This Is Not A Pipe

clip_image002In a recent blog by Dr Rob Long, “Myths and Symbols In Safety”,  Rob has stirred some great discussions about myths and symbols in safety. Rob is polemic in nature and writes in a way to give pause to think. And to state is upfront, Rob is a friend and mentor and I study with him via the CLLR

The above painting by Magritte is titled ‘The Treachery of Images’ and for those not conversant with French, the text translate into English as “This is not a pipe”. So while the picture is obviously of a pipe, Magritte writes “The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture “This is a pipe”, I’d have been lying!” So this painting can be said to have direct and indirect realism

Foucault even tries to make sense of a surrealist in his book “This is not a pipe.”

Safety often projects concepts and thoughts onto objects, be it the Swiss Cheese Model, Heinrich’s Domino Theory , Hierarchy of Controls, there are objects everywhere that we look that give cause to us make sense of them. Social Psychology or Risk (SPoR) has myths and symbols as well, the most basic of models in SPoR is Workspace, Headspace, Groupspace. There is no logical sense that one could suggest that these are real. My Workspace will never be a 2 dimensional, 4×4 Rubik’s cube. This is entirely representational, a model, a symbol and a myth. It is all these things.


How we could separate when talking about Myths and Symbols in safety and risk, is what ethic is behind them.

How do we connect an ethic to a myth symbol or model?

And most assuredly SPoR does not mistake Ethics and Morals as the same thing, as does the AIHS

What is the ethics of the Swiss Cheese Model?

The ethic makes the model either useful, helpful, moral, practical etc.

Does Risk and Safety realise that all representation coveys an ethic. Or do they think like engineers that representation is objective? I guess they would have to show an interest in semiotics to find out.

Implications are discovered in incident investigations and audits based upon Swiss cheese, bow ties or risk matrices. Creating its own reality and mythology.

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