Culture Silences in Safety – Care Ethics

Culture Silences in Safety – Care Ethics

imageOne of the strange contradictions of the safety industry is its preoccupation with ‘behaviours’ yet silence on care ethics. Indeed, the fixation on ‘what we do around here’ helps mask silence on ethics as foundational to culture. The last things Safety wants is critique of its own behavior or its ideology of zero. Even when Safety makes a murmur about ethics it is deontological: duty, obey, confirm, police, check your gut, rinse and repeat.

Just look at the AIHS BoK Chapter on Ethics or the marketing for the course ‘Essence of Ethics’. The language is individualist and behaviourist focusing on ‘personal ethical capability’ which of course is not about ethics but morality. When you confuse ethics and morality (as is asserted in the AIHS BoK Chapter on Ethics) and make them interchangeable, you demonstrate a poor understanding of both. By confusing such language, Safety is then able to pursue immoral outcomes under the mantra of zero because duty is constructed to override care. And you will find anywhere in Safety, a discussion of ‘care ethics’.

The ethic of Safety is duty to safety, NOT duty to the care of persons ( ). This is the outcome of a deontological ethic. No wonder this industry is silent on care ethics, it’s the last thing it wants to know about. This enables Safety to do safety ‘to’ people, not safety ‘with’ people.

And care ethics is not the only school of ethics that Safety it is silent about, there are many others (eg. situational, existentialist, feminist, virtue etc.). Safety simply shows no interest in discussing any ethic that contests the mythology of duty and compliance. You can see a map of schools of ethics here:

I have written about care ethics before ( ) but not in connection to culture.

In this series on Safety Culture Silences ( ) we have been raising the many critical aspects of culture that safety shows no interest. Can you just imagine doing a course with Safety on cultural indicators ( ) and what it considers are cultural indicators? Certainly, none of the indicators proposed in this series on Safety Culture Silences. And then Safety wonders how to affect culture change, when it locks itself into the useless and pathetic definition of ‘what we do around here’. The fist step to affecting culture change is getting rid of that useless discourse.

When your worldview is behaviourism and engineering, it’s all about ‘speak up’ but never about the ideology of zero that prevents people from speaking up. Such is the game safety plays with ethics.

One’s ethic is one’s ethos, one’s reason for being. One’s ethos shapes methodology (philosophy/ideology) which in turn are revealed in methods. The only reason one should be focused on behaviours and outcomes is to understand methodology. One’s methods are the outcome of culture and ethos. In SPoR we know this as the “Collective Unconscious’.

The best place to start in understanding care ethics or a feminist ethic is with the work of Nel Noddings. Like many ethicists, Nel Noddings is concerned with education and learning, not anything like the way Safety uses the language of ‘learning’ ( ) but rather in a holistic sense on the embodied social movement of persons. For the most part safety confuses learning with data acquisition, training and cognitive recall. Unless learning involves embodied unconscious being, it’s not about learning ( ).

In Safety, the confusion of ethics for morality is no different for its confusion about learning and training. Interestingly, Safety thinks it needs no expertise in Education to sprout forth about learning and ethics.

Noddings (Educating for Intelligent Belief and Unbelief) situates care ethics in the context of learning and has no fear of raising many critical metaphysical questions Safety is also silent about. How fascinating this industry that fears fatality but never converses about death. You can be sure a copy of Becker (The Denial of Death) is not in any WHS curriculum.

Of course, the same fear of metaphysics and Religion in safety enables the most profound religiosity in discourse. Without such knowledge Safety has no ability to recognize its own soteriology (salvation theory) captured in zero and its campaign to ‘save lives’. Any analysis of ‘The Spirit of Zero’ ( ) demonstrates this.

Noddings work ( ) ought to be foundational reading for anyone in safety concerned with ethics, especially ‘women in safety’. The ‘women in safety’ movement has yet to discover a feminist methodology or ethic. Until it does, it will remain a voice for a masculinist ethic that is aligned with a deontological ethic. We see this is the language and metaphors used that are common to discourse in both camps ( ). The loudest voices against a deontological ethic should be women in safety. Unfortunately, not.

As Noddings (2013 p.8)states:

‘An ethic built on caring is, I think, characteristically and essentially feminine-which is not to say, of course, that it cannot be shared by men, any more than we should care to say that traditional moral systems cannot be embraced by women. But an ethic of caring arises, I believe, out of our experience as women, just as the traditional logical approach to ethical problems arises more obviously from masculine experience’.

And this (2013, p.14)

‘This is the fundamental aspect of caring from the inside. When I look at and think about how I am when I care, I realize that there is invariably this displacement of interest from my own reality to the reality of the other. (Our discussion now will be confined to caring for persons.) Kierkegaard has said that we apprehend another’s reality as possibility.’ To be touched, to have aroused in me something that will disturb my own ethical reality, I must see the other’s reality as a possibility for my own. This is not to say that I cannot try to see the other’s reality differently. Indeed, I can. I can look at it objectively by collecting factual data; I can look at it historically. If it is heroic, I can come to admire it. But this sort of looking does not touch my own ethical reality; it may even distract me from it’.

In other words, care is about orientation to ‘the other’. And one can’t be touched by the other if they are viewed as an object to control or as potential for unsafety. Indeed, as Noddings notes the quest for the objective, for the engineering and empirical meaning ‘distracts’ us from care. A wonderful insight into how a deontological ethic disables care and fosters control. The language of Safety is the language of ‘control’ not ‘care’.

Noddings again (2013, p. 26):

‘It is generally agreed that ethics is the philosophical study of morality, but we also speak of “professional ethics” and “a personal ethic.” When we speak in the second way, we refer to something explicable-a set of rules, an ideal, a constellation of expressions-that guides and justifies our conduct. One can, obviously, behave ethically without engaging in ethics as a philosophical enterprise, and one can even put together an ethic of sorts-that is, a description of what it means to be moral-with- out seriously questioning what it means to be moral. Such an ethic, it seems to me, may or may not be a guide to moral behavior’.

How refreshing to not have an immature approach that assimilates morality and ethics as the same thing. How refreshing to see presented the idea of a pseudo-ethic that ‘spruiks’ moral duty without understanding what it means to be moral. Such is Safety.

Just imagine if Safety was about ‘the care of persons’ rather than ‘a duty towards safety’? Just imagine how that would change both the culture of safety and what it understood as meaning and purpose in safety? Just imagine if embodied education and learning were considered the purpose of Safety rather than control of hazards? Just imagine if safety advising was actually about advising rather than telling?

Just imagine if Safety were driven by care ethics, now there would be culture change.

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