Masking Politics with Safety

Originally posted on January 26, 2013 @ 8:23 AM

Another one from Dr Rob Long for our “WTF were they thinking files” on how gutless, narrow minded thinking can use “safety” as an excuse to cover an ulterior motive and destroy all of the hard work done by others with a genuine goal. Surprise, Surprise – a local Government Organisation is behind it! If you liked this article then I highly recommend Rob’s other articles and his new book: For The Love of Zero 

Masking Politics with Safety


A story surfaced this week from Ipswich Queensland at the Warrill Park Lawn Cemetery that is typical of the nonsense that masks politics with safety. There is nothing more annoying and destructive for the positivity of safety than some gutless management hiding behind the aversion of risk and invoking some petty safety regulation to mask real political intent.

It turns out that the local council issued letters on all graves in the nursery section that ornaments on graves are a safety risk. The letter invokes safety as the reason why all trinkets from graves must be removed within 21 days. ( They are deemed a safety risk because they ‘hinder maintenance’. Once challenged the council stated, they were concerned that a whipper snipper might hit a trinket and hurt someone. The truth of the matter is that the council regarded the addition of trinkets (usually memorabilia special to the child) as ‘untidy’. Whilst the aesthetics of cemeteries may be important to the council, hiding behind some safety statute is so typical of authorities that lack the guts to be honest about real motive. It is this sort of masked political nonsense that gives safety such a bad name. Isn’t it fantastic when some political group comes on site hiding behind safety so that they can wield some political axe? At the time, it seems that the only people who don’t see the insult of such ‘safety nonsense’ are the perpetrators of hidden agenda and masked political intrusion.

Of course, the Ipswich Council letter immediately distressed people who had put a range of small objects on graves eg. Plastic tiaras, a wand or angel figurine. There is nothing more emotive and distressing than the death of a child, then to have a council trample all over such sensitive ground in the name of safety is so destructive to the real purpose of safety regulations. It is this sort of business that creates a culture of scepticism and cynicism in organisations. Scepticism and cynicism about safety in a culture is more dangerous than a few trinkets. The quest for risk aversion, triggered often by absolutist and perfectionist thinking, alienates people from the real purpose of safety.

The trauma of death of a loved one cannot be overestimated. Most times it takes many years for people to move on after the death of a loved one, sometime this is amplified if the death was suicide. The need to grieve and deal with emotions related to grief and loss is best not interrupted, especially by some crusading safety imperative that has no idea about the psychology of risk. The compulsion to decorate sites where a loved one was killed is an important grieving process. The site of the death is often considered by families as ‘sacred ground’, how dare someone trample over someone’s grave in the name of some petty safety rule? Here are two examples of where families have been allowed to grieve for their loved one in a public space:

Figure 1. Kambah Memorial


In Figure 1, less than 2 kms from my home, 2 young men were killed a few years ago. The site where they were killed is a drain measuring 15 metres wide. As you can see a memorial has been painted and crosses erected in tribute to the 2 young men. The tribute includes names, special poetry and images and symbols unique to both men.

Figure 2. Hume Highway Memorial


In Figure 2, between Goulburn and Sydney, there is a rather ornate memorial to a young person killed in a road accident. The memorial is complete with numerous crosses, symbols, poetry, plaques, toys, flowers, pictures and a zoned area in similar size to a grave. The memorial has been there for over 7 years.



In 2010, my local government released an official government policy regarding roadside memorials. The policy is both sensitive, understanding and focuses on consultation (

The story from Ipswich Council bears no characteristics of sensitivity, understanding or consultation. These are the fundamentals of effective safety indeed, the Work Health and Safety Act is consumed by a constant focus on consultation and effective communication. Safety should not be about crusading over petty safety regulations or incessant risk aversion but rather humanizing living and learning for the well being of others.

Author’s Resource Box

Dr Robert Long

PhD., (UWS) BEd., (USA) BTh., (SCD) MEd., (Syd) MOH (La Trobe), Dip T., Dip Min., MACE, CFSIA.

Executive Director – Human Dymensions Pty Ltd

Rob has a creative career in teaching, education, community services, government and management.

Rob is engaged by organisations because of his expertise in culture, learning, risk and social psychology. He is a skilled presenter and designer of learning events, training and curriculum.

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