The Sacred and Profane, Rituals and Semiotics, A Lesson for Safety

Recently the Australian Army in Adelaide (First Armoured Regiment) conducted a ‘ceremony’ (parade) by marching from the Adelaide Barracks to St Peter’s Cathedral. The occasion? The relocation of the regiments ‘sacred’ flag from Darwin to Adelaide. You can see a news report here:

The parade, complete with two Abrams battle tanks, hundreds of soldiers led by a priest, marched down King William St to the Cathedral.

The ‘sacred’ flag had been at Lone Pine Chapel at Robertson Barracks in Darwin and now is stored at the Cathedral NOT the Adelaide barracks.

he 1st Armoured Regiment transferred last year from the 1st Brigade in the Northern Territory to the 9th Brigade in Adelaide, South Australia. See Figure 1. Sacred Parade.

Figure 1. Sacred Parade.

If one doubts the mix of the military in Australia with the church then just visit St Mary’s Cathedral and turn to your left as you come in the entrance. There, laying in a mud like tribute is a soldier figure to commemorate World War 1 ( It is not uncommon to see such obvious conflagrations of church and state. Just visit the War Memorial in Sydney or Canberra and look for all the mixed semiotics of ritual, gesture, semiotic, myth with religion. When it comes to sacrifice and death there is always an overload of ritual, ceremony, myth and religious discourse.

Just look at the crucified soldier at the Sydney War Memorial ( See Figure 2. Crucified Soldier Sydney.

Figure 2. Crucified Soldier Sydney.

All of this mixed discourse is accepted without question by the church, the Army and general public as ‘normal’. This is what culture is about. The beliefs and values we normalise in myth. This is also accompanied by the myth of heroics as embodied in the ANZAC Legend (;

In the risk and safety industry the same processes of normalising myths occur, in much the same way.

The trouble is the risk and safety industry shows absolutely no interest in understanding mythology, semiotics, religion or a host of critical factors about culture. These are the culture silences of safety ( If you want to know about culture apparently, you are a chemical engineer.

What these silences create is the most profound ignorance about the sacred and profane in safety. Hence, this is why Safety is so ignorant about the many religious myths it creates and then denies. This also explains why the many safety texts on culture are NOT about culture but rather systems and behaviours. It is from this base of ignorance that I receive critique by Safety on what it doesn’t know.

It is because Safety is so ignorant of mythology that it happily and blissfully imagines that none of this has any relevance to what Safety does (

This is how Safety is able to brutalise people so easily in the name of good (zero) whilst all the time preaching some kind of tokenistic concern about psychosocial need (hazards). Just do a language audit of any of the Codes of Practice on Psychosocial Hazards and look for critical language about care ethics, helping, community, personhood or socialitie, it’s not there. What is there however, is the endorsement of endless safety myths.

Just read the AIHS BoK Chapter on Psychosocial Hazards (Chapter 19) and look for a discussion of care ethics, essential to any sense of being professional. Also look for a discussion on helping, its not there. Look for a discussion on persons, it’s not there. What is there, is the endorsement of endless safety myths (;

And, it is because people in safety think they are Safety, when I offer critique of the Archetype of safety ( This projection from ignorance is what enables Safety to distance itself from the critical thinking of SPoR. The best criticism and name calling always comes from a source that has no idea of SPoR or what it does.

Yet at the same time do any search for language of the sacred and supernatural (heroes) in Safety and you will find it everywhere. Don’t you know? Safety saves! (

Of course, if I point out any of this, it is I who am somehow the extremist ( Nothing like a good bit of undergrad behaviourist psychology to throw names at me with no clue about Semiotics, Poetics, Transdisciplinarity, Religion or Culture.

This differentiation helps keep Safety ignorant ( and able to maintain the sacred-profane divide by the many myths its institutes.

If you want to find out what has been made sacred in Safety just suggest the removal of any of its processes or language. Suggest that the bow-tie doesn’t work, take away iCAM, swiss cheese, the risk matrix or criticise James Reason or whatever guru Safety worships ( and you will quickly find out what has been made sacred. This is evidence of just how powerful mythology is made in Safety.

Why not suggest one takes away that ‘safety moment’? See what happens.

Just suggest to a zero ideology organisation that they get rid of zero? See what happens.

The trouble with myths is they are not real, nor is there any connection with rational reality. Myth concocts meanings though symbols, rituals, ceremony, metaphor, iconography, narrative, semiotics, poetics, memes, slogans and gesture. The myth is not efficacious (it works) but rather is made meaningful through myth. For example: there is no evidence to show that the myth of swiss-cheese works indeed, there is plenty of evidence that Reason’s Swiss Cheese is dangerous. This is how safety anchors to the myth of Heinrich (

If one is going to use swiss-cheese as a model for risk it should look like this (see Figure 3. Swiss Cheese as

Read anything by Mary Douglas or Micea Eliade to make a start in understanding how mythology works.

Of course, these are not the texts Safety reads. None of this is in any safety curriculum globally. Safety ignores all of this to its own peril. It doesn’t even realise it gives meaning to many processes that don’t work, their effectiveness is attributed, they are not real.

Just imagine how these myths are exploded and dismantled in court (  Just imagine how these myths attributed with value are quickly disposed by the court as attributed myth. But your honour, we did a risk matrix, we used all the sacred texts, we don’t understand how these didn’t work! Just imagine finding out that all you have done in your many safety processes is simply make things Papersafe (

Myths in safety are quickly disposed in court as myths, by lawyers who understand the requirements of the Act and Regulation and also Historiography, Myth and the Sacred. Indeed, the court endorses many myths in its own understanding of its power.

People don’t die because organisations don’t have enough systems or paperwork ( So, what does Safety do? It creates more mythology like useability mapping ( that doesn’t understand learning, comprehension or risk. More mythology on mythology, this is the way! (

Recently, Brian Darlington wrote a nice piece on the King’s Coronation ( suggesting that leaders ought to understand the power of myth if they want to be effective in safety. One only has to study the many rituals and myths of the coronation ( to realise how power is attributed to myth. Just suggest to King Charles that any of the rituals performed on that day be taken away? Such is how the profane is made sacred. Just suggest that the secret holy oil ( is just oil, attributed as holy?

If you want to learn about the power of myth and myth as power in safety, you can join us for the SPoR Convention in 18-21 September (

 In these series of workshops, you will get to share with many experienced people in SPoR that understand how to humanise persons in risk. You will meet people who practice SPoR methods because they work. You will meet people in organisations who dumped zero so that safety could improve. You will meet people whose organisations are aware of the ineffectiveness of safety myths and how to make safety real.

If you want to understand what works, as opposed to what is attributed as effective, that is not, you can download the book for free: It Works, A New Approach to Risk and Safety (

Myth only works mythically, not in reality. Attributions of effectiveness do not make a process or system effective (

If you would like a (two day) workshop from Dr Long and Greg Smith on the law, safety, due diligence and safety myths, you can make contact here for a quote:



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