Where are the safety profession thinkers?

The most successful safety management improvements come from a multi-disciplinary approach. The biggest leaps in safety management have come not from the established safety academic profession of engineering but from those outside that discipline – sociologists (Andrew Hopkins) , psychologists (James Reason)  and, increasingly, philosophers.

Recently philosopher Alain de Botton  was interviewed in the Australian magazine, Dumbo Feather (issue 30, 2012).  When asked whether the discussion of philosophical ideas exists in popular space, he said:

“I care about a mass audience because I somehow believe that the mass is right.  I believe in a democratic sense that if you’re not reaching a broad number of people with your ideas, that there’s probably something wrong with your ideas.  It might not be everything that’ wrong with them, but something presentational or structural.  We live in very open societies, where if your message is a good one it should be able to get out there.

So when the typical academic says, ‘Well, you know, I don’t want to be open to popular scrutiny’ or, ‘I’m not interested in discussing my material with just anyone’, my response is ‘Well, why?’  What is it about your field of study that makes it inevitably beyond a broader public acceptance or recognition or discussion?”

de Botton is not talking about safety, per se, but he is talking about the communication of ideas and communication, or consultation, is a crucial element of successful safety management.

Why is it that the most useful and interesting perspectives on workplace safety are coming from non-traditional safety disciplines?

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories communication, consultation, culture, ethics, guidance, OHS, research, safety, workplaceTags , , ,

4 thoughts on “Where are the safety profession thinkers?”

  1. Quite possibly the reason that good safety ideas come from a multi disciplinary approach is that the approach of looking outside the “safety box” is looking boyond what we are taught safety to be. E.G. Risk managment, risk assessments, our desire to achieve compliance with laws a higher priority than simply making people safe, the cover your a@#e mentality instead of looking for the ways to prevent accidents.

    When locked into a set strategy or paradigm it is very easy to stay there. Sometimes we need to look beyond what is in front of us. That is where the multi disciplanary ideas are so valuable, they are able to take us out of the existing paradigm. Not all will work but some will.

    I am not sure that I agree with Alain de Botton (who I enjoy very much). I do not believe that because something has popular approval it is good or right.

    1. Richard, I am not sure that you read Alain de Botton right but maybe his quote needs a greater context.

      On the matter of covering one’s arse, I have changed my tune on that over many years. If the senior executive sector wants to cover its corporate arse, that is okay, as long as there is a positive preventive harm strategy that comes from that. Most executives perceive safety as minimising risk, I see it as saving lives. Both perspectives have validity.

      The difficulty for the senior executive comes when they need to display safety leadership and a positive OHS duty, as to do so would require some strong values to be applied whilst covering one’s arse. I don’t believe that this is possible in reality. As the new WHS laws come into effect, I think you will see the arse covering diminish and the genuine commitment to safety increase.

  2. I think we find that with a young science, there is much to learn from these other disciplines. Safety is not on its patma here.

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