Beware False Profits and Messiahs in Safety

Originally posted on April 4, 2020 @ 7:56 AM

imageOne of the frightening by-products of the coronavirus crisis is the rise of Linkedin legends and OHS messiahs. Along with fish ‘n chip senators and Sky News propaganda we now have OHS experts launching into the ‘unprecedented’ Covid-19 space as pandemic experts. Amazing what a Certificate in OHS can do.

One of the most poignant moments between Jesus and his disciples was a discussion about prediction and expertise. In Matthew 24 this apocalyptic discussion eschews about the destruction of the Temple and reading semiotic signs. Jesus responds by stating that many people will claim to be messiahs, (a particular interest of Jews in first century Palestine) who are not. In a warning to his disciples he states that no one knows nor can predict an apocalypse, even himself! Think about those last two words for a second.

During the Beaconsfield Crisis ( at its peak we were receiving up to a dozen letters a day from safety OHS crusaders (yes I know who there are) claiming to be the only guru who could help us. The safety team of Rex, Craig and I had enough to do without such nonsense. The Executive Assistant to Matthew used to pass them to me and I read them before throwing them in the bin. What is it in how we train OHS people that they think they are saviours? I wonder what they think the word ‘unprecedented’ means? Similar crusaders projected to the surface during the Canberra Bushfires.

One thing we did discovered during Beaconsfield is that a crisis brings out the best and worst in people. Crisis amplifies risk. The interesting thing we discovered is when we needed a global expert on geotechnics, geophysics or explosives, they were humble about what they knew and even more humble about what they didn’t know. If one wants a lesson in humble experts then read the story of Richard Harris and Craig Challen in the Tham Luang Cave Rescue ( They like us in Beaconsfield knew that it takes thousands of people to undertake a rescue.

I don’t know anyone who would claim to be a global ‘guru’ in their area of expertise, even though I think they are. When I think of people like Prof. Karl Weick I think of his amazing work but he would be the last to claim he was a guru in anything. Similarly with another I know Guy Claxton, an amazing humble man who I would consider a guru in education, learning and the unconscious but he would reject such language.

One thing is for sure, if someone is claiming to be a guru, profit, power and territory is involved and if such is the language then no prophet is present.

At the peak time during the Beaconsfield crisis the most dangerous person identified was a crusader and they were soon dropped off the team. The last thing a crisis needs is overconfidence, arrogant prediction and false knowledge. The last thing a crisis needs is a self-interested sales pitch or speeches from the back of a postage stamp. What is needed in a crisis is wise counsel and when that runs out even more wisdom. BTW, the language of ‘wisdom’ is not something the safety industry talks about.

Much of what is happening during the Covid-19 crisis is learning as we go along. There are lots of hunches and guesses along the way and even the best make mistakes and require the adaptability and resilience to press on. Those who do have the power to enact decisions need more wisdom and wise counsel around them and the humility to know that there are no gurus in safety.

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