Safety Silences in Culture – Personhood

Safety Silences in Culture – Personhood

As we continue the theme of critical factors in culture that Safety is silent about ( ), we need to explore the silence by Safety on personhood. A discussion of personhood and the notion of a conscious self is foundational to any discussion on ethics. Neither of these get any mention in the AIHS BoK Chapter on ethics ( ). It seems in safety you can do what you want to others just as long as you say the word ‘safety’.

Having an understanding of personhood and the conscious self is foundational to any discussion of gendered violence, sexual assault, mental health or psychological injury. When such understanding is missing you end up in safety with behaviourist stuff like this: that works on outcomes not origins. The recent semiotic in this campaign regarding gendered violence indicates what Safety thinks gendered violence is about (See Figure 1. Worksafe Vic) the ghost of The Mummy.

Figure 1. Worksafe Vic


The use of an image somewhat similar to a scene from The Mummy ( ), completely distracts from the foundation of gendered violence which is, the need for an ethic of personhood and the conscious self.

Gendered violence does not work like some monster from The Mummy, rather it is personal, insidious, often unconscious and invisible. When you have no expertise in semiotics and risk, this is the kind of nonsense one ends up with. Gendered violence is the outcome not having an ethic of personhood.

We only know what is violent or not, by a ‘violation’ of what it is to be a person. This is the very meaning of the word ‘violence’. Physical and psychological violence is most often the outcome of dehumanizing another and violating their personhood. If you don’t have a positional ethic on personhood, by what enactment does one know what is a violation?

How fascinating this safety industry that is so quick to jump at James Reason’s violations as cause of error but so silent about violence as an act against personhood.

When my daughter was studying nursing/paramedics the notion of personhood in ethics was central to her studies in her first year, similarly this is foundational to the teaching profession. Not so safety.

My daughter’s very first assignment concerned the dignity afforded to a dead person. Even though this person was dead, what should be done with their body? Could anything now be done with the body? What rights does a dead person have? When someone is dead are they still a person? Similarly, a person with dementia. Even though this person has lost their sense of self ( ), are they still afforded all the dignity and respect of personhood? These are challenging ethical questions.

My mother had dementia for 10 years and lived in a dementia ward. She had no idea who I was, indeed, sometimes called on nurses to remove me as an intruder. She had not only lost her self-consciousness but also lost all sense of her selfhood in relation to others, eg. her family. We as her family wanted her to be afforded all the dignity and respect as any person. Her personhood mattered. Yet we learn through the Royal Commission into Abuse in Aged Care ( ) that this is not the case. When one ‘uses’ another as an ‘object’, one has already defined them as a non-person.

Without an ethic of personhood it appears that some think they can treat others as objects and non-persons ( ).

The same mentalitie exists under the rubric of zero harm, when we see people bullied and brutalized in the name of ‘safety’. It seems as long as the motive of safety is claimed, one can do unto others whatever one wants.

I had an interesting email from a safety superintendent the other day who told me he was sick of ‘doing safety ‘to’ others as if they were objects’. I get such emails often.

More and more people in safety are realizing the importance of ethical practice but then just need support to begin the journey because there is no such support offered by the WHS Curriculum or any of the associations.

You can start your online study in a holistic sense of ethics here: or you can read more about an ethic of personhood in the free download of Dr Long’s book The Social Psychology of Risk Handbook ( ).

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