The Power of Safety Myths

This week we are running two workshops in Canberra on Mythology and Embodiment. These are two critical issues that people in safety ought to know about. Why? Because so many activities of safety are attributed as effective when they are not and so many beliefs that are held are simply myth. You can see this in the podcast series with Greg Smith, Dr Craig Ashhurst and myself here:

I have written about safety myths before:

Mythology should not be confused with fairy tales, fables or legends. Myth is a unique genre to itself and most myths are consistent to their own assumptions about what is believed. But myths are neither true, real or scientific. However, there are also many myths in Science that are also neither true nor real and mile all myth rely on extensive faith and lack of evidence, yet are believed. We see this clearly in Dekker’s Theology on suffering.

Some of the strongest myths in the safety industry is that it is a profession, scientific and objective. It is none of these indeed, many of the safety myths believed demonstrate as much faith in a concocted reality as any religion. We see this in myths such as ‘safety is a choice you make’, ‘all accidents are preventable’ and zero. None of these myths reflect reality. None of these myths are true, real or based on evidence. The same is applicable for other semiotic myths like Heinrich’s pyramid, the risk matrix and swiss-cheese. There is no evidence that demonstrates that these models are reflected in reality. Any effectiveness attributed to these models is done by faith, not evidence.

Similarly, the brain-centric and behaviourist assumptions of much of safety activities is also mythological. The dis-embodiment of brain from body in safety is so strong and, is facilitated by a ‘belief’ in the effectiveness of Behaviourism. Many of these beliefs are concocted and held in safety by faith. Belief/faith is developed through a number of influences as illustrated in Figure 1. The Shape of Belief.

Figure 1. The Shape of Belief.

These factors all combine to shape what we believe and shy we believe it, even self- delusions. Self-delusion is also known as ‘bad faith’ (;

In our workshops we will be deconstructing many safety myths and offering new models and semiotics that are practical, positive and real and that work ( This is what SPoR offers to an industry that has more in common with religion than it does with a sense-able approach to risk (

This will all be on open display soon at the zero convention in Sydney in November.


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