Re: [SystemSafety] Short and profound

From: Drew Rae < >
Date: Wed, 27 May 2015 10:11:20 +1000

I don't think you're alone, I think it is a common sentiment. I'm going to disagree slightly.

Some things only exist with hindsight.

Saying that things "become clear" might imply that they could have been seen if we looked harder. In safety work (and those of us in research, myself included, are the worst offenders) there is a tendency to admit that hindsight bias exists, but to think that we can overcome it by trying really hard.

I'm heading towards the conclusion myself that safety as measured in-the-moment or in advance is a totally different construct to safety measured in its absence by accidents and injuries. It's not that safety is blurry in advance but crystal clear after an outcome is reached; it's that they are two different phenomena being observed and talked about.

To use the most glaring example: accident investigation. We take as an article of faith that investigation is worthwhile, and that it reveals truths about physical systems and systems of work. Why should it be the case that a workplace which:

would provide a good environment for collecting knowledge?

As a researcher, the only benefit of this environment is that the legal environment reveals documents that I wouldn't otherwise get to see. I can only make sense of these documents with a context that I get from past experience as a practitioner (i.e. information that is personal, subjective, and not coming from the accident).

There is definitely a clear story that emerges from an accident. The idea that it is more clear than the stories available before the accident is seductive, but dangerously untrue. They are different stories, created by different social forces. You can ask which story is more useful - that's an open question subject to current debate - but it's a category error to ask which story is more clear or objective.


On 27/05/2015, at 9:34 AM, Les Chambers wrote:

> Hi
> I came upon this sentence recently. I thought it was profound.
> " Some things only become clear, later on."
> Source: Ben Okri, Booker Prize winner for The Famished Road
> I see many applications for this sentiment in safety work.
> Am I alone?
> Cheers
> Les
> _______________________________________________
> The System Safety Mailing List
> systemsafety_at_xxxxxx

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systemsafety_at_xxxxxx Received on Wed May 27 2015 - 02:11:39 CEST

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