose in the culture playground to an audience with only safety equipment (and no expertise in critical thinking skills to analyse what is being served up) to judge something as intelligent or competent.
This is how Safety ends up with rubbish definitions of culture like ‘what we DO around here’.
Didn’t you know, mental health is all about ‘return on investment’? Didn’t you know that psychosocial ‘hazards’ can be fined with the ‘hierarchy of controls’?
Didn’t you know that safety is valued by the ‘data you capture’? (p. 36).
This is all dangerous and unethical stuff. All packaged as some kind of expert approach to values-based safety when it is not. Once again, this is what Safety is expert in, fraudulence.
And the recommendations of this is that this Hierarchy of ‘safety values’ be integrated into safety interventions to deliver ‘maximum value’.
I think it might be of value here to remind your children not to go to the toilet to find a drink of water.
Simon Cassin says
I think my argument against the ethicalith of ZH is different than others I have read. It is unashamedly philosophical and may never be read by anyone other than my prof.
But that doesn’t really matter, as my motivation is the development and exploration of wisdom rather than followers or reward.
Simon Cassin says
Thanks for your response. Irrespective of whether the h&s industry (as represented by self proclamaed guardians or thought leaders) are open to approaches we must continue to make our arguments in favour of other approaches.
When I have the chance to meet and chat with those who actually practice H&S I am encouraged by their openness to explore new sources of wisdom.
Those interested in the practise of h&s rather than the perpetuation of status or privilege are your audience Rob.
Rob Long says
Simon, I write these blogs very quickly, and conversationally in a few minutes. I simply apply my worldview to what is being presented and question from that view. Even from simple discourse analysis, this is a worrying approach to safety.
Yes, I understand your point of charity, that also needs to be held in tension with dialectic, learning, cognitve dissonance and critical thinking. Charity doesn’t stand alone, we live in a faith-love-hope-justice dialectic.
To approach this dialectic one needs movement, movement towards but this cannot be found in zero. Zero is the embodiment of non-movement and non-learning and so regardless of the many times I have made moves to meet with safety, it has had no interest to reciprocate. It has no interest in critical dialogue so we are left with an adversarial framework where some listen and move and others bunker down. That is the choice of the compliance engineering industry and its insecurity with its mono-disciplinary worldview.
As you know I have never offered hollow or naive criticism with no alternative. I have never sought to use safety as some kind of cash cow. Indeed, anyone who wants to engage and listen will learn very quickly that SPoR offers constructive, positive and comprehensive methods to improve safety. and many do take that journey of unlearning and discovering a better way of tackling risk. It is for those I have all the time in the world. I don’t waste a second on the engineering worldview that wishes to tell me all it knows about culture, ethics and linguistics.
I think I have given much time to the semiotics of zero that very few understand, and they have very little interest in understanding such a worldview. Similarly, to a view that understands safety as profoundly religious.
Happy to chat anytime about the ethical implications of zero-harm, just email me.
But let me say, any denial of fallibility is on a trajectory of myth making and has no option but to be unethical. The foundation of ethics is understanding personhood and power and, Zero=Safety has no interest in approaching the issue. Instead, it builds a barrier to learning through a deontological ethic that anchors well to its religious dynamic.
It also depends how you understand zero as both an archetype, ideology and semiotic and again, few have any interest in understanding how such discourse works.
simon p cassin says
I think we need to acknowledge that economic arguments for or against something can also be ethical. The article is correct to recognise that there are problems with current comprehensions of the value of safety but it does seem that the article fails to consider the issues from the proper perspective. If we reinterpret harm to encompass more than physical injury and harmful psychological impact and view business activities and H&S from a position of providing a service to society, it would enable a more useful comprehension of the prudential and ethical impact of H&S interventions.
One approach might be to begin considering harm from a broader perspective and also acknowledge businesses and the professions have duties associated with beneficence. A perception of harm based on a morally informed (MI) approach to stakeholder management would acknowledge financial harm but not necessarily result in the prioritisation of this harm above other harms or duties of beneficence.
Management of harm from a MI stakeholder perspective would align with descriptions of harm with contemporary philosophers such as Fiona Woollard and Michael Sandel amongst others. Woollard rightly describes the difficulties associated with creation of a universally associated definition of harm. But her proposed notion of harm (‘a person suffers harm when a state of affairs occurs that involves harm to him’) (Woollard, 2019, p.18) would seem to expand the notion of harm as generally considered by businesses and H&S practitioners alike.
If we tentatively accept Woollard’s assertion, it would seem that this broader notion of harm could plausibly open the door to descriptions of harm to also encompass areas including; financial, spiritual, cultural, relationship, and epistemic harm. Viewing harm from this perspective would acknowledge that ROI is an ethically relevant issue but not one worthy of the elevated position the article seems to suggest.
When I’ve finished my current studies I hope to explore whether a different comprehension of harm and beneficence that utilises a morally informed approach to stakeholder management could provide a useful framework for society and business to appropriately consider the role of the H&S industry.
Perhaps one of the problems with Warburton’s article is that he approaches the discussion from the perspective of business rather than the society it serves.
I agree that many fail to recognise the distinction between something we value and a value. But this is not a surprise distinctions such as this are not intuitively obvious. Without knowledge of this distinction and an ability to reason both critically and ethically then it is no surprise that many may fail into the trap of ignorance.
I constantly find myself falling into these traps but hopefully I’ve become more open to being helped out by the wisdom of others.
Rob Long says
Simon, thanks for your thoughtful reflections.
When we look at this article framed from the first line around ‘interventions’, ‘accidents’ and ‘measuring’, we already know that the old favourites are in play. This is nothing new.
Any expertise in discourse analysis will reveal the agenda in this piece.
Then the next line is framed around business and ‘good safety culture’ again linked to prevention of injuries and fatalities. The the classic ‘positive return on investment’ and the cost of prosecutions.
This is the reality of how this article is framed. This is NOT how I think of either safety or risk and I am glad I don’t share this engineering and behaviourist view of safety. Indeed, there are other valid worldviews than these, but apparently I’m not allowed to have such. Indeed, any criticism of safety is to ‘denigrate’ safety apparently rather than to improve it! What an astounding projection.
Yes, I acknowledge the economic and political arguments for safety but this is where this article is deceptive because it also mixes this with the language of ‘greater values’ and then proposes that an inability to measure these relegates these to the background.
The moment Safety gets out of its comfort zone it usually engages in such fraudulence or projection.
You valid points about harm and related research are well beyond the culture of safety. and now that safety has entered the wicked world of psychosocial harm it is so far out of its depth what it is doing is simply dangerous.
Sadly, if other competent disciplines articulate the world differently in a Transdisciplinary sense, safety has no interest. The answer to any problem is the engineering behaviourist view. and that’s what this article offers as if it is presenting something of value and on ‘values’.
simon p cassin says
Thank you for your interesting article.
Having read the article several times and considering the key points (as I understood them), I think your central assertion is correct.
Central assertion: ‘Key players in the H&S industry portray themselves as experts in fields with little evidence of expertise’.
Focusing primarily on the discipline of ethics. I believe a significant amount of evidence suggests that current narratives and approaches to ethics are, at least to some degree, ignorant, amoral and in some cases unethical.
Notwithstanding the issues highlighted above, I think we need to consider the most appropriate way to respond to the H&S industry’s lack of intellectual humility (Doxastic) regarding important and relevant issues, such as ethics, culture and semiotics, amongst others.
As you know, we cannot control the lack of intellectual humility demonstrated across the industry. But I believe that if we can apply the principle of charity to evaluating the current narratives/positions/approaches, we can positively contribute to developing the industry’s understanding and application of ethics.
Suppose we begin from a position that views the current (apparent) increased dialogue and discussion of ethics as indicative of the industry’s desire to highlight the importance and understanding of ethics in H&S. In that case, we can consider the current standards of knowledge etc., as a point on an evolutionary spectrum as opposed to a final destination.
I would argue that adopting this perspective may help all interested parties approach important issues from a position of curiosity rather than conflict. I hope many would agree only by adopting a position of curiosity can we support the consistent and progressive development of the H&S industry.
If we consider essential issues, such as semiotics and culture. In recent years, there has been an increasing (albeit small) number of H&S practitioners who have invested significant amounts of time, money, and effort into deep learning and academically recognised expertise in these areas. This learning process takes time, but it can only benefit the industry’s desire for a professional and meaningful contribution to society in the long run.
In my opinion we need the same investment and patience for disciplines such as critical thinking, moral philosophy and applied ethics. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some H&S practitioners were able to contribute genuine expertise in these areas. Furthermore, until our industry can stand on its own two-feet, we must promote open and positive dialogue that encourages industry leaders to reach out and access help from genuine experts rather than pronounce expertise where it does not exist.
As a footnote, I wholeheartedly believe that you have positively contributed to the development of the H&S industry’s depth and breadth of knowledge. That said, I must also say that I sometimes disagree with your arguments and the way you express them.
If you ever have time, it would be good to chat about the ethical implications of Zero-harm approaches to H&S, as this forms the central question behind my dissertation. (Masters in applied and professional ethics). I think it is fair to say that you have a better depth of knowledge of the history and application of this approach than I do.
BRENT R CHARLTON says
I often wonder where this idea that everything in life can be boiled down to a linear model comes from. Is it a need to simplify? Is it laziness? There are some of use out here who realized a long time ago that things are much more messy than a leads to be leads to c. Safety does it and Quality does it too (5-why, anyone?)
Rob Long says
Brent, the safety world would much prefer a tidy ordered myth that a messy reality.
BRENT R CHARLTON says
Tom Beegan says
Dr. Rob Long. For a person who insists on evidence you are making some wild and biased comments on Health and Safety professionals. For one I do have safety as a value for me. It defines what I do and how I do it. It transcends work and personal life choices and actions. It is grounded in the realities of the places I work and the life I live. It is about making sure I demonstrate that I care not just for myself but for those I work with, live with and love.
Safety does not the preserve of any one professional or any one qualification. Safety is most certainly is not helped by disparaging comments without any suggested better ways to make the much needed improvements.
Rob Long says
Safety is not a value. Try doing some research in moral philosophy or the ethics of psychology: https://dornsife.usc.edu/assets/sites/782/docs/ISB2_24030.pdf; https://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/91009/91009.pdf
Valuing something doesn’t make it a value: https://safetyrisk.net/we-can-value-safety-but-safety-is-not-a-value/
I am not seeking to ‘help safety’. Critical thinking about safety is not ‘disparaging’ but rather seeks its improvement and maturity. Sadly, Safety reacts to critical thinking because it defines critical thought as un-safety. Moreso, Safety (not a profession) has traditionally shown no interest in critical theory, cultural theory or similar in any safety qualification.
BTW, there are many methods and resources I provide for free, that are helpful, constructive, positive and improve safety. Many better ways indeed.
You obviously know little about my work or what I do as is demonstrated by your comments.
As for wild and biased comments, evidence please, demonstrate where anything I claimed in the blog is not real.
Read the article, it’s an economic apologetic for safety.
Rob Long says
somebody has discovered AI
Rob Long says
Of course AI never can and never will understand the nuances of sarcasm and such a projection says more about the programmer than the reality.
Ignorance masquerading as expertise: The passage suggests that safety professionals often display a lack of expertise when discussing topics outside their field, such as culture, psychosocial health, or ethics. This is seen as a way to confirm their preconceived notions rather than engaging in genuine learning or education.
Lack of expertise in values and ethics: The author criticizes safety professionals for writing about ethics without having a proper understanding of moral philosophy, values, or ethical complexities. The article argues that safety should focus on caring for and helping individuals rather than adopting an economic or political approach.
Criticism of the pyramid hierarchy: The passage dismisses the use of hierarchical models, such as the pyramid, in safety discussions. The author suggests that life is not structured in hierarchies and values are messy and complex, contrary to the simplistic and controllable portrayal of safety in such models.
Dismissal of economic and measurement-focused approaches: The passage expresses disapproval of safety discussions that prioritize economic aspects, return on investment, and measurement, while neglecting the unmeasurable aspects of human experience, ethics, and morality. The author argues that safety should be values-based and require expertise in moral philosophy.
Critique of safety professionals’ involvement in unrelated fields: The passage criticizes safety professionals for venturing into areas beyond their expertise, such as psychosocial health, mental health, education, and values. This is seen as dangerous and potentially misleading, as the professionals lack the necessary competence and understanding of these domains.
Sarcasm and frustration: The tone of the passage is highly critical and sarcastic, expressing frustration with what the author perceives as incompetence, fraudulence, and lack of critical thinking skills within the safety industry. The author suggests that safety professionals’ misguided practices and beliefs can lead to negative outcomes.
Safety was never renowned for its ability to think critically. Now we have AI there’s no need for Safety to think at all…….