Culture Silences in Safety Artefacts

Culture Silences in Safety Artefacts

When you ask an Anthropologist about culture they most often think about artefacts, when you ask Safety, it’s always about behaviours. Artefacts carry a code and requires enormous research and historical knowledge to interpret meaning. Similarly behaviours, except that Safety thinks that behaviours are self-evident and measurable. They are not. Any behaviour that involves para-linguistics incorporates: myth, sign, symbol, gesture and Poetics and are interpreted. None of these fit the culture definition of ‘what we do around here’.

Artefacts don’t speak for themselves and often involve extensive Transdisciplinary knowledge to understand meaning. For example, one may not be able to see a ritual in practice yet artefacts from that practice remain, often dug up a thousand years later. The London Mithraeum ( ) is a site that includes over 3000 objects recovered form archaeological digs. There is much to discover about the Roman Empire from this site.

Why would Archaeology and Anthropology be relevant to safety?

These two disciplines have a much stronger understanding of culture than safety. If Safety were to listen to and engage in Transdisciplinary conversations it may just understand why so many strategies in safety don’t work in affecting change to culture. When a worldview is framed by engineering and scientism, there so little understanding of culture and all that cannot be measured.

The London Mithraeum tells us a great deal the importance of cults to the Roman Army. There are many other sites across the Roman Empire, not as complete as the London site, that tell us about essential rituals, soteriology (theory of salvation), religious practice, myths and symbols. There are over 110 site across the empire that tell us much about Roman Life (See Figure 1. Mithras Sites)

Figure 1. Mithras Sites


Each black dot on the map represents a site of a Mithraeum, considered the foundational unifying cult for the Roman Army. What we find at all these sites are different cultural artifacts explaining a diversity of rituals and religious practices that shaped belief ( ).

The same can be done in a study of safety culture.

Every safety artifact tells of a belief and ritual that Safety considers efficacious and yet many artefacts involve no behaviour. Usually the artifact is a symbol/myth that anchors belief. Symbols and artifacts like swiss-cheese, risk matrix, bow-tie, pyramids and zero all offer evidence of belief in myths maintained by an industry that fears death and promises salvation.

A study in Archaeology, Religion, Theology, Linguistics and Anthropology what help the engineering-centric industry of safety become more aware of its own cultic practice. How strange that this industry that seeks to be scientific is so cultic in the way it seeks to ‘save lives’. The apocalyptic video of The Spirit of Zero ( ) is a classic example of zero as a cult. The video has all the indicators of a Pentecostal healing temple.

When an archaeologist or anthropologist finds an artefact, they open up a wealth of critical thinking and comparative transdisciplinary skills that safety could only dream about for a cultural investigation. When you define culture as behaviours or systems you have created a constraint that excludes some of the most important aspects of culture to research and understanding. Just look at any of the safety culture surveys on the market and you will see typical misguided and impoverished explorations that don’t get to the heart of what culture is about. The kind of skills and thinking common to Anthropology and Archaeology are simply not present anywhere in safety.

So, what do we learn from this Archaeological and Anthropological understanding of culture, when comparing a Mithraism to the video The Spirit of Zero:

  1. What we see in Mithras is a god that saves, what we see in zero is an ideology that ‘saves’.
  2. What we see in Mithras is a unifying ideology, in Zero a unifying ideology, myth and symbol.
  3. In Mithras, we see rituals that save, in safety we see rituals that ‘save’.
  4. We see Mithras is belief in the impossible, in zero belief in the impossible.
  5. In Mithras safety is defined by sacred practices, in safety ‘cardinal’ rules and ‘life saving rules’.
  6. In safety, we see belief that a number that defines itself, in Mithras we see an act that defines itself.
  7. In Mithras, we see a god that protects from harm, in safety we see an ideology that protects from harm.
  8. In Mithras we see a liturgy that ‘saves’, in safety we have ‘safety moments’, ‘safety minutes’ and ‘safety shares’ as liturgies.
  9. In Mithras we see the protector of truth, in zero we see the embodiment of truth, the absolute.
  10. In Mithras we see the power of dualism and an ethic of duty, in safety we see the power of dualism, binary thinking and the ethic of duty.

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