The Questions You Ask in Safety are Showing?

Our questions frame our world, they show our worldview and what we think matters. Similarly, the questions we don’t ask, deliver the same. They tell us what we don’t want to know, and in Safety, there’s a lot it doesn’t want to know. These are the silences in safety (

Indeed, you rarely hear an open question in safety, most questions are: leading, punishing, interrogative and manipulative. These are not questions for knowing ( but questions seeking control and telling. Most of the questions of control are also questions of power, this is because asking questions of control gives certainty and power to ‘tell’, where there is none.

Even when Safety attempts questions of ethics it brings out amateurish nonsense that simply endorses more behaviourism and more brutalism (–the-professional-ethics-of-workplace-safety-and-health). The most important thing in Safety is to make sure you don’t ask an ethicist about ethics, just trawl in some safety amateur with 7 meaningless post-nominals.

In this way, Safety can continue asking simplistic binary questions and questions that seek definition, affirm confirmation bias and reject the VUCA world ( Goodness, the last thing we would want to face in Safety is questions that acknowledge ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty.

Yet, wisdom and maturity in risk comes from facing the tough questions, VUCA and accepting the reality of fallibility and uncertainty (

Many questions asked by Safety seek measurement, definition, control and have a fixation on behaviours and ‘performance’ ( And, when Safety uses the word ‘performance’ it means behaviourist measurable outputs. When Safety uses the word ‘performance’ there is nothing ‘differently’ going on. It’s just more behaviourism and more measurement discourse ( ).

Thinking about performance para-linguistically, as Poetic enactment and communication, is a far better way to understand the nature of performance. But Safety doesn’t want to ask questions about this understanding of performance ( This is what I mean by your questions pronounce your epistemology (theory of knowing). And, what does safety want to know?

Safety doesn’t want to ask important questions about a host of critical things such as ethics, moral theory, learning or culture. It seeks: certainty, measurement, controls, counting injury rates and policing regulation. This is Head-in-the-sand safety.

Head-in-the-sand safety helps no one.

  • When the best question you can ask leads to zero, you sadly don’t know how to tackle the reality of the VUCA world.
  • When we avoid questions (eg. about suffering, harm and paradox) that give no answer, we run away from the real world, that often has no answer.
  • If we can’t deal with the realities of harm, suffering and risk, without making up fairy tales like zero, we really do have a psychosocial problem.
  • You can ask simplistic questions seeking simplistic answers if you want, but such questions never help anyone grow up and mature.

I know let’s get 4000 people together and have a ‘zero event’ ( That way we can ask questions that are comfortable so we can learn nothing. That way we can maintain the grand delusion of zero ( that no one believes in.

And, make sure you look at all the sponsors of zero (, so you know who endorses brutalism. Make sure you check out the hosts like Safework NSW ( currently under a 6 month investigation for safety breaches. Zero indeed.

But back to questioning.

Let’s take a look at what seems a very simple question: what is safety? ( In this video what is clear is, safety is impossible to define and there is no answer.

It is impossible to define that safety exists but we know when we don’t have it. It is impossible to ‘prove’ the existence of safety. It is impossible to ‘prove’ systems work, because systems serve fallible people in a VUCA world. And any focus on measurable hazards is a distraction from tackling all the social and cultural dynamics that cannot be measured. Eg. You can’t measure trust because it is sought as an act of faith, but you sure know when trust has been lost.

This is because so much that concerns Safety that operates in the unconscious and in culture – is hidden. Simplistic answers such as: ‘safety is the control of hazards’ provokes the question: ‘and what of psychosocial hazards (sic)’? and here we are instantly in a wicked problem (

The moment a question brings into play fallible humans and risk, there is no answer. There is no control. The same happens when safety tries to define culture. Questions of definition are most often questions of control and when we face issues concerning fallible humans and risk, there are no ‘fixes’ nor ‘controls’.

Rather than ask ‘what is safety?’ it would be more helpful at ask a better question: ‘how do you enact safely ethically?’ Any question framed with ‘how’ is asking ‘by what method?’ and this is where Safety comes undone. If the method is behaviourism and zero then the outcome is brutalism of fallible persons. Therefore, the methods of behaviourism and zero are unsafe.

Make sure you read the program to the soon approaching Zero Congress in Sydney ( – page 7) and look for the words ‘ethic’, ‘ethics’, ‘moral’, ‘misuse of power’ etc. Nothing is there. This is what I mean by only asking the comfortable questions and endorsing the silences of safety.

No-one wants to ask or interrogate if Zero works. No-one wants to ask questions seeking evidence to demonstrate how Zero actually works. No-one wants to ask about the unethical by-products of zero ( ). This is because of all things, zero must be unquestioned. There is no compromise in zero, it is absolute. You must comply and come to it, in zero there is no ‘middle ground’ nor dialogue.

This is how safety silences work. Don’t ask questions of substance or significance, ask questions of confirmation and conformance. In this way safety can maintain the great Safety delusion that zero works (

Matt Chat with Rob Trade-Offs and By-Products from CLLR on Vimeo.


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