The Pub with no Beer (Due to Health and Safety Reasons)
Anyone else sick of being told they can’t do something “due to health and safety reasons”?
Latest by Hayden Collins from https://www.riskintelligent.com.au/
I was at the local pub with a mate recently and stopped to check out the entry to the beer cellar – with its rusted iron rails and well-worn steps. I couldn’t help but think about all the characters that must’ve trodden this path before me, and the stories these steps could recall (if they could speak). I was even curious to understand how the bartenders brought the kegs in, with all the tricks and heuristics learned and passed down over time; but then I put my “expert” hat on and took the situation “seriously”, “realistically”, and “objectively”. All the ingredients for a Crusader’s dream were there; the heavy kegs, unprotected ledge, steep and slippery steps. Code violations, non-conformances, and breaches of duty. The risk was at least a “7” on the matrix – we’re talking about the enactment of engineering controls or above here – paperwork, refresher training, and PPE just wont cut the mustard. This was a dangerous environment and we needed to be saved. No need for humility, conversation, and sense making; shut it down, there would be no more beer today…
You can just imagine the justifications – and consequent gruesome stories – for this act of “protection” (something we’ve all heard, said, and accepted before). “I’m doing this because I care about you. It’s the right thing to do. Your safety is our priority”; anyone who spends even a moderate amount of time in airport terminals has been witness to the absurdity of risk aversion on steroids. (https://safetyrisk.net/its-a-safety-requirement/).
Why is it that we allow others – without question – to control in the name of “Safety”? To dictate what is “right”, “good”, and “for our protection”? By accommodating this worldview of risk aversion and control, what are we surrendering? Could we be inadvertently increasing our exposure to risk? What can we do to break our worship of and bondage to “Safety” and start making decisions based on Risk Intelligence? Now I’m not suggesting that our precious “Amber Nectar” is in jeopardy of becoming eradicated in our increasingly risk averse society – that could be a bit extreme – and I can envision the riots that would ensue following such a proposal; but it has been tried before. In a black and white world, where grey is intolerable, and where Zero and elimination is the ultimate goal, anything is possible.
Living in Melbourne, I am privileged to experience some magnificent artefacts of the Temperance Movement. The Temperance Movement was a social and political movement, whose purpose was the creation of a “sober and pure” world (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temperance_movement_in_Australia). It consisted of groups (mostly religious) critical of alcohol consumption; which promoted Prohibition and “Teetotalism” (the complete abstinence of alcohol). The movement started in Australia in the 1830’s and remained a significant political force until World War 2. Their main enterprise was to “protect” and “purify” the working classes from a life of domestic violence, crime and poverty; due to (in their opinion) the devils drink. Rather than understand the dynamic nature of a social class – that many of their members were not part of – the temperance movement were confident that a life of abstinence (Zero) would provide the solution (Can you see the similarities to today’s righteous safety crusaders?)
Coffee Palaces – where alcohol was not served – and Water Fountains were established in areas with perceived drinking problems as a substitute for alcohol. The first and most ornate drinking fountain in Melbourne is still in its original location in Williamstown, then Melbourne’s primary shipping and railway hub. Friendly societies that provided health benefits to those who stayed on the wagon were also founded; many of which have become the private health insurers of today.
Though many positives have been attributed to the movement (the right for women to vote was probably their most significant achievement), several of the laws and practices enacted through their crusade had unintentional and devastating by-products and trade-offs. The introduction of Six O’clock closing times for pubs (pushed by the movement) resulted in an increase of dangerous binge drinking (the Six O’clock Swill), and a surge in underworld activity, due to the illegal “Sly Grog” trade. So the movement actually helped to create a world of debauchery, violence, and sin, all in the name of “Safety” (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/ross-fitzgerald/running-battle-spawned-the-6-oclock-swill-and-illicit-empire/). The risk averse legacy of the Temperance Movement is most recognizable today in Sydney’s controversial “Lock-out-Laws”.
When we accept risk aversion as “good”, “righteous”, and “necessary”, we justify the associated myths (and their by-products), and consent to “live” in an anti-human, anti-learning, and anti-living world of dumb-down, control and fear. We trade off our humanness for servitude (https://safetyrisk.net/the-risk-aversion-delusion/). The UK’s Health and Safety Executive has busted over 400 of these “in the name of safety” myths since 2012 (http://www.hse.gov.uk/myth/myth-busting/). Paradoxically, risk aversion and the obsession with zero actually create a more fragile, less resilient, and less intelligent environment, where failure becomes more catastrophic and more frequent (https://safetyrisk.net/the-quandary-of-risk-aversion/).
So what can be done to break from the bondage of “Safety”? What can be learned from the Temperance Movement’s Zero Tolerance approach, and applied to todays risk adverse society? How can we bust the myths preached “in the name of safety”?
- The first thing we can do is start questioning these “myths”. Next time somebody tells you “it’s due to safety reasons” ask them why? There may be a valid reason, or it may be completely absurd. Asking “why” is the first step to freedom.
- Discourse analysis will also help in busting safety myths. Through discourse analysis we can understand the transmission of power hidden within language. We conduct language audits for organisations that reveal their underlying discourse, through looking for language that is absent as well as present. The language of “Zero Tolerance” may proclaim “Virtue”, “Care” and “Protection”, but the discourse is “anti-human”, “anti-learning”, and “anti-living”.
- Another key element in moving towards a more risk intelligent approach is the ability for those in the risk industry to identify myths before they are propagated. An understanding of critical theory, social politics, and ethics is essential for the risk and safety professional; something that is sadly absent from the curriculum (https://safetyrisk.net/isnt-it-time-we-reformed-the-whs-curriculum/).
The delusion of the ability to “control” and “eliminate” risk, creates unexpected, and potentially unseen or unknown risks. Through practicing the entertaining of doubt we can better identify these risk by-products and trade-offs, allowing for a mature and holistic approach to tackling risk (https://vimeo.com/156930356).
Critical thinking and discourse analysis certainly helps us uncover the discourse of these myths, appreciate their absurdity, and identify potential trade-offs and by-products. In order to break away from the bondage to risk aversion and the subsequent safety mythology, we must enact meaningful change. This requires praxis, which can be summarized as an infinite cycle of learning and liberation through critical thinking, action, and reflection (more on praxis in future blogs).
So next time you are told something is no longer possible “due to health and safety reasons”, instead of accepting it and perpetuating the cycle of risk aversion, control and fear; ask a few questions, interrogate the source rather than taking the requirement at face value, try understanding where the power is hidden within the discourse. By refusing to accept these myths as a “necessity for the good”, we are becoming risk intelligent and making our world a little bit more humanised. And that is truly “good”.