Resilyence - Risk Discernment

We are in Control and Other Such Delusions!


It was sad to hear about the death of the genius man, Robin Williams. It was even sadder to hear the reason why. This is a man many of us have followed, watched, laughed with, cried with and grown up with. For some it hit hard.

It was very unexpected!

How do we manage the unexpected?

For me Robin Williams’ life is an analogy for the fragility of life. It leaves us wondering why with no answers. Yet we still go on believing that we are in control. We are deluded in thinking that the tomorrow plan will prevail and save us from the fragility of life?

The risk and safety industry is no different. This industry is distracted by ‘shiny things’ & ‘silver bullets’ and deluded into thinking that these distractions will fix everything. We only need to go as far as doing a Google© search like ‘safety board images’ ( and you end up with slogans like, ‘Safety First’, ‘Safety is your responsibility’, ‘Work Safe Be Safe’, ‘We have worked (insert number) days without an incident’

And my absolute favourite one that a good friend and colleague of mine found is “… is spending in excess of 2000 hours working on safety initiatives this month. Nothing we do is worth getting hurt for”. With the retort from another good friend and colleague…”bet they’ll be glad when the 2,000 hours are up and they can get back to work…”!!

Slogans are great but what is the trajectory? Where are they leading us? More importantly what are they distracting us from?

I was engaged by a new client towards the end of last year to look at their safety system. The conversation was around culture and their people and how that was important to them. I was supposed to start with a Due Diligence training session to the Officers of the business. I explained the need to educate their executive on ‘knowing’ safety and what that really meant. It ties in extremely well with organisational culture. To know is to understand if we look at Epistemology, which is the study of knowledge. To understand safety is to ‘know’ your people. They became distracted by the need to ‘know’ the law. They engaged a law firm to teach them about due diligence. I guess culture wasn’t that important to them after all!

Another distraction; fear and compliance!

We are deluded into thinking that if we are 100% compliant then we will have control and therefore we are safe.

Weick sums it all up so eloquently in his book Managing the Unexpected, “Nowhere in this book will you find any mention of perfection, zero errors, flawless performance, or infallible humans. That’s because “human fallibility is like gravity, weather, and terrain, just another foreseeable hazard”’ (Weick (2007) p.68)

Weick is one of many who discuss the illusion of control. If we believe we are in control we believe there will be no errors. Yet how can we be a resilient organisation if we cannot manage the unexpected. Because as the saying goes, ‘shit happens’! And it does. However, how well do organisations adapt and move on? An organisation distracted into believing they have control and perfectionism will not be resilient. Resilience is not just about bouncing back it’s about engaging in an adaptive mindset.

Resilience is about learning, adapting, knowing, relating, conversing, engaging, being mindful and more importantly understanding people matter.

Resilience is understanding that no system is perfect, that learning from errors is important, that understanding errors will occur. It’s not the focus of ‘no error’ or ‘error free’ it’s a focus of understanding there will be error. It’s how you are able to move forward and learn despite the error(s), allowing the system to keep functioning. That is because the system is not the focus it’s the people that are the focus. If we focus on people we understand that people will manage the unexpected far better than a system will. A system is rigid and static and cannot adapt and if we solely rely on that system we will fall apart. If we understand that people are the key to adapting the system to move on then the organisation has the capacity to be more resilient.

Weick alludes to the key being about knowledge, “…these pathways to resilience demand deep knowledge of the technology, the system, one’s coworkers, and most of all, oneself.” (Weick (2007) p.14)

So how does an organisation manage the unexpected? It must have resilience! How does an organisation become resilient? It must know its people! Here’s a summary to support the understanding.

Traditional Safety Organisational Resilience
Safety Systems as compliance

People must adapt to the system

Understanding the rigidity of a system, system cannot adapt and heavy reliance of the system will fall apart

People are the key to adapt the system to maintain resilience

Adaptation is critical

Safety plans to ensure compliance and belief that if we plan we will manage risk and reduce Planning to un-plan. Know that we must have knowledge & understanding but those plans must always be re-evaluated continually not only a set time frame (i.e. 12 monthly)
Safety Slogans because we care Understanding the discourse and trajectory of words and language used in safety
Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) are the only way to have safe people, tasks and workplaces Knowledge and training. An understanding of how people make decisions and judgements when on task. They will not rely on a SWMS alone but an understanding of how a person perceives risk. No assumptions that they understand.
LTIs, MTIs & other lag indicators with a ‘belief’ that the lower the stats the better you are at safety Discussing errors and occurrences to better understand the organisation and people. To learn and grow from such mistakes. No fixation on ‘error free’
Toolbox talks on topics normally reactive based on injuries Conversations, asking questions, talking and walking, knowledge on all layers of hazards not just physical ones – at all times.
Reports, measurements, audits to ensure compliance & other such measures for reporting and evidence of due diligence & compliance Conversations, communications, engagement, relationships, meeting, imagining possibilities and entertaining doubt and knowing our people

A resilient organisation is a learning organisation. An organisation who is mindful of; uncertainty, human infallibility, human adaptability, errors, their people and relationships. The question to ask yourself is not how safe is our organisation but how resilient is our organisation?

Gabriell Carlton

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