Why Be Rational When the Good Old LTI Superstition Will Do?

Why Be Rational When the Good Old LTI Superstition Will Do?

Funny businessman with eyebrows and moustacheBy Dr Robert Long from www.humandymensions.com.

One of the greatest irrational superstitions in the safety and risk industry is the mythical link between Lost Time Injuries (LTIs) and culture. The attribution of causal links between LTIs and culture is one of the strongest delusions in the risk and safety industry.

The recent success of the Australians in Cricket in the First Ashes Test was a surprise to many after months of speculation that the Aussies would again buckle under the superiority of the English team (ABC NEWS ITEM , POMS GLOAT AS AUSSIES BECOME LAUGHING STOCK).

Now after a thumping win by 381 runs, Australia look like the team to beat. Not long ago Mitchell Johnson was struggling to make the team and now he is the hero of the day (mitchell-johnson-destroys-england-2013)  Of course, we know what the secret is, the mo!

Whilst we woke up on 25 November 2013 to the news of the win and all the discussion of sledging, aggression and ‘banter’ spin, another campaign is gathering mo-mentum. It seems that the unexpected success (of the team and Mitchell Johnson – 9 wickets for the match) is due to the wearing of a moustache. Whilst it was initially for the cause of Movember, it seems some have now attributed Mitchell Johnson’s success to the Dennis Lillie like ‘mo’ (mitchell-johnson-and-dennis-lillee-battle-of-the-moustache).

What have cricket, Mitchel Johnson and moustaches have to do with safety and risk? Well, they are a great illustration of fundamental attribution error and the human tendency to import superstitious causal links with events. The process of attribution and fundamental attribution error has more to do with superstition and circumstance than it has to do rational causality (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_attribution_error).

One of the greatest irrational superstitions in the safety and risk industries is the mythical link between Lost Time Injuries (LTIs) and culture. The attribution of causal links between LTIs and culture is one of the strongest delusions in the risk and safety industry. It is fascinating to see how many organisations have become paranoid about the LTI as an indicator of safety and risk then get surprised when an even occurs. Perhaps you could ask someone in your organisation to explain the link between LTIs and safety and risk? Perhaps you could ask someone to explain how LTIs are a cultural indicator? Perhaps you could ask someone to explain how injury data indicates such things as attitude, belief and values?

The attribution of links between LTIs and culture and variations in injury data are best explained by the concept of Regression to the Mean (Kahneman – Thinking Fast and Slow – http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/regrmean.php), not by superstition.

So why do people find LTI counting so attractive when culture is about attitudes, values and beliefs? Well, we seem to love superstition, we attribute so many things to the moment of circumstance associated with events in our lives (http://intro2psych.wordpress.com/2008/11/15/the-power-of-superstition/). It seems that a good superstition is more attractive and measurable than complex reality. Culture is most often revealed in tacit knowledge and is very difficult to measure, this is why humans are so often surprised by so called ‘unusual’ events. The fascination with LTIs is more about the quest to measure than it is about knowing what the tacit knowledge (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tacit_knowledge) in an organisation is. The quest for a measurable superstition is why people seeks to bend the links between LTIs and culture, the quest to measure and attribute cause make about as much sense that we won the First Ashes Test because Mitchell Johnson wore a mo.

One of the best ways to understand cultural values and beliefs is to assess tacit knowledge. This is why I developed the MiProfile to help organisations understand culture. The MiProfile (http://vimeo.com/24764673) uses interactive rapid interface technology to help organisations measure tacit knowledge. Why diagnose tacit knowledge? It is often the ‘gut’ tacit knowledge where humans make decisions (particularly under stress), despite the fact that most organisations are now overloaded with systems to analyse risk. When it comes to the face of the job, and humans cannot remember all the content of systems, they tend to use tacit knowledge to make decisions.

So whilst BP Horizon One were celebrating 7 years without an LTI they experienced disaster (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon_oil_spill). They were deluded by non-cultural measures (LTIs) into thinking their organisation was safe. Unfortunately, running underground in the organisation were the real cultural measures of high levels of overconfidence, production focus, poor consultation, hierarchical hegemony and ‘double speak’. Even in post the Horizon One Disaster cultural dysfunction continued to play out and not be addressed (http://www.fbi.gov/neworleans/press-releases/2013/halliburton-pleads-guilty-to-destruction-of-evidence-in-connection-with-deepwater-horizon-disaster-and-is-sentenced-to-statutory-maximum-fine).

The appeal of measuring LTIs is a superstitious attribution not a measure of culture. Maybe, organisations would be safer if everyone in the organisation grew a mo.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

Latest posts by Dr Rob Long (see all)

Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below