There is something absolute about accidents. The loss, the destruction, and the irreversibility of it all – it’s clearly not what was intended. This unwanted character of accidents allows, affords, or even encourages a binary understanding of safety. Either things are safe, or they are not.
So when bad things happen, it makes sense to pull back, to constrain, to establish tighter control over what has failed. As if we only stay away from danger, if we use more caution, then we can rest assure that the accident will not happen again. Most efforts to establish safety remains driven by this simple principle: stay away from dangerous stuff!
As written by Charles Darwin at the end of 19th century “In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment”. But instead of applying more intelligence and more collaboration to adapt wisely when it comes to safety, the traditional response is to use brute force, or impose old solutions more frantically.
We need to open up the way we engage with safety. We need to allow for more variation, for innovation and for creativity. But not by discarding what we have learnt so far. We need something which can be described as ‘informed variability’, or ‘disciplined plurality’.