There is No Objectivity, Deal With it!

Originally posted on July 22, 2020 @ 11:00 AM

imageOne of the fascinating delusions of the safety industry is the myth of objectivity. There is none so, get used to it and work with it. This is why it’s important to educate people in critical thinking.

Sorry to tell you, but every risk assessment design, form and checklist carries the bias of the designer and organisation. Every SWMS, form, report and safety process, carries the bias of the designer. This is called ‘framing’. What one puts in a frame (information) or leaves out of a frame (exformation) is the conscious or unconscious prerogative of the designer. There is no such thing as the objective human or organisation.

Every incident investigation design carries the bias of the designer so, get used to it and work with your own bias to get the best outcome. The courts, legislation, regulation, the law and the legal profession all carry their own bias and we all work quite comfortably with that.

We know that it is impossible for humans to optimize. We live in the real world where there is limited time, limited resources and limited cognition. The best we can do is called ‘satisficing’. We come to the best decision available considering the limitations of fallibility, mortality and the randomness of the world.

Look what has happened with Covid19. No-one predicted where we are now, no one can foresee where this is going and governments simply do the best they can given all the limitations placed upon them. It’s called satisficing. If we think someone can do better we wait till the next election.

Surprisingly, with all the limitations placed upon us, we get a lot right. This is the basic message of the Safety Differently view.

The reality is we all work our way through the messiness and subjectivity of human living and we do quite well without perfect knowledge about the future. This is why all accidents cannot be prevented. Can the infallible, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent person please stand up.

One of the joys of human living is adapting, resiliencing and learning. Such is the condition of fallibility (

I find it fascinating when safety people complain that something is not objective which is of course a subjective judgment. Do they also complain about the bias in all the forms they have to fill out, all the paperwork they have to do, the recording of statistics they have to declare? Such is the requirement of the bias of management that declares they are an indictor of safety.

What happens when our subjectivity doesn’t align with the subjectivity of the organization? We leave and look for a better place of congruence in belief, but the next organization is no less subjective. There is just greater comfort in the alignment of subjectivities. So, if you like the forms and processes you have to do, that’s great, the subjectivities align. But don’t be delusional the outcomes will always remain subjective even if delivered by a computer for the computer also has its own bias in the way it has been programmed. Such is the reality of human living. Such is the reality of satisficing.

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