Why is Safety an Easy Target?

For some time now it has been a virtual conga line of criticism for Safety. Even a casual search across the many researchers in the S2 movement (Dekker, Hollnagel etc) reveals an industry desperately in need of reform.

Why is this so?

If we go back to the foundations of the modern safety industry, we find roots in Engineering and Behaviourism. Indeed, it was only recently (2018) that the word ‘engineering’ was dropped in the USA for the word ‘Professionals’ in the association of Safety Engineers (https://www.assp.org/about). Indeed, when you search for the ASSP Google still anchors to the title ‘Safety Engineer’. See Figure 1. AASP

Figure 1. ASSP


OF course, adding the word ‘professional’ doesn’t make the work of safety professional. Such is the safety code (https://safetyrisk.net/deciphering-safety-code/). Indeed, without an ethic of risk, the use of such a word is meaningless. In Canada, the identity with engineering remains (https://www.csse.org/). Of course, the discipline of engineering is a discipline of objects.

Unfortunately, the activity of safety is the opposite of engineering. The foundation of safety is engaging, helping and advising people. Yet there is nothing in the curriculum that supports this.

How scary it must be to walk out on site after proudly obtaining your Diploma in Safety to realise you have been not been prepared with any skills to engage people!

I called for reform of the safety curriculum years ago and presented this paper at a safety conference (https://safetyrisk.net/isnt-it-time-we-reformed-the-whs-curriculum/ ) and as usual was howled down by defenders and safety crusaders as a ‘safety basher’. This was the last time I ever presented at a safety conference and have no intention of speaking at one again.

Most of what is presented at these conferences is simply more of the same with a different brand.

In a culture that adores compliance and has nothing in its curriculum on critical thinking, it is no wonder there is little innovation, creativity and thirst for risk in learning. Even the innovation awards attached to these associations are only about change in relation to objects. And, none of the associations show any interest in curriculum reform. Indeed, understanding curriculum would require Transdisciplinary expertise.

So, in many ways, the safety industry sets itself up, through its curriculum to fail.

Even if you look at the AIHS so called Body of Knowledge, 75% of it is focused on the control of objects and there is nothing in it on essential skills of engagement, listening or helping.

The history of safety is the building of a fortress in the control of objects.

With so much sunk cost, no wonder any criticism is branded with name calling as ‘safety bashing’ (https://safetyrisk.net/im-a-safety-basher/ ). Interestingly, it is the dominance of engineering that comes out with such name calling simply because it has no sense of Transdisciplinarity. Engineering can’t understand what it doesn’t understand. How can it understand criticism from Semiotics, Religion, Education, Cultural Studies, Anthropology, Social Psychology etc if it has neither experience or background in such?

Don’t get me wrong, Engineering has a place but it is not the only place. Similarly, behaviourism has some value but it is not the only value.

The purpose of all the criticism centred on safety, including from the S2 camp has been to bring safety into balance. The intent of criticism has always been for learning and to shift the safety pendulum to balance.

Safety has such a long way to go and is not likely to move if all it can do in response to criticism is to call back names. Without a sense of enquiry (sourced in the Disciplines of Education and Learning) Safety will continue to defend the in defensible and not move and mature, hopefully to one day become professional.

For the time being, and without reform, its simply target practice.

And it’s not as if there is no alternative, in SPoR so much is offered for free that can help with balance. It just requires enquiry and a leap of faith into a disciplines one doesn’t know.

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