Anchoring Safety to Objects
Anchoring refers to a human bias that ‘holds’ to a view or position based upon how it was introduced and ‘sunk-cost’ associated with commitment to that position. Anchoring acts as a ‘fast and efficient’ heuristic that short cuts any need for challenge, questioning and debate and so empowers compliance. You can read more about the psychology of anchoring here: Psychological Science. Associated with ‘anchoring’ are a host of social psychological influences that create pressures to hold to a belief in the face of contrary evidence. One of the strongest influences in the dynamic of anchoring is the power of symbols.
Symbols are the go-to strategy for anchoring. When one is able to capture a story or narrative in one symbol, it becomes a short-cut heuristic for belonging and identity. We first learned this in various heuristic anchors created by the Nazis for example: the swastika and the Nazi salute. When one is able to develop symbols that attach to an idea then the symbol becomes a short-cut way to define compliance and non-compliance. Similar happens with religions and the many icons that define being in or out of a religiously initiated group.
It doesn’t matter that the symbol is not ‘true’, nor that the symbol makes so sense in itself. Symbols are not signs. Signs point to something whereas symbols indicate something way beyond themselves. Symbols are not like rational text but rather communicate to the unconscious.
In the short history of safety a range of symbols have developed that ‘anchor’ safety people to objects. When one looks at all the curriculum in safety one observes the extensive use of symbols to ‘anchor’ people to myths in symbols. Once someone has been indoctrinated with the symbology of Heinrich’s Pyramid the process has started. The nonsense narrative of ratio correlation of injury data to the definition of safety is then anchored to the symbol. Under the dynamic of ‘sunk cost’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunk_cost) such mythology is now ‘locked in’ as truth. Myths and symbols are the same thing. Myths are anchored in symbols and symbols are anchored in myths. Once the myth and symbol is in place, it doesn’t matter that evidence proves it is nonsense, the symbol has already been anchored through sunk cost to the unconscious in a religious way so that rejection of the symbol becomes an identification of non-compliance.
When one looks through the common texts that are used to teach risk and safety, they are infused with nonsense symbols that anchor people to myths in safety that are simply not true. There is no correlation between injury data and the definition of safety. Unfortunately when Heinrich is used as the reference point, that pyramid symbol becomes the new truth. Unless curriculum reform includes the eradication of nonsense symbols, there is little chance that there will ever be any reform in safety ideology (https://safetyrisk.net/isnt-it-time-we-reformed-the-whs-curriculum/ ). STEM and regulation cannot know about semiotics nor about how semiotics informs the collective unconscious.
If one wants to indoctrinate and propagate safety as reductionism then just anchor to the swiss cheese. Now locked in as the go-to symbol for causality, this little myth has done more damage to open minded thinking about understanding emergence and events than any other symbol on the safety market.
Shared symbols create quick assurance of compliance without the need to process the long narrative associated with the story of the symbol. Symbolism and myth aid compliance through mindlessness. If one identifies with the symbol then one is ‘in’ if not, one is ‘out’. Symbols and myths assist in quashing critical questioning and thinking. This is why the many models in safety such a curves and triangles are so dangerous because they anchor the industry to objects not subjects. If you goal is zero then you anchor a population to process and counting.
Many people don’t understand that Zero is both an ideology, symbol and myth and as such communicates to the unconscious in ways that drive ‘sunk cost’ in objects, counting and numerics. The symbology of zero is to dehumanise all that falls before it. Zero is now a symbol of compliance to traditional safety orthodoxy. Even the peak SIA will not disown this symbology (https://safetyrisk.net/sia-has-a-bet-each-way-on-zero/) such is the power of its religious symbology. Most believe that zero is neutral and harmless, as mis-educated by an immature WHS curriculum overseen by reformers indoctrinated by STEM-only propaganda.
Symbols are embodied in mantras, signs, icons, shapes, flags, gestures, badges and logos. No wonder so much of safety has been seduced to identify with the iconography of objects (https://safetyrisk.net/the-iconography-of-safety/ ). Regardless of whet rhetoric is proposed in safety about care and relationships, when the narrative is anchored to a symbolic object, the deed is done.
I conducted a safety culture audit recently for an organisation and asked all the executives what symbols they associate with risk and safety, only 3% recalled a symbol that anchored to people, relationships, communication and helping.
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.