Culture Silences in Safety – Semiotics

As we close out this series on Cultural Silences in Safety I can think of a no more important issue than semiotics.

I’d like a dollar for every email and request I get from safety people who want training, coaching, education and learning in Semiotics. The neglect of this Discipline in particular exposes the ineptitude of this industry to learn. Of course, there is no mention of semiotics in the WHS curriculum, AIHS so called ‘Body of Knowledge’ or any of the association journals across the globe. There is no mention of Semiotics in any of the so called ‘Safety Differently’ group or by any of the so called ‘thought leaders’ in safety. Yet, human persons live and have their being in signs/symbol systems, gesture, paralinguistic expression and the many Poetic ways we communicate. Indeed, Semiotics is the pre-linguistic and pre-cognitive dimensions of human knowing.

Long before children walk, crawl, speak and learn text all is communicated through the body and gesture. And this doesn’t case then text and language comes along in a few years, it actually amplifies and forms the multimodality of all communication. This is why the brain-centrism of the safety industry missed so much by not understanding engagement a living in the ‘Semiosphere’ (Lotman).

When we do our Linguistics program (coming up soon face to face in Canberra; ) we commence by studying the way children develop language. This helps us understand not just the foundation of language and discourse but there way all linguistics influence judgment and decision making.

How fascinating this safety industry that wants to understand how to affect culture with no interest in Linguistics or Semiotics. Then wonders why so many projects, initiatives and

Campaigns don’t work.

If the medium IS the message (McLuhan) how fascinating that Safety has no interest in the medium?

If you wish to understand Semiotics then you can’t start by reading or studying safety. Indeed, ignorance of semiotics demonstrates some remarkable stuff ups: The recent debacle of the Prime Ministers Women’s Network is a classic ( ).

One way to start learning semiotics is by reading a few of the blogs on this site:

Of course, the reason why Safety has no interest in Semiotics is that it isn’t a behaviour and it can’t be measured. Such is the bankrupt and narrow worldview of engineering and behaviourism. Such is the poison of zero.

If you can’t think semiotically, you will never know why zero ideology is the ultimate toxicity for risk and safety.

Indeed, poor old Safety deems my understanding of zero as ‘fanaticism’, ‘extreme’, ‘ignorant’ and ‘churlish’ (Lloyd). A wonderful way to shut out learning and enquiry. How convenient to demonise another as an extremist by assuming an extremist position! How fascinating to present a so called ‘positive’ view of safety in a deficit view about something one doesn’t understand. Such is the mythology of compromise in safety, happy to compromise with zero but no compromise or learning with any opposition to zero. Dunning-Kruger sure has a home in safety. This is the same dynamic that ensures that Safety identifies as a religious activity.

This is how Safety ensures that everything stays the same and zero reigns supreme. No wonder no one in safety gets upset by the Spirit of Zero video, nothing to see here ( ). Of course, everything about zero is about stasis and absolutes. There is no compromise with anything in zero, it is the ultimate semiotic for god.

After studying and researching Semiotics for 45 years it is astounding to observe the Discipline of Safety relegate it to the scrap heap. Such is the power and Love of Zero ( ).

Semiotics operates in the realm of the unconscious, we are simply unaware rationally and consciously of how signs and symbol systems affect us and how they create meaning (Semiosis) ( ).

When we study Semiotic in SPoR we do semiotics to understand Semiotics. The following three maps might help.

The first map shows where Semiotics sits in the Social Sciences (see Figure 1. Where Semiotics Fits)

Figure 1. Where Semiotics Fits


The second map shows the depth and breadth of Disciplines in Semiotics. (See Figure 2. Disciplines in Semiotics)

Figure 2. Disciplines in Semiotics


and the third map shows the dimensions of the Semiosphere (see Figure 3. Semiosphere)

Figure 3. Semiosphere


These three maps demonstrate the depth and breadth of everything in which Safety has no interest. So, when it comes to culture one thing Safety is sure of, is that semiotics has nothing to do with culture. No wonder nothing changes in safety.

Whilst there is so much more to offer on Cultural Silences in Safety, this last piece on semiotics will have to do.

So, let me conclude by offering a constructive way forward. One can study semiotics here:



or commence reading:











or here’s a radical thought, maybe send an email or a question as a beginning to understand another worldview. It has only happened a handful of times in my 20 years in the sector.

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