Safety Saves Lives?

March 4, 2024



Do you think safety is about saving lives? In this podcast, Rob, Nippin and Pedro question the myth of ‘Safety saves lives’. What do we mean when we say we are in the business of ‘saving lives.’ Saving from whom, saved by whom and for whom? Where does this myth originate from? Whose purpose does it serve? What are the (unintended) implications of using this language when we are not made aware of the underlying beliefs and myths? And finally what could be the alternative ways to think about safety that can lead us to a pathway of humanising risk and relating with people?


We hope that this discussion will make you think and question your assumptions about safety and shift your focus towards meaningfully tackling risks in an uncertain world.


Further information



Nippin, Rob Long, Pedro Ferreira


Nippin  00:01

Welcome to another episode of embracing differences with me Nippin Anand, the podcast aimed at understanding and promoting transdisciplinary ways of living and thinking, meaning, assimilating different viewpoints, different subjects, different disciplines, but focused on a very simple question. How do we human beings learn? Unlearn, relearn, and make decisions? And how can we tackle risks in an uncertain world? Safety saves lives? Do you really think that safety saves lives? Many people think along those lines. I think it’s dangerously misleading, if not more. So in this podcast, Rob Petro and I raised the question about the matter of safety saves lives. We questioned the whole idea of what does it even mean when we say we are in the business of saving lives? Are we? From whom? By whom? And for whom? Where does this myth even originate from? whose purpose does it serve? What are the unintended implications of using this language? If you’re not made aware of the underlying beliefs and myths? And what could be some alternative ways to think about safety that can lead us to a pathway of humanising risks and relating better with people? We hope that this discussion will make you think and question your assumptions about safety, and shift your focus more towards tackling risk in an uncertain world. Because that’s what we should be doing at risk and safety managers.


Nippin  01:45

Great, Rob Pedro. Wonderful to have both of you here.



Good to be here.


Nippin  01:51

Yeah, I’ve been waiting to discuss this topic with the two of you were away a long time, I think I’ve got I’ve seen many people got very upset when you say to them that your job is not to save lives. They don’t like it. But let’s just talk about it. What is this idea of safety is all about saving lives.


Rob Long  02:15

Okay. One of the things that really is annoying about the risk and safety industry is it’s a pooling understanding of language. So, for example, I drove on a bridge today, and it didn’t fall down. So therefore engineers save lives. I spoke to a clergyman, a minister of religion, and he offered to save my life. If I would confess my sins to Jesus Christ, He would save my life. Or maybe social workers save lives, nurses save lives. And so, after a while, if you keep talking like this, says nothing that doesn’t save lives. If I followed the road rules, then the road rules saved my life. Why? How do they actually save lives?


Nippin  03:24

Yes, that’s a really good point. Yes. Let’s talk about where does this myth actually come from Rob? Where does this well get into


Rob Long  03:36

salvation? It’s a theory of salvation. And it’s all about the language of salvation. Now, what’s really interesting is the industry personifies itself. When it says save someone, which is fascinating. Safety saves lives. Okay. Do they mean that the industry and the activity of the industry stop people from getting killed? Is that what they mean? Or do they mean that safety is an act and that the act of doing safety saves lives? Because safety is only ever a temporary outcome? So it is never permanent.


Pedro Ferreira  04:27

The thing that puzzles me is that parents are upmost responsibilities to keep their children safe. And more recently, even was the society’s responsibility to make sure that keep that they save the children. It’s come to the absurd that playing grounds are safeguard against anything to to an absurd the teat. So there’s this obsession that is far larger than than safety, you seem that someone other than ourselves responsible for, for saving us from ourselves.


Rob Long  05:15

Well, yeah, but that raises two things, Pedro, first of all, what are we saved from? And what are we saved? For? Right? And thirdly, how many people in our society talk about the task of saving people? How many people, I don’t hear any engineers talking about that they save lives, right. And yet, how many people are saved every year because an engineer did his job properly, buildings don’t fall down. Bridges don’t break. aeroplanes still fly. But you don’t hear engineers use that language. You hear clergy use that language. You hear religious people talking about saving lives. But you don’t hear doctors and nurses talking about saving lives, even though they do. But they don’t use the language of salvation. They use the language of care and helping if I care for you, and we get you the right medication, your body will save itself. But it’s only in the Risk and Safety world that we hear this silly language about saving lives. And they use religious language all the time to describe what they do, and it creates the most extraordinary arrogance.


Nippin  06:45

Rob, you often talk about the idea of the archetype of safety with the capital S. It’s not something that is understood in the Risk and Safety world. I think people take it personally, as if it’s an attack on them. When all you’re saying is that it’s it’s the dominant pattern of human behaviour that you’re talking about? Yes, it’s listen to the languages. Yeah. If I said, What are the practical implications of this trajectory? Rob? Where? What do you think about that?


Rob Long  07:22

Well, I, I think you shouldn’t talk about it at all. Be like the social worker or the doctor or the nurse? I don’t think the industry thinks about its language at all. Pedro’s examples. Very good. What have you saved us for? What have you saved us to? And so, you know, we now know that the obsession with saving children from risk through helicopter parenting, is actually harming them. So if you save a person from risk, you’re also punishing them from learning. And, and so my question to say to you is, you better tell me what you actually mean, safety saves you from what? For? What? If you’re saving me from risk, then you’re actually punishing me by taking opportunities from learning from me. So you’re not saving me at all? You’re actually harming me. But, yes, and it’s quite dogmatic too, by the way. It’s a dogma, safety saves lives. It’s like, you know, if you go to any, I’m not familiar with Hindu. But if you go to any Christian church in the UK or Portugal, you’ll find a sign out the front Jesus saves.


Nippin  08:51

Yes. You know, it’s so interesting. Yeah, what we are discussing because I have had this discussion with so many people to say that your job is not to save people’s lives. And they don’t know.


Rob Long  09:07

My job is to help people tackle risk. That’s the language. My job is to help people tackle risk. I’m a helper. The nurses job is to help you look after your body and get well. The social worker facilitates, and brings strategies to help your family in crisis to heal itself. Right. The language is we are helpers. Well.


Nippin  09:44

Perhaps we should talk a little bit more about this idea of helping Rob because I think even that part of the the the language is not very well understood. When we say our job is to help people. How do you how do you explain that? What should we do in the name of helping people?


Rob Long  10:04

I had a friend of mine, who was a leading counsellor in, he was a mentor of mine for 50 years. He died at the age of 94, during COVID. So he died two years ago. And he wrote a book called Walking alongside. Walking alongside. And the subtitle of his book is, how to be a helper. And his metaphor for helping is to walk along side. Now that’s the same word for teacher. The Greek word for teaching is pedagogy. pedagogue, Garr. And so the pedagogue was not the teacher in ancient Greece, the pedagogue was the person who walked the child to school to the gymnasium. So the pedagogue walks beside, that’s what the teacher should do. And the same goes for the helper, the helper is the one who walks alongside as an equal, not superior, if I’m saving lives, and I’m already superior. Isn’t


Nippin  11:24

that remarkable? Because just reading through the Bhagwad Gita a couple of days ago, Rob, one of the things, the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, it’s basically the is a symbol of God talking to a common man. And the idea is, what is the meaning of so so at one point, he says, what you really need is a little bit of dissonance. Krishna is not ready to go in the battlefield. And I’m sorry, Arjuna is not ready to go in the battlefield. And Krishna is trying to help him. And at one stage, he says to the god, he says, while being real, being so heavy on me, he said, I’m not being heavy on you. I’m just putting you in dissonance. And this is very important, when you’re caught up in this worldview, in which you are, which is not serving you and not serving the society. And I see nicely what what you do with many people, you put them in dissonance. And then


Rob Long  12:30

they made to take. Yeah, well, and I think that


Nippin  12:37

yeah, sorry, I just wanted to say one last thing that you have. So So my point really is that the way to help people is to help themselves is to make them question there will be very few peaceful, so that most people are, are are married to the idea that we must not upset people, we must say things in a way that they don’t sound confronting. And you end up in a position where nothing moves, nothing changes at all. So if you really want to help people, I think this is a such a good approach is to is to question people where they are in the first instance.


Rob Long  13:19

You is wonderful. And it’s interesting, if I go back to the early Greek days, the pedagogue, the person who walked alongside, asked questions of the child, and put them in dissonance. By Annika Socrates did exactly the same. Is you you ask questions.


Nippin  13:46

Yeah. And it’s so interesting, because every audit, every investigation, every inspection template that you see, is about directing questions is about telling people what they should be doing. There is not a single symbol, there is not a single sign with ends with a question mark. Very few. I mean, I’m not saying it’s fascinating.


Rob Long  14:07

It’s, it’s a dogma. And it sounds just like, just like the Christian evangelical preacher, here it is. Here’s the condition, right. Here’s the condition. Do this. Do this. And thou shalt besides right? This is this is the dogma do this and dash episode. Okay, so my question is, safety is good. What’s the this? And then of course, when you get hurt, safety says to you, or Yeah, but you didn’t do it properly.


Nippin  14:47

And that’s where we got the end of this. This whole idea of moral superiority from from regular. Yeah.


Rob Long  14:52

And it’s, yeah, that’s right. And so the safety person can never be wrong because you never filled out the form properly.


Nippin  15:01

create better Do you want to ask a question?


Pedro Ferreira  15:11

Perhaps there’s more to say about how can we put people or push people towards dissonance in and set aside such a deeply rooted belief. It’s clearly not an easy path to go down to.


Rob Long  15:34

I think a big problem is the problem of compliance. You see, this is a compliance thing, right? So if I want to be saved in a religion, I have to comply to the requirements of the religion. If I want to be saved in safety, I have to comply to the requirements of that. So the last thing we want is dissonance or questioning. Because if you’re questioning, then you’re not compliant. So one of the big problems in the risk and safety industry is the very idea of compliance because anyone who challenges it is non compliant.


Nippin  16:14

Well, Rob, this is so it’s so coherent with what we’re where we started off from that, if you assume that your job is to save lives, and all you’re doing is counting acts of unsafety, then obviously, you are always going to be morally superior, and always going to be the one in the position of telling, it makes absolute no sense that anyone in the world can question your authority, because always right. Yeah. I think the powerful message here is that if all we’re doing is focusing on acts of unsafety, or conditions of unsafety, whichever way we like, we will always be in that position of superiority and power. And which gives us this idea, but I’m just talking to myself, basically, it’s so powerful. Yeah,


Rob Long  17:03

no, you’re right. You’re right. You’re thinking is, is right. That that because it’s right, because the evidence is there. The evidence is overwhelming, that the risk and safety industry is the dogmatic industry that tells people this, if you follow this procedure, you’ll be saved. Yeah,


Nippin  17:26

isn’t it? Rob, I mean, you can clearly see through religion in every aspect of safety, and yet people run away from it. It’s so fascinating. No one wants, if


Rob Long  17:36

you go to any anthropologist anywhere in the world, and say tell me about culture, they go to a civilization and the first thing that’s important in culture is religion.


Nippin  17:48

Wow. Wow, isn’t it? Absolutely. And one wonders, where does the belief come from?


Rob Long  17:57

Very good question.


Nippin  18:00

Yeah, yeah. Wait, what is the body sire drop off all beliefs?


Rob Long  18:04

I love from science. I love it.


Nippin  18:09

Yes, yes. Great. Rob, I think I think this is a great chat. Is there anything else you would like to say, Rob, because it took a lot of notes before coming here. Is there anything else you want to say?


Rob Long  18:20

Look, it I think people have gotta be, gotta make a big. Think hard about the difference in between believing that you help save lives, and speaking the language that you save lives? I think even if you believe it, don’t say it. Yes. But


Nippin  18:45

how? Now you are talking about the you know, your counter counteracting your own self, which is if language is metaphor is so important. How do you detach yourself from it? It’s a difficult thing, right? Because the moment your belief moves, your metaphors move.


Rob Long  19:03

You’re correct. Correct. So it means


Nippin  19:09

Can I say something? So I think yeah, yeah. What happens is that in most instances, as soon as I’m laughing, because this is very funny to me, is that the moment the belief changes, the first thing that changes moves is your language. And what you’re saying is don’t change your belief. Just move your language, but at some stage, we will get there because it’s inescapable.


Rob Long  19:31

Yeah, correct. Yeah.


Nippin  19:34

It is an escape. Oh, this is so interesting, because people, even in the Risk and Safety world today, rob people talk about language, but they don’t quite understand the connection between language and belief. It’s so fascinating. No,


Rob Long  19:46

no, I don’t know.


Nippin  19:48

Is there anything else Pedro or Rob, you want to say?


Pedro Ferreira  19:54

I mean, I’ve mentioned science a bit of a joke, but I think that’s very much it. Um, beliefs are excluded. Because I, and that’s a belief in itself, the belief is that a belief system is not needed and should not be included at all explicitly, because science is there to replace it.


Rob Long  20:22

Yes, except science. And the scientific method is the belief. Yeah. And there’s lots of academics at the moment, that completely tears to shred the scientific method.


Nippin  20:36

And we’re going to talk about this in Canberra, the the myth of the scientific scientific method, aka,


Rob Long  20:41

I read a book recently by a quantum physicist, right. And he says, everything that we believe in had been told about science does not make sense in quantum physics. And then he pulls out a Buddhist book. And he said, Now read the text of this Buddhist book, and read the text of my book. And they sound the same as it does. This is a quantum physicist. So for this idea of thinking that science is objective, and it doesn’t involve belief, is another myth, which I think lots of risk and safety people hide behind. I have


Nippin  21:26

a wonderful picture from Athens. So you have an angel welcoming a person coming into the organisation. And then you have a person who’s just confessing and the priest is reading out the scripture, and then they have another person vomiting out snakes and whatnot, because it’s the time to do and it’s all there. I’ll put it out there and it tells everything about how nonconformances are dealt with, through confession. And what happens if you if you don’t confess, you go to the hell down there. And if you did, your salvation is guaranteed. It’s all there. That picture is beautiful. It’s so so safety. Yeah. Great. Anything else from anyone? No. If you enjoyed listening to this podcast, many more podcasts are available on our website. novellas dot solutions, forward stroke knowledge space. The podcast embracing differences is available on Spotify, pod, bean, Apple, podcasts and ankle. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel, Team Novellus. That way, every time we publish a new podcast, you will get to know you want to find out more about our work, visit us at novellus.solutions, or simply write to us at support@novellus.solutions. Thank you for wanting to learn more than you knew yesterday. And until we meet again. Goodbye and have fun