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.


4 comments on “Causation – Think About It!

  1. Andrew McQueen-Thomson says:

    I am unable to get links rpovided to work. Can you lease assist?

  2. Mike Flannery says:

    I don’t know about being a pseudo-intellectual and I do of course realise that we live in a world populated and operated by humans, but I don’t believe that trying to find better ways to assist in the prevention of accidents is an academic exercise. If it is, it’s one that I get to do all the time and present my findings to clients, insurers and others who have commissioned investigations.

    Of course there are an infinite number of factors which could result in the same accident. As you point out it is patently logical for this to be the case. What is never clear until the investigation is done, is what particular factor caused this particular accident.

    Whether you like it or not, we live as you point out, in the real world. Whether we like it or not there are legal parameters within which we have to work and again whether we like it or not, these ask for specific questions to be answered. My job as an investigator is to determine the specifics of the accident and to report upon it. To do otherwise would be to miss the point of the investigation.

    I find that like all real worlds, the business I’m in requires a balance of the ideal and the pragmatic. I believe that I get the balance right. However, it won’t be until after I’ve finished my work and am sitting in the garden ruminating on my life will I be able to determine whether or not I got the balance right.

    Until then, I’ll keep on balancing as best I can and generally pushing the world in a safer direction.

  3. Thanks for contributing to the discussion…Agreement is optional and actually not required for learning. Discourse and debate are very good things and add to our learning.

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