Working Out What Makes Sense in Safety

Working Out What Makes Sense in Safety

imageAnalytical philosophy is a branch of philosophy that uses logical analysis to understand the world. The school of thought is most associated with Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein and G. E. Moore. It is also connected to the work of the logical positivists W. V. O. Quine and Karl Popper. This school of thought has its focus on language and what became known as ‘the logic turn’. What these philosophers focused on was the ‘sense’ of language and what defined as ‘non-sense’. They thought of language like mathematics and brought to language mathematical assumptions seeking to control language in the name of ‘sense’. Like the development of many philosophies, it was shaped by the rejection of previous philosophies namely, British Idealism.

Why does this matter to safety?

When Safety declares that something ‘makes sense’ what does it mean? Sense-making is neither neutral or objective. How one ‘makes sense’ of an accident for example, depends on the bias of the observer, the bias of the method and the hidden assumptions of the methodology. You can identify bias easily by the use of language and silences ( ). To think that iCAM ( ) or some other investigations method is objective is absurd. Similarly, any ‘safety in design’.

All design is shaped by the philosophy that underpins it. All design carries an ‘affordance’, a bias embedded in the design that ‘tells’ users how to use it. Each school of thought in safety carries its own bias ( ). How amazing that Safety doesn’t discuss its own bias.

The fact that most investigations methods on the safety market never discuss the problem of subjectivity says a great deal about a lack of professionalism. It also reveals an unethical approach to education and learning.

So, when the analytic philosophers set out to control language and its logic where did they end up? You guessed it, Ethics.

One cannot detach ethics-morality from method.

Any ‘doing’ of a method carries an ethic, that ultimately reveals what it considers about persons. This is why an ethic of personhood is central to an ethic of risk. None of which is discussed in the AIHS BoK Chapter on Ethics (

By omitting any discussion of persons in a safety approach to ethics, one is then free to dehumanize others in the pursuit of safety. The end justifies the means. As long as the outcome is zero, you can do whatever you want to persons.

One of the tragic characteristics of the safety industry is its complete disdain for philosophy. This enables Safety to imagine that it doesn’t have a philosophy/methodology and so its methods carry no bias and this somehow makes its activities automatically ethical. Even when the word ‘philosophy’ is mentioned Safety turns off. Just have a look at any safety curriculum globally and show me where philosophy, ethics, politics and critical thinking receive any value? How professional.

So, if you want to know if your methods (usually a copied template) ‘make sense’ or if what you do actually ‘works’, you need to also know what methodology underpins its design and method.

If your safety method doesn’t humanise persons, it doesn’t ‘make sense’.

If your safety method doesn’t humanise persons, it doesn’t ‘work’. ( )

If your safety leadership doesn’t humanise persons, then it’s not leadership. ( )

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