Listening, Learning, Helping and Caring about Risk

Originally posted on October 9, 2020 @ 10:41 AM

Listening, Learning, Helping and Caring about Risk

imageI was with a group of managers yesterday and as I often do asked them to list the words they associate with safety. We brainstorm in teams for a bit and then once each team has 10 words we put them in rank order from most important to least important. It’s not a complex process but is always revealing.

I have been doing this activity for a long time as a part of education in the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) and have a database of thousands of these ‘language audits’. We also do a similar audit with safety policy documents and something always stands out. The four words Listening, Learning, Helping and Caring are never associated by participants with the activity of risk and safety. You probably know what the most common language is associated with safety. What does this say about the industry, it’s training, body of knowledge and curriculum that these four most important words are not part of the Safetyosphere? Surely an indictment of a punishing industry that is bogged down in paperwork, regulation and brutalism. Results from the zero survey ( with a thousand responses also confirm these findings.

When we do this activity we discover what Safety is silent about and compare it to what Safety is noisy about. And everyone confirms that they know this is the way it is. The discussion then eschews that nothing can be done about it, there is no other way and everyone settles back to the brutalism-as-normal worldview. The AIHS BoK on Ethics confirms (p.9) that the character of the industry is ‘unscrupulous and Machiavellian’ and yet maintains the discourse of ‘professional’ as if the two can co-exist.

The real problem behind this culture of brutalism is a fixed sense of safety as a policing activity and a fixation on objects, and there seems no vision for a way of difference. There seems no vision that articulates a way forward away from the malaise of entrapment in systems, metrics, numerics, objects and policing.

So, along comes Covid19, a perfect poster child for an ongoing fixation on objects, systems and policing. I would guess that if I did a ‘language audit’ associated with Covid, the same silence on Listening, Learning, Helping and Caring would emerge. But it need not be this way, the language of Caring, Helping, Learning and Listening should be the foundation of how this industry tackles risk and seeks to be professional.

Again, where is the vision to move away from this love of stasis and the entrapment in brutalism? Well, certainly not in the formal associations where even discourse in Mental Health remains individualistic, behavioristic and at a loss as what to do or how to move forward. Even when the word ‘vision’ is used in the safety industry, the discourse is yet again packed in numerics ( There is no vision in more numerics, no vision in keeping things as they are.

Of course, when we do an activity in SPoR like the one mentioned above I always ask if people like it this way and the answer is uniformly no! People would love to work in a workplace where the culture of safety was about Caring, Helping, Learning and Listening. Well, it doesn’t have to be that way which is why SPoR envisions a more practical and humanized way of tackling risk.

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