[xmca] A Culture of Safety at Work

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike who-is-at gmail.com>
Date: Wed Jan 16 2008 - 15:47:41 PST

Its always difficult to interpret non-responses on XMCA, but the note that
Helena sent in the middle
of the culture discussion growing out of discussion of Andy's paper appears
not to have been given
much attention. Its a practical issue for Helena and for the workers and
company involved.

I sent the note re "web culture" in hopes of moving discussion in the
direction of consideration
of Helena's message, but also to doubtful effect.

So, let me take a stab at being useful and thereby providing people another
invitation to lend a hand.

In my intermittent thinking about the question, my thoughts have returned
often to the idea of "cultural
styles" because, as in that literature, there appears to be a claim that
there is some shared pattern of
meaning and associated practices that apply, more or less, to condition all
of the interactions among
people in a common social group living in more or less common circumstances.
"Culture of the classroom"
and DIFFERENT "cultures of the classroom" may be at this level of
generality. Perhaps "culture of machismo"
in some societies or parts of societies?

I also thought about the pilot's in Ed Hutchin's aircraft who have safety
check lists and routines for going
through them, and routines for ensuring that the routines are gone through,
and rules about how to go
through those routines, and sanctions for not going through those routines.

A preliminary guess about how to talk about such group-specific, but
presumably within-group pervasive
phenomena in the case of a factory or workplace. In such cases culture
refers to a combination of values
and their associated practices which members recognize, recognize that
others recognize them, and can be
referred to with the expectation that they will be understood by others, so
they are tools for constructing joint activity,
a "shared reality." Gary Alan Fine in more elaborated treatments called
this sort of cutlural system an idioculture.

(Fine's definition can be interpreted a la Geertz, as an interpretive,
idealistic approach to culture. This is not my
reading; I prefer, a s n the parts of Geertz I use, to use it as a way to
keep both material and ideal aspects of
culture in mind).

Perhaps this way of looking at things could prove useful, Helene. I got to
thinking that if ALL that constituted the

"Culture of the workplace" you were studying was safety, people would enter
the building, sit down in a chair, and

not move a muscle all day to be sure they were safe. Absurd, of course.
They are engaged in productive activity
and earning their livings, so they must, like Hutchin's pilots, do things
that are not guaranteed safe. So as part
of many of the practices constituitive of the particular activity system,
safety is a value that gets included, with
others, in what people do.

If this is approximately correct, the place to start may be with the
explicit practices where safety is named and
included. And then work to ferret out implicit practices where it is
present, although perhaps not explicitly
named. And , passim Yrjo, look for the contradictions that arise when
this value and its associated practices
and shadings of practices conflict with other, co-existing cultural
features of the setting.

A glance at google suggests that there is a n existing literature applied
to workplaces where some such approach
as I am gesturing toward may live.

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Received on Wed Jan 16 15:49 PST 2008

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