Who Leads the Way in Safety?
One’s ethos is a vocational methodology, one’s driving meaning and purpose in being. It is from one’s ethos that we develop a method or ethic. An ethic is essentially the systematic construct of what one believes about life, being and personhood. For example: If one believes humans are simply the sum of inputs and outputs (behaviourism) then one’s method will reflect such. If one thinks humans are simply a computer-like brain on top of a body, then one’s ethic will reflect such. Similarly, if one thinks personhood is a matter of social embodied being, one’s ethic will reflect this. If one dreams of perfectionism and infallible trajectories, one’s ethic will demonstrate this.
Unfortunately, the risk and safety industry has developed over its short history with a distain for philosophy, the social sciences and Transdisciplinarity. If one were to describe the way risk and safety people are ‘educated’ one could only really describe it as ‘mis-education’. Safety in particular has created a binary divide between theory and practice, professional and practitioner and, theory-in-use and theory and espoused theory. For example we see such separations of ethos and ethics in the INSHPO framework. Such a binary mindset doesn’t serve the industry well indeed, the INSHPO framework itself is full of contradictions about the nature of being a professional and/or practitioner. Similarly, the AIHS BoK on Ethics has little idea of what it means to be professional nor the kind of ethic required. It’s omissions on matters such as power, politics and personhood is telling.
When associations and representative bodies create such confusion, no wonder the industry struggles with the challenges of knowing ones’ ethos and ethic. As yet, there is no competent curriculum on ethics in risk and safety globally. This too is telling. To develop such would require the industry to step outside of its fortress and engage in Transdisciplinary conversation and consider views that would rock the foundations of safety, particularly the ideology of zero.
So, there is the problem, what is a way forward?
I don’t think we will see leadership or vision emerging from within the risk and safety political sector for some time. In the associations, there is too much sunk cost in keeping the status quo and far too much conformity and compliance, with little tolerance for dissent. Again, all this is conditioned by the semiotics and ideology of zero.
What is clear is that the thirst for learning and change is coming from outside traditional, orthodox constraints infused by political and economic interests. Fortress Safety is yet to realize even its own ethos. Safety demonstrates no interest in tackling ethics or understanding its own ideology (https://novellus.solutions/podcast/philosophizing-safety/ ). When we are not afraid to embrace critical questions then learning and maturity come (https://novellus.solutions/podcast/ ). When we build Fortress Compliance there can be no movement or learning, more so just the demonization of the enemy. If you are looking for leadership in safety, you will find no vision (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/envisioning-risk-seeing-vision-and-meaning-in-risk/ ) inside the orthodoxy camp.
The questioning and thirst for learning in risk and safety is coming from outside the fortress and of course this makes sense when we understand Weber’s notion of ‘The Institutionalization of the Charisma’. Unless questioning and critical thinking are embedded from the start, then fear of change becomes the norm. However, we do know that the days of mono-singular engineering-safety and scientism-safety are over, it’s just those within the fortress don’t know it.
Therefore, it is conversations outside of safety orthodoxy that are leading the way, conversations like those held by Nippin (https://novellus.solutions/ ) and this blog. If you want to know if something is really different, question its foundations, outcomes, its substance and ethics. Don’t be conned by slogans and spin. And so, the questions for the safety person are:
- Can you articulate your ethos and what is your ethic of risk?
- How do you define personhood and how does this translate to your practice in safety?
- What is your methodology that drives your method?
- Who holds the power in your method?
If all you are doing is filling out the checklists that someone else has designed, you are practicing the ethos of the designer, not your own. This may be easy and convenient but such a process will bring you into conflict with your real ethos and without meaning and purpose in your work, there is no vocation. If forms and templates become an outcome in themselves, then you are no longer thinking about risk, and learning has already disappeared. If your processes are not open, conversational, learning-centred, in-situ and meaningful, safety has already become ‘just a job’. If so, there is neither an ethos, an ethic in safety or an ethic of helping but just a job that has to be done.
There are other ways of doing safety that work (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/it-works-a-new-approach-to-risk-and-safety/ ) that don’t follow The Dangers of Safety Bureaucracy (https://novellus.solutions/podcast/the-dangers-of-safety-bureaucracy/ ) The way out of the treadmill starts with critical questioning, critical thinking and seeking one’s own ethos. Unfortunately, you won’t find any of this in traditional safety.