The Safety Data Delusion
I read with amusement the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) piece on 20 February that endorses the nonsense of safety metrics. Framed as ‘news’, this non-news is anti-safety and anti-cultural intelligence. There is no data that can measure safety just as there is no data that can measure culture. The delusion of counting in the safety industry is nothing more or less than Fundamental Attribution Error. Even worse the publication of statistical league tables perpetuates the nonsense that injury rates translate to meaning in safety.
One needs to go no further than the findings of the Pike River Royal Commission to know that reporting injury data has next to no meaning (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/measuring-reporting-work-health-safety-greg-smith ). See here:
The Commission was very clear about the meaninglessness of reporting injury data. Greg Smith has written extensively on the nature of this delusion: https://mysafetythoughts.com/2017/03/15/measuring-and-reporting-on-work-health-safety/
What is more important is that the delusion of numerics tells a CEO and business next to nothing about how risk is being managed in the business. Rather, the attribution of value to metrics creates the delusion that zero is an indication of something. The BP Horizon One disaster should serve as a lesson about the nonsense of injury data. BP were celebrating the attribution of safety to injury data and giving out awards for 7 years LTI free on the day they killed 11 people and destroyed the Gulf of Mexico with 200 million tonnes of oil! A hard way to learn that both zero and metrics are meaningless! A hard way to learn that Heinrich’s pyramid is a concocted cook-up and that Swiss cheese is a reductionist irrelevance! A hard way to learn that a risk matrix has as much meaning as a 5 year old colouring in book! Further see here: https://vimeo.com/163499152
How strange that a peak body in safety that purportedly values a body of knowledge should then seek to ignore all the research on injury data and publish a leaderboard on injury data?
We all know that higher order goals are not measurable. We know that the most important cultural values that make for success in a business managing risk are not quantifiably measurable. Whilst BP were fixated on counting the pathetic record of injury numbers and banning sharp objects on the deck, they were deluded by the injury data to ignore a fundamental toxic culture that was cultivated by the nonsense of zero harm (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon_explosion). Zero harm looks really dumb when you kill heaps of people and destroy the environment! Talking nonsense to fallible people is never going to end out well.
The cultural values that should have been the focus of BP attention should have been: trust, openness, listening, effective reporting, respect, learning, honesty, dialogue and care. But No! All of those critical cultural values go out the window when your frame of reference is the low order goal of a number. Zero language suppresses cultural goals in a business. Zero language drives a culture of arrogance and non-reporting. Zero language tries to give some dumb meaning to a leaderboard of judgment as if a score has meaning.
I sure feel sorry for the companies that are implicated in this ‘so called’ SIA news as having some deficit according to numbers. Of course the opposite can be easily argued that high numbers are evidence of a reporting and learning culture!
So, what does the SIA hope to achieve by such a report? How is a body of knowledge fostered in safety by this uninformed and misleading attribution of value to metrics by a peak body? How does one serve the safety community in purporting to desire a body of knowledge using the language of ‘professional’ and then project attribution to metrics? How is an ‘ethic of safety’ advanced by league tables of numbers that have no meaning or relevance to culture in safety? Oh that’s right we are agnostic about having a zero vision.