What’s Faith Got To Do With Safety

by Dr Rob Long · 4 comments

in Psychology of Safety and Risk,Risk Aversion,Robert Long,Zero Harm



What’s Faith Got To Do With Safety

Guest Post by Dr Rob Long from www.humandymensions.com

What’s Faith Got To Do With SafetyRisk is all about uncertainty, and uncertainty is one of the things that characterises what it is to be human. There is little in human living that is certainly predictable, there is little that is absolutely certain, this is the nature of life and living in the real world. We are often surprised by life, for example, how can a plane with hundreds of people, complex GPS tracking technology, sophisticated communications technology and experienced pilots and staff disappear without trace? How can a person we know make choices we don’t understand? How can someone one minute be healthy and next minute be unwell? This is the nature of being fallible and human. Unfortunately, there are traditions, discourses and ideologies in safety that deny this reality eg. the nonsense language of ‘all accidents are preventable. Such language is a total denial of humanness and fallibility. Furthermore, perfectionist language and discourse in absolutes primes a population for intolerance and rigidity. Binary oppositional discourse is a foundation for the alienation of people, the tyranny of authoritarianism and the delusion of absolute control. Just thinking and speaking of life in disallows space for imperfection, tolerance, compassion, understanding, forgiveness and the in-between. When all is black and white, there is no space for grey.

The reality of humanness is that most of us live life in a state of automaticity and faith. Faith, hope and trust are not just essential characteristics of religious life, they are characteristic of all life. We step out of our door in the morning on the way to work in faith that after we have undertaken one of the most risky activities in society, driving on the road, that we will arrive well. Whilst we have rules, technology and systems to try and ensure certainty and control, we can’t guarantee it. Any language that guarantees an incident free future or talks about the possibility of achieving absolutes is dehumanizing nonsense. For example, talk of guarantees of safety in driving would be received by anyone as nonsense. So, why do organisations think that talk about safety in such ways makes sense? Why do organisations talk such nonsense without challenge?

This week we observed an organization that instructed employees to lie about injuries (http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/9083657/Tunnel-workers-told-to-lie-about-injuries), the same organization that designed and built the Pike River Mine. When I showed this to my post grad students this week more than half the group (all from tier one zero harm mining and construction companies in Australia) said, ‘oh yes, we do that’. One person said, ‘ yes we normalize lying and deception in our company, that’s considered OK’. There is no doubt, discourse in absolutes and language of perfectionism drives the ethical trade off of lying and deception for zero. It seems the cultural normalization of lying and deception trade off are OK, as long as the delusion of zero is preached. What a strange contradiction. I wonder what else these companies lie and deceive about?

All human relations demand trust and commitment. Those of us who are parents know that we entered the experience of parenthood and the relationship to become a parent, by faith. We had no idea of how to raise a child, we were about to enter into one of life’s most risky activities without a road map. When we came to the moment to procreate we had no idea of the future nor any certainty of what trajectory we were about to enter. We were even so sure in our uncertainty that we were numb to any lectures or telling. We had no past knowledge to parent and had no idea of the trajectory of our parenting, we entered the experience and continue in the experience by faith. We trust and hope that all will be well but there are no guarantees. So much of parenting is ‘trial and error’ learning, discovery learning and a kinesthetic journey of love and learning but it is all uncertain. How odd then that safety people freak out about some of the most petty and micro hazards and risks at work and yet in real life accept faith as a key part of learning. Why is it that safety people become known as the ‘petty’ people and think that lying and being deceitful to protect data is deemed a valid (yet unethical) norm for organizational culture?

Most of the measurement held forth as a valid measurement of safety and risk is attributed not real. Here we are grinding over lengthy reports and statistics with little correlation to safety, doing language and logic gymnastics trying to justify acts of faith as certainty and predictable controls. So much anxiety and fear about statistics that bear greater resemblance to religious artifacts than understanding the nature of risk and the realities of human decision making. This is what binary opposition creates, this is the trajectory of zero.

What’s Faith Got To Do With Safety

Dr Rob Long

Social Psychologist, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
What’s Faith Got To Do With Safety

Latest posts by Dr Rob Long (see all)

What’s Faith Got To Do With Safety
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MACE, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.


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  • Mark

    Dave can send you my contact.

  • Matt

    Mark, whats your email address? I would like to discuss a few things with you offline if ok?

  • Mark

    Gabrielle, it is all sunbjective, this is the problem.

    In relation to safety, the whole idea is to investigate as many means as possible to ensure that there is a certain amount of preventive measures in place to reduce the effect on uncertainty. This is why we have risk assessments amongst many other standards, codes, best practices and advice. All of which have been developed over time and which are in constant revision. As we cannot look into the future and we cannot know what anyone will do in any given situation, we can only prepare with what we do know.

    This is why safety is becoming a nonsense and is more about an ass covering practice to avoid litigation than anything else. Even psychology is a hindsight practice and I am sure it will be the new silver bullet to save us from what we know happens. But in time, this topic will also be proven to not have changed a single thing other than understanding why we do what we do. Psychology is a study, and as we currently have very little understanding about how the brain really works, we can only assume that we can understand it, and assumptions are not credible therfore not valid. We will not anytime soon stop accidents, we will not control human fallibility, we will not know if a safe person will make a mistake today or not. So what I am saying is, just accept what we know to be true.

    I don’t think we should be confusing workplace safety with general living, as the two can be treated differently. Most things we do in life are up to our own judgments and choices (we cannot sue ourselves). When we trade this liberty for social requirements, that being to work for an entity, it is that entity who is required to look after and manager your safety, if they don’t then they are liable. The reason why this protection is provided is not for the wellbeing of the worker (this is not paramount), but for the protection of the company at its shareholders.

    Those people who are surprised in life and who are often subjected to bewilderment are people who have been encased in their own little world. They are people who are too optimistic about things, and about humans. They are shocked because they have not been educated in the reality of things. The heart of all progression is cruelty and power. No dominate species (for which we are one of) on this earth succeeded in their quest by anything other than agressive dominion, a dominion that does not come by kindness and good moral values.

    The airliner that has crashed has not disappeared without a trace, it just has not been found yet. Our technology simply does not cover every square inch of the world, which is why aircraft send technical data and intervals. If you went bushwalking in a remote location, your phone will not give your location. When the airliner is found and the incident investigation has concluded, you will most likely find that there is a simple reason for why it crashed. From all the aircraft investigation shows I have seen, it is mostly going to be a simple procedure that was not followed or a short cut to save time and money.

    When are people going to realize that all big organizations got to their position by not being open, transparent or ethical. I would say that the 50% of your class saying that ass covering is rife is an underestimation of reality. Those who said that they never had to cover up or lie about data either do not manage data, have not done a serious investigation, or are new to the industry. The organization is not different to the government!!! They all lie. Of course cultural normalization of lying and deception trade off are OK…this, as I have said many times before, is all about money/greed. The contractor, who wins the quote, outside of under the table deals, is the company who has zero injury rates or promotes zero as this view is the comon view of success. If someone dies under their care, then they (the client etc) can say that they employed the safest company they could, that they did all they could to provide the best safety. I would not doubt for one minute that a company employing the service of a respectful consulting business does not use this as advertising in some way to gain validity for their quest for more work, just as a vitamin company uses and old worn out sports hero to promote their product.

    I do find it interesting that in your class you show your students stories that clearly show how companies don’t care about safety, yet you have mentioned that you don’t attribute blame “you don’t think that way”, clearly you do, such as you always blame the safety sector for all wrongdoings as if they control the organisation. Now you are seeing why leaders of organizations do have much to answer for. Click here to see my Pike River Report; http://www.safetyrisk.net/pike-river-hse-brief/

    New parents have much knowledge about being a parent, I am not sure how you can say they have ‘no’ experience. You learnt to be a parent from your parents, TV shows, movies, books, etc. All these processes told us how to be a parent, the rest is instict driven. The problem with how we live today is that we don’t stay in families units that have many generations under the same roof. Humans are supposed to be communal animals and each new generation learns from their parents, and so on, yet I see very little of family in our current generations. I would hate to think people can only rely on faith as a way to be a good parent, this is nonsense. Being a parent relies on much more that faith.

    Re your question…”Why is it that safety people become known as the ‘petty’ people and think that lying and being deceitful to protect data is deemed a valid (yet unethical) norm for organizational culture?”

    Why do you always blame the safety person/sector for any action related to safety? If you have been there and worked as a safety person, you will not be so questionable or critical, as you would know the obvious answer.

    What is real or reality; you only succeed in big business by not being ethical, if you want to keep your job, learn to be unethical and listen to the old ones when they tell you not to raise that safety issue (or don’t go there) or it will be bye bye for you.

    As I have said before, safety is a multimillion dollar industry. It does not matter if it saves lives; it keeps a lot of people in work. Everyone who comes to this site is making their living off safety.

  • Gabrielle Carlton

    We place a high level of ‘faith’ that the systems will work…I guess that’s a high level of uncertainty!! It’s all a subjective belief system isn’t it?

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