Bias – You Wonder Why Traditional Safety Can Never Work The Way We Expect It To
Just reading “Why We Make Mistakes” which is Chapter 12 of Rob Sams’ excellent new book Social Sensemaking. (yes, I am biased – read on and you could get a free copy!). In this Chapter, Rob refers to one of the ‘killer’ biases in Health and Safety – that of “Hindsight Bias” (I knew it all along). He quotes Hallinan who says:
“If the mistake is big enough, it will be analysed by investigators who are presumed to be impartial. But they are plagued by a bias of their own; they know what happened. And knowing what happened alters our perception of why it happened – often in dramatic ways”.
You may experience this (and a plethora of other biases) every day the workplace when you hear biased statements like “What an idiot”, “How could they be so stupid”, “Common-sense would tell you that” and “That was bound to happen eventually”. If you don’t believe that your thinking is biased then you may be experiencing “Blindside Bias” – hah!
In the next Chapter Rob’s book, “Just Get To The Bottom Of It” (based on an article he published here a while back https://safetyrisk.net/just-get-to-the-bottom-of-it/ ), Rob further highlights the “dramatic ways” that biases affect how we react to incidents by the way we go about systematically investigating them and finding what we think is the “truth” or “root cause”.
There are dozens of articles about bias on this blog. One of the most popular articles we ever published was 20 Cognitive Biases That Affect Risk Decision Making. You may also enjoy: 10 Fun Facts–Cognitive Bias or Safety Surveys, Bias and Predictability or Conversations on the Couch’–Biases or I’m biased, but that’s ok! or even Rob’s latest article: I Just Want Clear Answers
I have a few free copies of Robs book “Social Sensemaking” for the first lucky people who leave a comment below about the “dramatic ways” that they have seen biases impact on Safety And Risk – I wonder what biases I invoked by highlighting this sentence?
UPDATE: These have gone faster than a Tradie who spots the Safety Person arriving on site – all free books gone now but of course I would still love to hear your thoughts and experiences!!
There is a poster by Buster Benson doing the rounds of social media now (see below). This is from his article “Cognitive bias cheat sheet – Because thinking is hard.” which is well worth a read. One glance at this diagram and my confirmation bias tells me that mechanistic, traditional, compliance based health and safety can never work the way some expect it to.