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The Safety Persecutor

We always start with safety is “Controlling and Reducing Exposure” (CARE) to hazards, and everyone plays a role in this approach. Safety comes from our actions (Behaviours), either as employers or as employees. So understanding and applying Human Factors to safety efforts and enhancing organisational culture is an important strategic element.

Stephen B. Karpman, M.D. defined a behavioural model to map conflict or drama-intense relationship transactions. The Karpman Drama Triangle models the connection between personal responsibility and power in conflicts, and the hindering roles people play. In this post we look at the role of the Persecutor, a person who is in a blaming and enforcing state.

The Persecutor: (a.k.a. Villian) The Persecutor insists, “It’s all your fault.” The Persecutor is controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritative, rigid, and superior.

The persecutor can take different forms, a person, a situation, an event or a system. The persecutor makes a person feel like a victim, creates a sense of being oppressed, helpless, hopeless, powerless, ashamed, and unable to make decisions from the position of fear or uncertainty.

In the context of leaders in the business, persecutors are people in a position of authority who say things like;

“Just do what I tell you to do”

“I wish people would just comply”

 “If they don’t do what they are told we sack them”

“They are always a problem, they are very difficult to deal with”

“Some people are just stupid and have no common sense”

In the context of systems in the business, persecutors are processes which create the following;

“Double  / triple handing of the same information”

“Requiring people to perform the same process multiple times”

“Taking more time completing paperwork than it takes to do the task”

In the context of situations in the business, persecutors place people in difficult scenarios like the following;

“Go against cultural norms”

“Put peoples relationships in jeopardy”

“Do things against their values or beliefs”

“Go outside comfort zones without support and guidance”

These are signals the workplace leaders or environment is persecuting people and creating safety victims. Safety is becoming a burden, the environment makes people feel oppressed, powerless, victimised and unable to make decisions. An environment which shapes a culture of avoidance based on fear.

This is such a dangerous place to be, because exposure to hazards is not being considered proactively. The environment is focused more on controlling people and instilling fear than building trust for controlling and reducing exposure (CARE) to hazards.

Once persecutor leadership roles establish an avoidant culture it pushes things underground, safety data becomes miss leading because people fear the consequences of true information or real situations which don’t meet expectations. We think everything is going well and until something extremely serious occurs.

So often I hear;

“We had no incidents for six months and then 3 in one week, What changed?”

Potentially; nothing actually changed expect the outcomes, if we have a culture of fear because people feel victimised then we only know when something is wrong, when it goes really wrong.

When we have embedded the persecutor culture people no longer consciously think about the consequences of their actions when interacting with hazards.  This is because they are more worried about not getting caught and avoiding blame than actually reducing exposure.

So how is the persecutor culture created and avoided?

Persecutors are promoted through enforcing rules and not caring for peoples well-being. It drives an approach of command and control so people feel burdened or oppressed. This is when safety becomes an enforcement strategy rather than a CARE strategy. For example when procedures and rules are used to punish people (Persecute) then people feel victimized, oppressed, helpless, hopeless, powerless and unable to make decisions.

So to turn this around we must create and apply procedures (rules) to protect people, as guidelines to assist them in taking control of their own safety and become safety champions. As leaders making people feel empowered and CARED about means safety becomes about being protected from hazards. We must focus on caring about people not enforcing rules.

So make sure your systems and your leadership foster Campions and not create Victims.

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