Blog: Looking through the Positive Safety Lens

Feeling safe is a birthright. Safety has a massive impact on our wellbeing and it affects how we live our lives. The Western world has never been this safe before, yet the levels of stress and worry have actually reached a new high. They are triggered by worrying developments such as climate change and refugees, but also by social reactions like polarization and radicalization, which undoubtedly shake up what it means for us to feel safe. This is a grand societal challenge. Therefore, alternative and innovative ways to tackle the insecurities and fears are needed. Governments are spending billions of euros on reducing crimes, in addition, the focus should lay on promoting aspects that make people feel safe.

Is safety actually about lack of safety?

Research and discussions about safety are largely characterised by a negative view – namely the absence of safety – and almost exclusively focus on threats and risks. Safety is often defined as the absence of accidents and incidents, and hence provides definitions of lack of safety. All this refers to safety as a “double negative” – the absence of feeling unsafe but does not include the positive sensations of safety itself.

A focus on threats and risks reduces the list of safety providers to only those who are experts in threat mitigation (e.g. police, fire brigade) and might underestimate the relevance of contextual and social influence factors on safety perceptions.

The approach to safety has also been to find a cause that explains the incident, and to provide suggestions to fix the procedures or outcomes. Therefore the focus of studying safety has mainly been on looking into situations when something has gone wrong and what has caused it in order to eliminate it and to prevent future accidents. Not only should the underlying assumption of causality be questioned, but if risks and absence of accidents are studied, then risks and absence of accidents are studied, not safety. Also, isn’t it more scientific to study something that is, than that what is not?

Read more about the approach of the Positive Safety Lens at the Blog published by the Centre of Excellence in Public Safety Management at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

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