Why Safety is Attracted to Behaviourism

BBSThere is no doubt that simplistic back and white binary thinking and methods are attractive. Who wants complex or ‘wicked’ when a simple delusion will do. All you have to do is place such a worldview over reality and make it fit your assumptions and then ensure you never talk about any of the realities that don’ fit the mold.

Whenever you read Behaviourist material it is rarely about what is stated that matters. What really matters is its silences. Look at any Behaviourist discourse for what is never defined or discussed. Step over the promos, marketing and spin and see what is really being said (or not) ethically, politically and philosophically about persons. Indeed, see if there is any discussion of ‘ethics’ or ‘persons’ at all.

Behaviourism is an idea that started with Skinner, Pavlov, Thorndike and Watson that become popular from the 1930s. Behaviourism is not just a psychology but a philosophy/ideology about the nature of humans. The fundamental assumptions of Behaviourism are based on simplistic principles of ‘law and effect’, inputs and outputs, mechanistic thinking, reductionism and naïve objectivism.

In the risk and safety industry Behaviourism is packaged a Behaviour Based Safety (BBS). BBS emerged out of the imagination of Herbert Heinrich in an era when Behaviourism made sense. Of course, the nonsense of Heinrich and the BBS tradition is not supported by evidence.

BBS is essentially a desired philosophy not an evidence based science. Unfortunately, the safety industry has not moved on and is still lumbered with the Heinrich hoodoo (https://safetyrisk.net/the-heinrich-hoodoo/ ; https://safetyrisk.net/the-great-heinrich-hoax/ ). Behaviourism is a curse (https://safetyrisk.net/the-curse-of-behaviourism/ ).

Since the 1930s, through a host of research in Neuroscience, Neurocognition and Neuropsychology we know that the Behaviourist lens on humans is simply wrong.

Some of the most glaring problems with Behaviourism (and BBS) is complete error about: motivation, the psychology of goals, the psychology of perception, the nature of persons, ignorance of human decision making, ignorance on human feelings and emotions, a disregard for ethics, naivety about politics, ignorance on culture, ignorance on consciousness and Socialitie. A reasonable list of problems.

You only have to read anything by Cooper to see silence on these things listed above. Indeed, just read the book Improving Safety Culture to find out about simplistic notions of culture and simplistic ideas about leadership. First line of the book is typical: ‘The `culture’ of an organisation can be defined as `the way we do things around here’ (p.8). You don’t need to read much more of the book because it’s not about culture. None of the many critical factors in culture are discussed (https://safetyrisk.net/category/safety-culture-silences/ ).

Like every book on the market in traditional safety, including books by Dekker, Hollnagel and Conklin etc, the focus is on systems and measurement, controls and hazards. Just have a look at any of the promotions (https://www.artofwork.solutions/measurement-differently ; https://www.artofwork.solutions/enabling-controls ) and it’s the same old stuff: controls, measures, performance, behaviours and of course, controls. Forget the marketing, the linguistics is a giveaway about what philosophy underpins the traditional safety.

All of this stuff in BBS is consistent. No discussion on ethics, personhood, helping, human consciousness or Socialitie. It’s always about measuring capacities and controlling systems, and the objects (persons) in those systems.

I was presented the other day with a paper on BBS that discussed Fogg’s Behaviour Model (see Figure 1. Fogg Model) complete with discussion about ‘prompts’, ‘motivation’, ‘ability’, ‘rewards’, ‘desires’, ‘avoidance’, ‘deterrence’, ‘push and pull factors’, ‘prompts’, ‘enforcements’, negligence’, ‘controls’ and a host of gobbledygook as if humans were the sum of inputs and outputs in a system.

Figure 1. Fogg Model


Oh, look honey, another curve for you (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-curves-and-pyramids/ ). More semiotic gobbledygook to make you think everything is under control. See sweetie, you even have a mathematical equation so that your behaviours can be ‘fixed’.

If you want to be entertained just pick up anything in BBS (Behavior-based_safety_still_a_viable_strategy; https://www.behavioural-safety.com/ ) and read how it doesn’t understand desires, feelings, motivation, consciousness and emotion, it’s laughable.

BBS has no understanding at all of persons, communities or the unconscious. A wonderful recipe for brutalism, the outcome of BBS.

In BBS the favourite language is about ‘controls’ and ‘harnessing’ people. If you speak of me or about me as something to ‘harnessed’, I have no interest in what else you talk about. You can spruik all the propaganda you like, I am not an object in a system or a thing to be harnessed. Such language is behaviourist language.

This is why behaviourists love to talk about ‘boot camp’  and use other militarist language (https://safetydifferently.com/lean-green-safety-machine-part-1/ ).

In the distant past one of my boys (at 12 years of age) was caught doing something minor by the police and was assigned (by the police) to attend a ‘boot camp’. (surprise surprise, run by a fundamentalist Pentecostal). The whole camp was about brutalizing children. The damage that camp did to my child was extensive and evil. What a wonderful way to exorcise the lust for power over the weak by disguising evil as good. This is what BBS does when it talks about ‘behaviour design’. Good olde BBS, never talks about power or ethics because such is its greatest desire.

You’re perhaps not going to read Fogg’s book Tiny Habits (https://tinyhabits.com/ ), a good idea. It’s just another code book (https://safetyrisk.net/deciphering-safety-code/ ) that has no concept of the human unconscious, personhood, ethics nor any clue on what habit is.

Of course, if you want to know about ‘boot camps’, Fogg’s book is for you.

Fogg declares the purpose of his book is about ‘behaviour design’, hmmm, I wonder who is the designer? I wonder who has the power? I wonder what philosophy governs the design? I wonder what ethic drives the design? These issues are never spoken about in the discourse on ‘behaviour design’, especially in traditional safety

Indeed, those with the power in this model and any BBS model are always silent about who holds the power. Like all BBS the myth of objective perception and superior thought is never discussed. Pure Kantian philosophy, perfect for a deontological ethic (https://safetyrisk.net/the-aihs-bok-and-ethics-check-your-gut/ ).

If you read Fogg, you soon discover that habit is not defined, neither motivation nor a host of critical factors associated with ‘design’ to change behaviour. This is the same in BBS (https://www.artofwork.solutions/enabling-controls ).

Here’s a cracker for you from Fogg:

‘Welcome to Behavior Design! This is my comprehensive system for thinking clearly about human behavior and for designing simple ways to transform your life’ (p.8)

What is this transformation? What kind of person is desired as an outcome of this ‘behaviour design’ that includes no discussion of morality or ethics? What kind of politic is enacted in this design? What ideology drives this ‘design’ from a philosophy and an ethic that is never discussed? I wonder what kind of unthinking sausage is generated by this ‘program’.

Yet as in all Behaviourist discourse, there is no discussion of what a transformation process nor anything about what kind of person this transformation ‘envisions’ (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/envisioning-risk-seeing-vision-and-meaning-in-risk/ ). BTW, you will never read anywhere in BBS about the psychological nature of ‘conversion’ because that what transformation by design infers.

This is so typical of all that is hidden in BBS discourse. The elephant in the room is silence on power, ethics and personhood.

If you read Fogg, it is a perfect philosophy for eugenics (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-eugenics-and-the-engineering-of-risk-aversion/ ), the same philosophy that drove the N@z1 party . The same philosophy that drives BBS, the perfect philosophy for zero!

No wonder it’s attractive to Safety.

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