Non Common Sense Mythology

Originally posted on April 28, 2015 @ 6:20 PM

Article by Dr Robert Long, rouse around all you common sense and zero zealots surely we can escalate more things to ban and more things to police. If you liked this article then you should read the whole series: CLICK HERE. I highly recommend you check out Rob’s book “RISK MAKES SENSE”

Non Common Sense Mythology

The HSE in the UK recently announced they were setting up a ‘Myth Busters Challenge Panel’ to scrutinize health and safety in the UK to ensure that the current trend in risk aversion is addressed. The HSE pulled out their top 10 most absurd health and safety decisions as an example of the extent to which safety paranoia had got out of hand. These were:

  1. Children being banned from playing ‘conkers’ unless they are wearing goggles
  2. Office workers being banned from putting up Christmas decorations
  3. Trapeze artists being ordered to wear hard hats
  4. Pin the tail on the donkey games being deemed a health and safety risk
  5. Candy floss on a stick being banned in case people trip and impale themselves
  6. Hanging baskets being banned in case people bump their heads on them

  7. Schoolchildren being ordered to wear clip on ties in case they are choked by traditional neckwear

  8. Park benches must be replaced because they are three inches too low

  9. Flip flops being banned from the workplace

  10. Graduates ordered not to throw their mortar boards in the air

Now, we probably understand the reason why such absurd rules are made. We also probably know that fear diminishes learning and living. If we do, then we know that ‘risk makes sense’, if we don’t understand risk then we tend to demonise it. When risk becomes the demon then zero becomes the hero.

So far so good for the UK, good to see that the HSE is keen to reverse this absurd trend in non-sensemaking. Then, as if to dismantle and the very good that was trying to be done, the Minister Chris Grayling comes out with this clanger: ‘Common sense is the key to health and safety’. ( 11 April 2012)

I couldn’t think of anything worse to say in safety than to use such words ‘common sense’, unless it was to use the word ‘zero’. Both expressions and related discourse are dangerous. This is why the words and discourse of ‘common sense’ are dangerous:

  1. Common sense is rarely defined. In my training I often ask people to define their understanding of the expression ‘common sense’ and I get as many definitions as people in the room. Wikipedia defines Common Sense as: as beliefs or propositions that most people consider prudent and of sound judgment, without reliance on esoteric knowledge or study or research, but based upon what they see as knowledge held by people ‘in common’. Thus “common sense” (in this view) equates to the knowledge and experience which most people already have, or which the person using the term believes that they do or should have.
  • Common sense is highly subjective. We all interpret and ‘filter’ information according to our own knowledge and experience. One can’t assume common understanding but must rather create it. This is why we have toolbox talks, inductions and meetings, to create common understanding.
  • Common sense is not that common. It is a non-sense to propose that safety is objectively self evident to everyone.

  • Common sense talk is used as a blaming tool.

  • If common sense existed why would the HSE need to create a mythbuster squad? It is because it doesn’t exist that risk aversion non-sense trends abound.

  • Much ‘sensemaking’ is intuitive and based on experience and we don’t share experience in common.

  • Risk is primarily attributed according to perceptions and experience and we all vary in perception. This is why we have regulations and laws, to try and standardize the sensemaking of humans to eliminate the subjective attribution of risk. In some ways regulations are an effort to try and create a ‘common’ sense making around risk but even the regulations can be interpreted.

  • Common sense is most spoken about by people who don’t understand the behaviour of others and who don’t understand risk.  The expression is used to dismiss rather than understand human judgment and decision making.

  • The idea that there is an objective self evident idea of shared knowledge is, in itself, a denial of learning, individual difference, cultural difference and the science of perception. If common sense exists why have training? The very action of calling for this thing proved that it doesn’t exist.

  • The language of common sense simply expects too much of others, has no boundaries and is premised on the idea that behaviour that I don’t understand is therefore irrational. This means that risk for me makes sense but the risk of others is stupid. The language of common sense is then used to project blame and exalt oneself as superior.

    So good on you Minister Grayling, you just contradicted all that your flying squad is trying to achieve. How can you tackle myths with myths? No wonder the UK HSE is stuffed. (

    Pity, we in Australia are lagging behind the UK but I’m sure we will get there in 10 years. Rouse around all you common sense and zero zealots surely we can catch up to our UK friends and escalate more things to ban and more things to police.


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