Causation – Think About It!

There are some who feel compelled to blame one factor over another in thinking about incident causation…here are some thoughts about the silliness of Root Cause or placing a percentage on unsafe act  and unsafe conditions as the “primary” cause of an incident…

To suggest that both humans and conditions are not forever linked in causing and influencing work outcomes (both positive and negative) is ignoring a body of human knowledge that is absolutely overwhelming. This obviously includes those “special” classes of humans called WORKERS and MANAGERS. Here’s just a small sample of some of the processes we have developed and used to improve safety, reliability and quality. In fact…just to do work of any kind.


No matter how cleverly we redefine words for our own purposes or endlessly quote important authors who agree or disagree with us the fact is that work is created by applying resources to a goal. Those resources (time and money) are applied by humans (sometimes within an organization which includes workers and management) who are using tools, equipment and materials in a work environment. Failure is not only an option it’s guaranteed. Some of the time we will fail in our inventive ways in which we explore reaching our goals. When those failures occur it is absolutely silly to look for THE cause and think that we’ve accomplished something useful. This is academic exercise in ego for the pseudo-intellectuals among us. Finding the influences and causes for the conditions and behaviours which create success and failure is what thinking humans do to solve problems and improve outcomes. To suggest otherwise is simply ill-informed.

If you don’t believe this simple reality try to reach your goal of driving to work tomorrow morning without a human, a vehicle, a road and at very least some kind of fuel. If you don’t realize that a huge number of factors could go terribly wrong on your journey you really aren’t thinking very deeply about the process. If those factors are necessary for your success they are also necessary for your failure. The logic is overwhelming…isn’t it? If you think not… I suggest that you get off Linkedin, you buy a dictionary and you attend elementary logic course at your local university.

Environment Influence Behaviour

I’ve been in involved in a lengthy discussion of the use of the word CAUSE. In safety management and incident causation theory the word “cause” has been used (some would say misused) to mean a factor involved in leading to an incident. Right wrong or indifferent, the word cause will continue to be used and misused by many. Recently the discussion turned to the question “Do the conditions “cause” the behaviour?” We’ll I’m personally trying to avoid the use of the word “cause” so let’s look at this example of “influences” on behaviour. Try this yourself…

Today have two meals in resturaunts. Have lunch in a fast food burger place…then dinner in a fine dining establishment. Self observe if the environment changes your eating behaviours. You know it does! Did the environment “cause” your behaviour? I think we could easily argue NO but it CERTAINLY influenced it!

Had to Share! Great Article!

“Recently the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has commented (again) that refiners rely too much on data from personal workplace injuries and not enough on other information that might warn of dangers before catastrophic events occur. Proper and logical application of the (enhanced) iceberg principle with the Common Cause Hypothesis as the guideline as illustrated above is a good tool for addressing this issue and improving safety and quality in your company.” – Carsten Busch