You Don’t Fess Up Without Trust

You Don’t Fess Up Without Trust

We saw a classic example of how Safety doesn’t work this week in the Australian election campaign ( ).

The Prime Minister of Australia, well known as a pathological liar, (;; , was visiting a factory in Townsville.

A worker at the site was pictured covering up a sign (See Figure 1. Covering Sign) that stated:

If you mess up

‘Fess Up’


This is typical of how Safety doesn’t work and a great example of safety-as-bullshit as considered on this site. Of course, such signage doesn’t work and indeed, makes things much worse. Even a small level of study in Semiotics tells you that this kind of signage doesn’t work. But hey, why would Safety want to study Semiotics! ( )

This is like the many campaigns we see by Regulators in safety in Australia who run ‘speak up campaigns’ ( ) whilst at the same time running ‘blitzes’ ( ) on policing safety ( ).

The notion of ‘fess up’ is short for confession. And there is no confession without a culture of trust. If you want to quickly erode any chance of a culture of trust just run to Zero and define safety by injury rates.

Whenever I conduct a language Audit in organisations the most important language regarding safety never comes up. Words like trust, helping, care, learning and listening are never associate with the work of safety, which of course makes safety unprofessional.

Trust can’t be measured, you only know when you don’t have it. You can’t put a number on it and so Safety has no interest in it. Yet, it is the bedrock of a healthy culture, as are a host of other qualitative values that can’t be measured. Ah but yes, good old behaviourist Safety keeps on maintaining the silly myth that ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’.

If you want to understand how trust works there is no better place to start that with Mollering (2006): Trust Beyond Risk, The Leap of Faith (Chapter 5, Trust, Reason, Routine, Reflexivity). Or perhaps get your teeth into The Handbook of Trust Research (2006) by Bachmann and Zaheer.

I always find it so amusing this safety industry that loves to talk about culture and profession but speaks so little about the qualitative essentials of a healthy culture. If your discourse is zero, then the first casualty is trust. How strange this industry that actively works against the essential of trust.

Of course, when a known liar walks amongst you, the first thing you must do is cover up any embarrassment, because you don’t really believe in confession, you believe in power. This is what zero does, the love child of the global safety industry ( ). Where there is no trust there can never be confession and honesty. Our online survey substantiates this ( ) showing that 85% of the industry thinks that zero creates dishonesty.

The Prime Minister makes no apology for his profession of Pentecostalism and we know that confession is essential to such a faith (1 John 1:9). We also know that nothing destroys faith greater than hypocrisy hence the title by Mollering. The flip side of trust is faith, that naughty word no-one speaks in safety. Indeed, Safety even apologizes when it uses it (Dekker, (2017) The End of Heaven, p.xi). What a strange industry, caught in its own religious zero cult ( ) yet afraid to speak the word ‘faith’. How strange this S2 movement that knows the importance of trust ( ) but doesn’t speak of the faith essential to exercise trust. Of course, faith is the foundation of risk. Every time a fallible person takes a risk, they put their faith in their preparation, thinking, experience and reasoning for a good outcome, but such is not guaranteed. Safety wants to so much talk about ‘belief’ but never about the trust and faith required to suspend judgement in order to act in the face of risk. Every time we assess a risk and evaluate a risk and the limitations of time, resources, fallibility and randomness, we act by faith expecting a good outcome. Gigerenzer calls this process ‘satisficing’. The best we can do in the face of all that constrains us as human persons is satisfice. Zero is nonsense.

When we trust leadership and strategic thinking in an organization, safety works ( ). If you have to demonize persons in the course of safety, it doesn’t work ( No amount of psychological harm justifies brutalism for the sake of a physical injury. Just because you can’t see harm doesn’t mean you haven’t harmed people ( ). Indeed, psychological harm is much tougher to heal than physical harm.

The deeper an organization commits the belief and faith in the impossible (Zero) (, the more it creates a lack of trust and turns Zero into a new god.

If you want to learn about culture that ‘works’ there is a module available for online study ( ). If you want to know how to work on all the things Safety doesn’t measure but that matter, then this is the course for you.

One thing is for sure, if you want a culture of trust and confession, you don’t get it by putting up signs, it’s hard work on culture beyond the nonsense talk of culture tokenism ( ) and selling checklists as if systems and paperwork are safety. The only way to humanise safety is to move away from it and its toxic influence so that safety can improve ( ).

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