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Following the Halloween accident, a vigorous debate has broken out over responsibility for the tragedy and to what degree individuals are involved.

Some have argued that focus and blame should be with authorities. That they were the ones responsible and that there is virtually no responsibility for this with either businesses or individual attendees (short of either engaging in criminal behavior). They argue that diverting attention from authority and leadership fails to hold the authorities accountable and dilutes the search for answers. Some might also argue it verges on victim-blaming and that this won't help contribute to safety improvements if there is not sufficient pressure on those who have the power to act. It is important that leadership is active and held to account. Others may be irresponsible, but leadership must always be responsible. A culture of safety would trickle down from the top and even if those below didn't have ANY attention to safety, the leadership is there to ensure safety.

Others have argued that while there should be accountability and ultimate responsibility and culpability with the authorities, there also should be some degree of responsibility with everyone involved. That while this may not mean they are to blame, they did either contribute or perhaps even verged on complicity. Either way they did not strenuously object before the fact to the point of non-participation or active protest. They believe that the contributing factors by those involved should also be addressed in order to improve safety. And that the responsibility for a safe event is not overwhelmingly on authorities but also in operators, merchants and attendees. A much "flatter" and communal view of responsibility is held. They argue that in order to create a true safety culture, you need attention to safety and a sense of responsibility at all levels and that focusing responsibility only on authorities will cause other levels to not share view safety as their responsibility.

The question then becomes, which do you believe contributes most to a culture of safety, if not in this case specifically, then in general. For example, at a sporting event. Is the responsibility for safety primarily on the authorities, mostly municipalities, the police and perhaps the league. Or do the teams, the stadium operators, the vendors and the spectators also bear responsibility? To be sure this sense of responsibility could wildly vary depending on circumstance. One who strongly believes in hierarchical safety culture at one event might feel completely the opposite at a different event or in a different situation and vice-versa. I suspect most of us, rather than believing in all of one or all of the other, will lean to some degree and believe that both are necessary.

As I am involved in this debate directly and on one side, I did my best to try and fairly represent the other side and not over-representing my own and to do the best justice I could to their argument. However, I probably failed to do their view justice and so I would hope that they present their views and speak for themselves to ensure that their view is properly represented.

Comments from others would be welcome! The only thing I ask is that this focus as much on theory and past accident as on this specific case. Hopefully if we detach ourselves and look at cases where we aren't as emotionally invested and personally connected, we can examine the issue with as much rationality and consideration as possible.


I grew up in the Bay Area in the 90s, immersed in DIY subcultures of punk shows, warehouse raves, skateboarding, anarchist book fairs, Critical Mass bike rides and community gardens. There was a strong anti-authoritarian ethos in all of these, which translated to mutual support structures when it came to issues like safety. That's not to say that top-down initiatives are always authoritarian in nature, or doomed to fail, but I still think that it's more effective to operate under the principle that the authorities may not be there when you need them, so it's vital to ensure that you've got people on hand who can act as surrogates.
Who let the dogs out?

- Mitt Romney


I will say, however, autonomous organizing doesn't always scale up effectively. If you've got a small, member-run music venue with a capacity of 150 people, it's good to have people working the door who recognize 80% of the faces that pass through on a given night. That helps build a sense of trust, community and mutual respect. Better yet, it makes a lot of sense to rotate door security responsibilities among a pool of members, so that an understanding of that side of the operation is spread among a large group. Any time the doors are open, there are likely to be several people present who share that responsibility but are effectively off-duty, meaning they can step in if needed. However, if you're running a 2,000 capacity, commercially-driven nightclub, I understand why this model doesn't work, and it you might want to hire some guys without a lot of education but a deep passion for kicking ass instead.
Who let the dogs out?

- Mitt Romney


Basically, every place I've worked at or interacted with that took safety seriously, be it the pizza joint I worked at up to my parents and the flying events they'd attend and their fellow pilots, really emphasized individual safety and speaking up and saying something, acting on it, and not just leaving it up to everyone else. Now, there was authority and the pilot was the pilot and he had the final say and you didn't putz and argue with him, but it also meant that if you saw another plane in the distance, you told them. Also, in risky and hazardous situations with friends there have been multiple times where someone said something, spoke up and warned about things or took it upon themselves to go beyond in the name of safety, whether it was something simple and of mild injury consequence or something with serious danger. Also, one of the best ways to deal with danger is to be preventative and that also requires lower, individual initiative.

I really do think if you look at strong safety cultures, they really do emphasize safety at all levels and do hold people accountable to some degree at all levels. Now, that doesn't mean blaming a bunch of workers for a faulty and dangerous product that the board approved, didn't oversee and pushed through, but it does mean that if they see something or think something is dangerous, that worker speaks up and tries to address it or does something to prevent it, whether management approves or not. Of course this has drawbacks and sometimes workers can get overcautious or paranoid and management has to make some tough calls and you can't have perfect safety. There are always tradeoffs. But you also can't contribute. Sometimes, at the very least, you have to not join in making things worst.