Transdisciplinary Safety •

Transdisciplinary Safety

In the latest issue of The Risk Magazine  in the Future of Risk Edition (No. 3 March 2018, p.44) I argued that the future of risk must embrace transdisciplinarity ( ).

It is interesting that the binary view that currently dominates safety even interprets this transdisciplinary call as an ‘either-or’ view. A transdisciplinary view is not an ‘either-or view but a ‘both-and’ view. Similarly the call to include the Social-Psychology of Risk (SPoR) into considerations about risk is not an either-or view but simply a call to include other valid disciplines in the worldview of safety.

There is little doubt that safety is fixated in a STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics) view of the world. This is evidenced by the fixation on: checklists, objects, hazards, regulation, mechanics, numerics, measurement and policing. Even the psychology of behaviourism (inputs and outputs) and human factors (humans as a factor in a system) fits within the STEM paradigm.

This month the NSW Minister of Education challenged what he called ‘STEM orthodoxy’ ( ) and, the Minister came under fire for expressing such a view. Even though he wasn’t calling a binary view but for a broader view of knowledge, what he termed a multi-disciplinary view, he got slammed for attacking STEM ( Out came the binary oppositionalists condemning him for arguing that there were other worldviews other than STEM. In my latest free ebook ( ) I call this the ‘STEM-only worldview’.

The argument to include other views in the safety worldview is not an argument to exclude ALL aspects of the orthodox view. I am sure that the safety 1&2 debate and safety differently debate also suffers from this binary challenge. Unfortunately, the STEM-only view fosters this binary exclusion and that the posing of alternative’s by either the 1&2 or differently is understood by orthodox safety through a binary lens.

In my steps to Risk Maturity model I don’t suggest that we skip-jump the red steps (see. Figure 1. Leadership and Risk Maturity). There is nothing wrong with some of the basics. Yes, some things should be measured. Yes, hazards are important but there is more to the maturing in risk and safety than measuring and quantifying hazards and injuries. If you do any of my training you will know that my model of risk maturity is an animated model (Figure 2. Risk Maturity Animated). The reality is that we traverse all the steps in tackling risk and safety where as the current view of safety just marks time on the top red step, it doesn’t even know there are more steps to climb. It’s only the binary STEM-only view that worries more about the absence of hand rail than the spirit of the model.

Figure 1. Leadership and Risk Maturity

Figure 2. Risk Maturity Animated

Even in my Schools of Risk and Safety Table, I don’t suggest that SPoR exclude the other schools of risk and safety but rather than SPoR be included and be acknowledged as a school within the nature of risk and safety (see Figure 3. Schools of Thought and Practice in Safety). Anyone reading my work should know that I support a dialectic methodology in tackling risk and safety. The trouble with the binary worldview and the zero worldview is that such views are extremist and exclusionist. The binary worldview is a fundamentalist view of entrapment, similarly with zero ideology. It is an either-or worldview, it can only have dialogue based on its own assumptions. It doesn’t give ground to embrace other views, all discussion must happen on its ground, within its fence. When it has a review of regulations, standards and curriculum, it seeks a STEM view for reform. Hence nothing is reformed.

Figure 3. Schools of Thought and Practice in Safety

When one looks at the SIA Bok it is 85% STEM. When one looks at safety conference proceedings even when they are about ‘safety leadership’, ‘well-being’ or ‘safety culture’, they are still primarily about STEM. When the outcome and tone of presentations is behaviourist, mechanistic and individualist, its STEM. The human is understood as a factor within a system. This is why I don’t do ‘human factors’.

Of course, there are plenty of people in the risk and safety world who know there is more to life than STEM-only knowledge. Some even suggest that STEM should be STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) but even this approach ( ) is too small. There is more to life than simply adding in consideration of the Arts. Yet it is in the bastions of the peak bodies and associations for safety where fortress thinking dominates. And it doesn’t matter what the new propaganda is, its still STEM-only.

The challenge for Safety it to ‘give ground’, ‘make a move’ and ‘step outside’ the STEM-only worldview. Such actions are unsafe. Such actions involve non-compliance to the authority and exclusivity of STEM. Such actions require stepping outside of binary thinking to dialectic thinking. This is the challenge, to step out of the cognitive dissonance cycle and embrace real change.

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions

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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