The Social Politics of Psychosocial Safety

imageOne of the most reliable factors in safety Discourse is ensuring that there is never any talk about the elephant in the room.

We see this in safety Discourse about Ethics (AIHS BoK Chapter). How on earth can one discuss ethics without any mention of care ethics, power, helping or personhood? Yet, Safety does.

If you want to know about the culture of Safety, listen to its silences (

Safety is the industry that is noisy ( about what matters and silent about what matters most. All that can’t be measured matters most! Mostly what can be measured is of little cultural value.

How does Safety do this? By the use of ‘safety code’ ( What is safety code? Describing something using language of what it isn’t. For example, naming something as ‘neuroscience’ that is simply behaviourism ( Naming something ‘differently’ that is no different.

Safety code is also helped by the focus on metrics, numerics, systems and measurement, as a distraction from looking at safety discourse (language exchange) and Discourse (the power embedded in text). Indeed, safety code is also very powerful because Safety shows no interest in the analysis of its own Linguistics ( ).

So, when it comes to Psychosocial health and the many documents released on it (ISO 45003, Codes of Practice, websites ( etc., simply interrogate the silences, cut through the code and tackle the assumptions, to see what it is really about.

At the heart of Psychosocial health (not hazards) is the use and misuse of power (never discussed anywhere in Psychosocial safety or ethics).

Psychosocial ill-health always surfaces as social dysfunction by the misuse of power which in turn, affects work performance. The misuse of power (never discussed) is a cultural problem NOT a structural problem (Hopkins). You can play about as much as you like with structure in the Codes of Practice and never address the elephant in the room – power!

At the opposite end to the Safety Discourse about Psychosocial ‘hazards’ are the helping professions that would never use such language (

The helping professions understand that care-seeking and care-giving are founded on the relinquishing of power. The opposite is the case in Safety where the language is all about ‘controls’, ‘control mechanisms’ and the attribution of power to control structures.

‘Control measures’ and ‘actions for Psychosocial health’ is power-centric language not the language of care in ‘meeting’ persons in distress (care-seekers) by care-givers. The language used in all the text about Psychosocial ‘hazards’ actually makes Safety more unapproachable. No different than the language of zero, injury rates and goop about ‘duty’.

People seeking help and care know intuitively where to seek help. Care-seekers approach people who use the language of care, helping and humility in their Discourse. People who have been harmed psychosocially seek help from those who are ‘empathetically attuned’. Most often the first ‘port of call’ is family or a trusted friend. (BTW, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are highly ineffective but act like an insurance policy. You have to have one in place even though you know most people won’t use it).

Usually, Psychosocial harm is metered out by those with power. You cannot approach the political bully seeking help and care or the ones who protect the bully. Especially when the bully is often the most productive and merciless in efficiency.

This is why all the material on Psychosocial hazards has a focus on the changing of structures – A wonderful illusion to look like one is doing something about Psychosocial health.

At the grassroots, despite all the spin about speak up, and ‘Psychosocial hazards’ policy, people know that ‘speaking up’ is job suicide and so most decide the best option is to leave anyway. More smoke and mirrors for the natives.

The most successful workshops we deliver in SPoR are on Social Politics ( ), supported by the workshop on Ethics (free module to start in March), Holistic Ergonomics and Culture (already running and oversubscribed).

These constructive, positive and practical workshops tackle the silences and codes of Safety. It is in these workshops that we explore the realities of Psychosocial well-being and the politics of workplaces, the misuse of power, unethical practice and what to do about it.

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