The Safety Anarchist: relying on human expertise and innovation, reducing bureaucracy and compliance
13th December 2017
His latest book offers inspiration from the brighter side of anarchism, encouraging the reader to reconsider human autonomy and self-determination, appreciate the pride of workmanship and visualise a world of work free from the coercion to comply with corporate policy and ridiculous rules in which the workers themselves had no say.
Dekker starts with a compelling overview of an organisation rooted in a compliance culture, exploring how its insistence on rules and regulations has crippled efficiency, paralysed thought and numbed the workers. He goes on to consider why we have become bound up in red tape, analysing the origins of rule-making and criticising the absence of workers in discussions about workplace safety.
The central tenet is that, on workplace safety and health matters, organisations have been making work more difficult for employees and harder for them to carry out their duties. He points fingers directly at the policymakers and practitioners in equal measure with an assertion that the "health and safety business" has sprung up and created the tension that we now feel.
Dekker despises the bureaucratisation of safety: he slams the way we measure progress, ridicules the traditional approaches to behavioural safety, and asserts that safety and health practitioners and their organisations treat employees like infants.
There is no shortage of historical references to underline his points, he draws on global politics, the Vietnam war, government taxation schemes, ancient philosophy and even comparisons between the priesthood and the safety profession. This all makes for a varied and interesting read -- though with a strong bias against the way safety and health is managed around the world. At times the depth of reference and explanation feels a little unnecessary and challenging, though the provocation from the text is useful and supported by academic research.
Dekker strives to direct the reader to his long-held view that workplace safety needs to be more human-centric. In this sense, it is much aligned with my own perspective -- that it's time for an evolution towards a focus on positivity and on creating safety by identifying what constitutes a great culture and working on achieving this goal.
There is deep and meaningful content in here -- though the articulations on issues such as authoritarian high modernism, synoptic legibility and the superiority of rationality certainly had this reviewer reaching for a reference book. As respite, the book closes with suggestions on a new way forward -- each well-positioned, timely and relevant.