No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Shared Understanding of 'Safety'

Mimetic Actions and Vulnerabilities
In safety management we often perform so-called 'mimetic actions', for example by following protocols or imitating successful ‘safety’ strategies. But relying too heavily on mimetic actions, without trust or verification, creates vulnerability to conflicting instructions or directives from authority figures, leading to confusion and potential risks.

The Significance of Shared Memory
'Shared memory' in safety management pertains to a collective understanding of work processes, risks, protocols, and past incidents. When this shared memory exists, it reduces the risk of accidents or hazards. It supports a sense of trust and security within the team. But if this shared understanding breaks down or diverges, confidence in the safety of work diminishes.

The Triad of Opinions, Beliefs, and Knowledge
The safety of work is a convergence of opinions, beliefs, and knowledge, each contributing uniquely to our actions. Opinions, driven by emotions and experiences, shape our thoughts and decisions. They are changeable and susceptible to doubt. Beliefs, rooted in security and trust, demand loyalty and commitment. Knowledge, also a form of faith, embodies certainty and understanding grounded in sensory perception and linguistic agreement.

Complexities in Forming Shared Opinions
The formation of shared opinions is complex, influenced by individual backgrounds, capabilities, and social contexts. Discrepancies often exist between experts and non-experts, especially on complex matters. Authority figures and proximity significantly impact shared opinions, shaped by social divisions and circumstances. Leadership plays a crucial role, even if public opinions diverge from personal beliefs. Leaders can influence shared beliefs, deviating from scientific research to establish 'truths' that become widely accepted due to social pressure and rituals.

Balancing Hazardous Systems and Safety
If 'safety' becomes unupdated belief, it obscures the reality that hazardous systems demand operators to engage with risks. While systems strive for efficiency, maintaining margins to absorb unforeseen shocks is crucial. Pushing these boundaries can strain the system, potentially leading to short-term losses. A safe operating boundary necessitates a profound understanding of failures and accidents.

Who ever said that maintaining a shared understanding of 'safety' across time and diverse work environments was easy?

Seligman, A.B., Weller, R.P. (2018), How Things Count As The Same: Memory, Mimesis, And Metaphor, Oxford University Press.
Tönnies, Ferdinand (1922), Kritik der Öffentlichen Meinung, Berlin: Julius Springer.
Illustration: Wayne - Finger Lakes