Research Basics for Safety

Depositphotos_23049644_xs_thumb-150x138Nearly every person that has ever registered for study in SPoR in the past 20 years from the safety industry, doesn’t read. If they do read it is usually the same old suspects and never anything that challenges the safety worldview. This is indicative of an industry that can do quite well by checklisting, bureaucratic updating and formal meetings. So much for the notion that safety is a knowledge industry. The accumulation of data is not knowledge. The regurgitation of data is not learning.

The key to becoming a competent researcher is NOT found in Technique (Ellul) but rather through disposition and orientation. Collecting data to prove an unchallenged myth is NOT research. Asking ‘answerable questions’ is not effective questioning. Yet, this is what Safety advocates as so-called research (

Asking open and unanswerable questions is the beginning for research (in safety.) For example: why do people do what they do? Why are people seduced by myths? Why are people converted to false beliefs? What influences human decision making? What is the human and collective unconscious and how do these affect risk?

Effective questioning comes from disposition and orientation, NOT from Technique. Technique in research skills is not research. Research mostly leads one on a pathway to wisdom and deeper learning and rarely to ‘fixes’ and ‘answers’. Safety never speaks of this stuff ( ).

The beginning of effective research starts with ethics, bias and self-understanding. Safety (eg. Chapter 39 AIHS BoK) never speaks of this in relation to research ( Being transparent about one’s ontology, methodology and disposition is the beginning of research and Safety never speaks of this either ( ).

To be a good researcher requires a disposition that understands it is never about what is said but about what is NOT said. This is just one skill of research, listening to the silences of Safety.

So, let’s anchor to the Singapore Accord but don’t mention the war (, this is what safety does so well. Let’s not remember the Hillsong banner of ‘We believe’ nor the dozens of dumb videos on zero ( that came out of Singapore. Let’s not mention the religious apocalyptic Spirit of Zero where limbs are restored and the blind are made to see ( Let’s just cherry pick what we want from the Accord that still makes no mention of ethics, care, helping, personhood or power connected to being professional! It’s not dissimilar to anchoring to the church but making no mention of its history ( ).

The best research for Safety is founded in the social sciences not engineering, this is because safety is about persons NOT objects.


Just look at the style of questioning offered by Chapter 39 of the AIHS BoK (p. 16) It’s all about objects, measurement, mechanics and hazards! None of this is effective questioning for Safety. Of course, no mention of bias, orientation, ethics or subjectivity in its discussion on transparency. The questions on p.16 of this Chapter are an excellent example of the questions Safety should NOT ask.

Discussion about research without reference to wisdom is not about research.


Of course, the Chapter 39 of the AIHS BoK neither raises the criticality of wisdom to research nor the elephant in the room that is the grand impediment of learning in safety – zero!

The most powerful research most often uncovers the nature of wicked problems (; particularly, when it involves the nature of fallible persons ( living in the world where Risk Makes Sense (

Again, just look at this Chapter 39 of the AIHS BoK, no discussion of ethics in research, the foundation of professional research and practice

Effective research is founded on transparency in orientation, assumptions, methodology, subjectivity, moral responsibility and ethics, all of which receive no mention in this AIHS Chapter 39 on so-called research. I know, if you want to research about culture, consult a chemical engineer!

As a History teacher for many years I taught Historiography and

Research to students in Primary, Highschool, College and University. Some of the best books on research are written for High School students. Similarly, History and the Social Sciences are the best at teaching discovery learning, subjectivity, layers of evidence, open enquiry and hermeneutics. Even a beginner guide to research like the common Research for Dummies (  ) ( ) is a better approach to research than this AIHS BoK Chapter. Which BTW, makes no mention of hermeneutics, essential for understanding research.

Of course, there is no module on research or hermeneutics in a safety qualification. Indoctrination in research methods within the bubble of safety, is NOT research.

In safety researching should be about people not objects! This is why Social Science research offers the best starting point for safety people.

The best way to learn about professional research is outside of the engineering-behaviourist bubble of Safety. If you want to know about research in Safety the best place to start is by not anchoring to safety as the AIHS BoK Chapter does. Once again, learning in safety best starts from a Transdisciplinary approach, not gazing into the navel of the mono-discipline of safety.

If you are in safety the best place to start is to consult about research outside the comfort zone of the safety echo chamber. Here are a few positive steps:

  • Seek expertise outside of safety
  • Question the source
  • Read widely outside of safety
  • Learn how to ask open questions
  • Learn how to listen
  • Understand learning styles and one’s own bias
  • Don’t fear subjectivity
  • Be wary of projections of objectivity (particularly from Safety)
  • Focus on persons, social relationships and ethics
  • Consult experts in research not engineers who research
  • Learn how to listen to the silences of safety
  • Learn that evidence is selected and interpreted
  • Don’t separate theory from practice
  • Beware of binary projections from any source (especially Safety)
  • Don’t listen to safety indoctrination or the grooming of Safety for ignorance
  • Learn about discourse analysis, linguistics and hermeneutics
  • Learn that the language of safety, engineering and behaviourism is loaded
  • Listen to the silences of engineering and behaviourism
  • Learn that if it concerns people and it’s framed simply, it’s most likely wrong
  • Read what safety tells you NOT to read

Even in incident investigations where one is essentially conducting historical research, one needs the very best of History and Social Science skills. We teach these in the SPoR SEEK Program (

So, here are some non-Safety sources to get you started on effective research for safety:

And, if you want to learn outside of the safety worldview there are two workshop series in SPoR that are available in Europe and Canberra:

These workshops will help you move away from engineering/behaviourism/positivism approach and the myth of objectivity and, discover methods that actually work to humanise risk (

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