The Worst Approach to Psychosocial Problems is an Attitude of ‘Fixing’

imageOne of the principles of Wicked Problems is that any attempt to ‘fix’ such a problem usually makes things worse. Indeed, taking an accepted ‘problem solving’ approach to a wicked problem is not just futile but dangerous.

Rittel and Weber  identified ten primary characteristics of wicked problems:

1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.

2. Wicked problems have no ‘stopping rule’, definitive solution.

3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good-or-bad.

4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.

5. Every(attempted) solution to a wicked problem is a ‘one-shot operation’; the results cannot be readily undone, and there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and- error.

6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.

7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.

8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.

9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways.

10. The planner has no ‘right to be wrong’, i.e. there is no public tolerance of experiments that fail.

The denial of ‘wicked problems’ is one of the problems with wicked problems. This denial comes from traditional reductionist disciplines like engineering, behaviourism and safety. These disciplines operate on wicked problems in ignorance and then wonder why proposed solutions ‘don’t work’. Indeed, when things get worse such disciplines project blame on to everything else except question their own assumptions about the nature of problems. Such STEM-based disciplines share a mono-disciplinary view that imagines any problem can be ‘fixed’ and any ‘hazard’ can be eliminated.

Many of the problems that Safety seeks to define and control are wicked problems eg. risk, culture, suicide, ethics, politics, Mind, psychosocial and mental health.

Safety itself is a wicked problem ( We see this on full show when so called ‘safety experts’ try to define culture and come out the other end with a sense of confusion (Hopkins) and ‘don’t talk about it’ (Busch).

This doesn’t mean there is nothing one can do about a wicked problem, there is plenty one can do from a Transdisciplinary approach ( to tackle a wicked problem. However, the beginning of an intelligent response to a ‘wicked problem’ is knowing that you have ‘a tiger by the tail’ (William Blake).

The idea that every problem has a solution is a delusion of STEM-only thinking. How confronting when STEM-disciplines finally realise that some problems are not amenable to ‘fixing’. Any social worker, youth worker, clergy and community worker know that such language is nonsense.

Professionals in Psychosocial and Mental Health know that the language of ‘hazards’ and ‘fixing’ are a disaster. Yet, what does Safety do? The opposite. When your only approach to risk is through a mono-disciplinary paradigm, you end up believing your own dreams. Except you probably don’t believe in dreams either.

So, with wicked problems in Mind (not brain) we see Safety amplify the problems of Psychosocial and Mental Health by attempting to define and control them by thinking of them as ‘hazards’.

Psychosocial and mental health issues are NOT ‘hazards’ and such language makes things worse.

Psychosocial and Mental Health cannot go on a hazard register. Psychosocial and Mental Health cannot go on a risk register. Such ‘listing’ is nonsense. There is no Hierarchy of Control for Psychosocial and Mental Health.

Indeed, if you want to know just how ‘wicked’ the problem is, think of the fact that there are over 300 registered therapies developed by real professionals to respond to the many Psychosocial and Mental Health issues they know of. There are also over 300 ‘disorders’ registered on the DSMV 5 (

There is nothing more delusional (itself a Mental Health disorder) than Safety running programs undertaken by registered psychologists with Master’s Degrees on: ‘Practice identifying psychosocial hazards and conducting risk assessments in the workplace’ (

Professionals in Psychosocial and Mental health know there are no: ‘existing tools & processes available to proactively identify and assess psychosocial hazards’.

I know, lets run a 4-day course on Mental Health from people who took 8 years or more study and many years of experience to explain awareness and identification of Psychosocial and Mental Health in 4 days. As the saying goes ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ ( ).

Of course, this saying comes from our old friend Alexander Pope who also stated ‘To err is human’, and from all that Safety spews about this saying too, demonstrates no idea about what it means ( ). Nothing is more entertaining watching a Behaviourist tackle Literature and Poetics. And please make sure you never mention the word ‘person’ or ‘fallible’, whilst at the same time projecting the nonsense of Transhumanism.

One would need some expertise and familiarity with Poetics to approach an understanding of Pope. Not so Safety, none of that Poetry or Literature nonsense is needed to understand Linguistics.

Any professional in Psychosocial and Mental Health knows that the language of ‘fixing’ is a demonstration of delusion ( ).

Indeed, developing a ‘Standard’ (ISO 45003) demonstrates that the tiger is about to bite and you don’t know it. Such is the nature of wicked problems. Indeed, the language of ‘solutions’ demonstrates one doesn’t understand wicked problems.

It will be up to Safety now to invent countless excuses and develop more paper-based systems to further hide that fact that the development of this Standard 45003 has created a legal, psychological, social and existential nightmare (

In the meantime, let’s:

· Imagine that zero is possible.

· Deny fallibility and imagine perfection for mortal humans (another mental health disorder) and,

· Continue to be silent about ‘wicked problems’,

· Whilst at the same time projecting the language of ‘caring for the whole-person’ as a ‘hazard’.

· Let’s imagine that we can make healthier workplaces with a ‘friendly guide on psychosocial health ( Then let’s use the language of ‘compliance’ to put the fear of god in anyone who can’t respond to the Standard.

· Let’s make it a ‘duty’ (the favourite ethic of Safety) to demonstrate competence against this standard.

· Let’s then make a Code of Practice to help respond to the Standard ( ensuring that more gobbledygook is created to mask the outcome that the game is being played.

· Let’s make Safety so overloaded with more Standards, more regulation, more legislation, more paperwork and codes of practice, so that Safety has no time to undertake the basics of safety – listening, learning, helping and caring for persons.

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