Paperwork and Usability in Tackling Risk

Originally posted on October 25, 2020 @ 1:47 PM

Paperwork and Usability in Tackling Risk

imageMost workers don’t ‘use’ paperwork, they just sign it just as many workers don’t read paperwork they just give it the ‘tick and flick’. The idea of excessive paperwork in safety is much more a middle management problem than a worker problem.

The real decisions on the job where the greatest risk is faced by workers in the moment is through conversations, sharing, listening, observing and the implementation of heuristics ( ). All of the ways in which workers enact decisions about risk cannot be measured. `Paperwork is not a medium for decision making for workers regardless of whether the Safety Management Systems (SMS) is cluttered or not.

Paperwork in safety is not just a literacy problem it is a Methodology (ideology) problem ( ). This is evidenced in the AIHS BoK Chapter on Document Usability 12.3.2.

The Chapter in the AIHS BoK on Document Usability 12.3.2 is clearly based on a Behaviourist methodology that assumes typical notions of reward in the management of perception, learning and motivation. The elephant in the room in this chapter is the user and the nature of the user including theories of learning and personhood that are profoundly absent. If one wants to have a discussion on the user-ability of paperwork surely some discussion of the user (user-ability) would be helpful. Some of the following need to be considered:

· Who is the learning person?

· How do persons learn?

· How is learning-education defined?

· How is comprehension defined?

· What is reading/comprehension?

· What is reading readiness?

· What linguistic and paralinguistic method is hidden in text?

· What is the relationship between discourse (language in use) and Discourse (embedded Values, Ethics and Politics) in the dissemination of paperwork?

· How is literacy and comprehension assessed?

· What is the nature of literacy?

· What is the psychology of motivation, emotion and perception?

· How do workers envision risk?

None of these critical issues are raised in this Chapter.

Unfortunately, the dated theorists (eg. Chomsky, Bandura, Maslow) discussed in this chapter are not relevant to current research in Linguistics and Learning Theory. The assertion that ‘procedures drive behaviours’ (p.18) is not supported by any contemporary research into linguistics, learning or the psychology of motivation/perception. What we have in the motivation/perception section of the chapter is nothing short of pure outdated Behaviourist rhetoric. ‘Motivation and reward’ is not the foundation of learning, motivation, linguistics or perception (; ; ; ).

The idea that ‘social belonging and self esteem, can be met by building rewards into the procedure’ (p.18) is Behaviourist rhetoric. Similarly, the assertion that ‘The signoff signature at the end of a procedure confirms that the promise in the title (predictor zone) is kept and acts as a reward’ (p.19) assumes much about the psychology of ‘promise’ and the Behaviourist idea that a signature is a covenant (social contract). The chapter wonderfully glides over such complex issues as if the Behaviourist method is THE only way to understand persons and organizing.

So we see in this section of the Chapter clear Behaviourist assumptions about: motivation, learning, social contract, perception and the semiotics of ‘promise’. The semiotics of sign-nature proposes a very different understanding of what a ‘sign’ means to a person ( ). A study of the semiotics of ‘tick and flick’ would be instructive should someone propose that a signature is a psychological covenant/promise ( ).

Another problem in paperwork for learning is the many learning styles associated with the challenges of reading text. Regardless of the design of paperwork or challenges in literacy there are numerous learning styles (; ) that do not suit paper-based learning, cognition and comprehension. None of this is discussed in the notion of ‘useability’ in this chapter.

From my research in the field of personality types of front-line workers and learning styles (over 60,000 MiProfile results and more than 20,000 in-field assessment), most workers on the tools are not connected to paper-based methods of cognition. The real challenge in the issue of ‘useability’ is how middle managers engage and connect with front-line workers about what they ‘know’ and the evidence is that they do this poorly. Such skill and knowledge commands a solid sense of personhood, personality and an ethic of risk, something not contained in the AIHS BoK. Errors in paperwork have no connection to errors in enactment.

Useability extends way beyond the way the human eyes and brain work. The mechanics of eye scanning, Gestalt principles and Behaviourist assumptions don’t come close to explaining how humans engage in language and text. The latest research in Embodied Interaffectivity and Intercorporeality (Fuchs, Lakoff and Johnson, Varela, Noe, Ginot, Tversky, Damasio, Colombetti, Raaven etc) demonstrate that the assumptions of ‘cognitive science’ made in this text, do not represent how persons learn, perceive, emote or are motivated. Safety continues to assume the metaphors of brain-as-computer, ‘engineering solutions’ and eye-as-camera are applicable to human cognition and ecology. I demonstrate in my latest book how and why this is NOT the case (Envisioning Risk, Seeing, Vision and Meaning in Risk).

This Chapter on useability makes astounding assumptions about the nature of human emotions and feelings. But we have that ‘fixed’ because the: ‘The UX engineer manages this dilemma by creating an artificial but representative user persona (the UX persona) and managing the emotions that a user is known to experience. ’ (p.22). What an amazing statement about the psychology of emotions, personality and feelings. The embodiment of feelings and emotions is about much more than ‘fear, need, urgency and perception of time’ (what this Chapter calls ‘the psychological set of the user’ p.15). Indeed, the idea of a UX ‘engineer’ having a clue about the psychology of embodied emotions and personality is simply fanciful ( Understanding human e-motions is way beyond the simplistic mechanistic discourse of this chapter ( ). (There is no discussion in this chapter on personality). The chapter however gives off the simplistic idea that understanding emotions is a mechanistic-Behaviourist process. Similarly in the deontological chapter on ethics, its all about duty and check your gut (

Unless Safety is prepared to tackle risk outside of the engineering-science comfort zone and escape the assumptions of Positivism and embrace a Transdisciplinary approach ( ) to risk, it is not likely that de-cluttering paperwork will have any effect. Holistic approaches to safety that include non engineering-science disciplines are simply not considered in the AIHS BoK.

A second assumption in this chapter on usability is Technique, the idea that efficiency of method is a correlate of effectiveness. Ellul defines technique as: ‘Technique is the totality of methods, rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity’. (The Technological Society p. xxvi).

The idea that ‘safety-critical documentation must be user engineered’ is an assumption of Technique. This is similar to the idea of ‘Resilience Engineering’ in Safety 2 literature. Safety, regardless of brand continues to focus on systems, objects and the metaphor of ‘engineering’ in trying to tackle the Wickedity of risk and human ecology.

When every problem is a nail, your solution is a hammer.

The metaphor of ‘user engineering’ in this chapter continues to focus on the engineering metaphor not an ecology of personhood. The continued mismatch in making Safety a matter of Behaviourism and Engineering continues to disconnect the nature of personhood and ecological ‘being’ with how to tackle risk. In this BoK chapter the key focus is on the design of a document not the nature of persons as users of the document and herein lies the problem. However, if you want a Behaviourist mechanism in how to deconstruct and structure text in a Behaviourist paradigm, this chapter is for you.

There are of course other ways of understanding the challenges of paperwork and systems in the workplace other than the paradigm of behaviourism. Unless safety is prepared to jettison the behaviourist-mechanistic-engineering approach to safety and create a balanced approach in Transdisciplinarity it is not likely that much will improve.

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