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The Power and Powerlessness of Safety

When it comes to a discussion of ethics, how curious that Safety never talks about power. In the AIHS BoK Chapter on Ethics it gets no mention. How strange, when the foundation of any ethic is an understanding of power. This is the level of intelligence one gets from a mono-disciplinary association seeking knowledge on ethics. I know, let’s find out about anthropology, sociology, psycho-sociology, Culture, Linguistics etc, and ask an Engineer.

I have written about the silences of Safety here:  If you really want to know what Safety believes just look at all it never speaks about. Then have a look at all it is noisy about (injury rates, hazards, policing, zero) and you have a great snapshot of safety culture.

There is nothing more important in ethical practice or moral philosophy than understanding the nature of power (

You can talk about myths like: stop work authority ( ), speak up, safety reporting and investigations but without an understanding of power and powerlessness, such is pretty much a waste of energy.

The power and will to do are foundational to any action, and without a mature understanding of politics, the average safety adviser quickly learns what power they have regardless of good intention. BTW, there is no safety curriculum anywhere that educates safety people about politics ( This is just one more of the many safety silences that characterise its culture.

The real story of Safety is not about its power but its powerlessness. This was well articulated by Rosa Carrillo in her book OHS Voices From the Resistance . Rosa is speaking at the SPoR Convention in Canberra in two weeks ( ). Rosa’s book ( documents so well, the nature and frustration of powerlessness in the safety industry.

No wonder that so many people in safety feel frustrated, bullied and impotent in the face of their job description. And one of the worse cultural characteristics of the safety industry judging by the many podcasts is, it is preoccupied with itself. So much of this is just FIGJAM safety ( See how good we are in safety, just ask me!

And then we have some in safety who jockey for power as a mechanism to make money. Usually, this is masked by a lack of knowledge about risk and slick marketing, complete with the latest meaningless slogans and post-nominals but have no substance, no methodology and no method.  Most often people go to these power-centric conferences and at best are just entertained. Most leave all excited about some ‘punk rock show safety’ but simply retreat back to updating systems, counting injury rates and expanding the hazard register – all absolutely useless activities that make no contribution to safety and provide no credibility in court (

It is so comical the WHS curriculum, that inoculates the industry with the delusions of legal knowledge of the Regulation only to find out very quickly in court that Safety cultivates amateurs with no expertise in law. Of course, others then make money from acting out the fictions of court that also attracts people, ‘to scare the living s&#t out of them’, with no correspondence to reality. Such is the quest of a powerless industry, perpetuating myths of power not realities of its powerlessness.

All of this of course doesn’t equip any safety person for their actual job. Most of the curriculum in WHS is a waste of time ( So little of the WHS curriculum actually prepares a safety person for their job. And this exacerbated by the fact that the industry never talks about the realities of power rather, it fuels myths of power that don’t exist (

And still we get in every safety cycle the good old ‘speak up campaigns’ that don’t work and other fear campaigns complete with silly meerkats ( ), blobs, mum’s for safety, dumb ways to die, hazardman, gurus and heroes ( and zero vision nonsense, that only help infuse Safety with a greater lack of credibility. Oh yes, but we do love that word ‘professional’. It rolls off tongues as if it actually means something.

If Safety wished to have more power, I would suggest it do less silly marketing and learn how to get back to the essentials: listening, helping, caring and person-centric engagement. But alas, the safety curriculum and AIHS body of knowledge have no focus on any of this.

In SPoR, we focus on the basics, these essentials that are not in the discourse of safety. In SPoR, we provide practical alternatives to the nonsense marketing of nothing with real methods ( that work ( ). And all of this is offered for free. And it’s all practical, constructive, positive and doable. See here:

Free books on SPoR:

Free videos:

Free courses:;

Or Free conversations on risk:

It’s not too late to join us face-to-face at the SPoR Convention in Canberra in two weeks: just email: [email protected] for your place.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Latest posts by Dr Rob Long (see all)

Dr Rob Long

PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, 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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