Programming for Safety, the Performance Myth

Programming for Safety, the Performance Myth

imageThe language of ‘performance’ in safety has over time, been decoupled from its real meaning. How humans ‘perform’ has been commandeered by behaviourism and scientism in safety by the meaningless pursuit of measurement. We see this typically in the nonsense of 1% safer and other sales marketing of zero ideology and from supposed ‘safety differently’. How amusing to see the language of ‘human factors’ when it is never about humans but about systems. You can bet when Safety states something it usually means the opposite.

We see the nonsense language of performance used all the time in safety when it trots out this meaningless language of complacency. Under the guise of zero ideology every injury becomes the subject of ‘poor performance’. This is how all error and so called ‘mistakes’ are demonized. And so when Safety makes complacency the enemy, it makes human fallibility the enemy.

All of this nonsense language of ‘performance’ ignores the real meaning of performance rooted in the semiotics of theatre and drama. Millennia before the performance management cult took hold in the 1970s there was an understanding that when we spoke of performance it was an artistic expression of meaning. The idea of performing goes back as far as cave drawings and the idea that we present communications to each other by performance. All of the Arts we use to communicate such as music, art, aesthetics, song, drama, theatre, poetics and literature are the media we use most to perform meaning to each other. All of these are subjective and non-measurable.

The first idea of shifting the meaning of performance from the arts to engineering happened during the 1920s with the invention of Taylorism and the quest for efficiency (Technique). The expression in meaning by this movement was simply for greater consumerism and materialism, both with no meaning. It wasn’t till the 1970s and 1980s that the mechanistic ideology of performance management really took hold ( ). This movement was ably helped by the myths of scientism and behaviourism, hence why the industry of safety is so attracted to this mythology. The result of course, has not been a better or meaningful existence for people but indeed, the creation of systems to brutalise people in the name of efficiency. The outcome of this ideology has led to more toxic workplaces, mental health issues in work and tokenistic well-being programs that achieve nothing.

Of course, it is under the grand delusions of performance that we get this crazy attribution that injury rates are a measure of safety. It is under the grand delusions of performance Safety gets this crazy idea that behaviours are a measurable indicator. It is under the naïve and ignorant ideology of zero that we get this fixation on numerics. This is all ably assisted by the nonsense of brain-centrism (;; ) that asserts that the brain is a computer and that complacency is a brain problem. Astounding all this neurosafety stuff from sources with no expertise in neuroscience, neuropsychology or consciousness ( ). The ignorance is breathtaking.

This is where Safety gets to promote utter nonsense about ‘fighting complacency’ (; ) with make-believe and meaningless slogans as if the human unconscious is addressed by more slogans and fiction. As someone once said to me: ‘Rob, this is not a safety model, it’s a business model’. And one thing is for sure, if you offer a silver bullet in this industry it will sell, sell, sell.

The language of ‘performance’ is the language of brutalism. Yet, everything that is critical for the well being of workers: trust, community, belonging, care, helping, collaboration, ethics, tolerance, understanding, acceptance, wisdom and purpose are NOT measurable. How fascinating this preoccupation with performance in safety never uses the language of care, helping, trust, faith and community. This is how organisations are set up for brutalism, by the language of ‘performance’. And this is always packaged under the rubric of what is good for the organization and system, NOT what is good for you. Even when the language of ‘learning’ is used it’s never about learning but about schooling. The marshalling of efficiency for the good of the organization, often neatly packaged as accountability, responsibility and ‘just culture’.

Just do a language audit of any of the safety groups promoting performance and look for critical language omitted regarding persons, ethics and community. It’s never there. The iconography that goes with these groups is also mechanistic of cogs in systems ( ), bits in brains ( and parts in a whole ( ). You learn very quickly that in safety people serve systems and that a high performing system is good for safety, then just call it a ‘new view’ ( Just have a look at this stuff that talks about ‘indicators of safety’ ( ) and none of it mentions persons, ethics, community, helping or care. None of this stuff has a focus on persons ( ) just more systems marketed as safety ( ).

None of this performance goop is ‘helpful’. None of this stuff is professional. None of it is educative. None of it makes any mention of ethics. None of it has a focus on listening. Just more traditional mechanistic safety brutalizing people in the name of performance. How professional.

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