Safety – Invest in programs based on causation

I was reading about Ray Dalio, arguably one of the most successful and influential financial people in the world (Bloomberg top 50 most influential people and Time top 100). One could fill this blog just with his achievements alone but what started my neurons firing was one of the key reasons he gave why his fund has been so successful ($160 Billion in assets under management and the biggest in the world). He spends his time looking for causation not correlation. In fact, when the rest of the investment community observes the correlations of markets going up and down, he has worked out what causes markets to go and down and based his investment strategy for Bridgewater Hedge Fund on these causes. Knowing the causes equips Ray to structure his strategy regardless of future events. Causation is king in predicting future outcomes.

Now lets look at safety. The Universal Law of Personal Injury tells us for a person to get hurt, 3 things must be true.

1. A person is present,

2. Hazardous energy is present, and

3. The person and the hazard must come together

Remove one of these and the injury won’t occur. A direct relationship that if you affect one element the outcome will change, consistently and repeatedly. This is causation.

If in life,  you find causation (as Ray Dalio has found), use it as much as you can. It is rare to find these direct relationships as most of what we think are direct relationships are actually correlations (and loose ones at that!) and our brain uses these correlations to create what we call, confirmation biases. Once the bias is in our mind, it is the truth and we will make all data fit this truth.

In safety, this is a problem. Too many well intended programs and initiatives, by well meaning and passionate safety people, are full of correlations and biases. Some argue, this blog suffers this effect. Which is precisely the reason I use the Universal law as my framework for all things safety. Start from here and you remove all the biases and unfounded perceptions. It is like starting with E=mc2 when studying light and energy.

Why is this important? Too many programs are based on the bias that the “hazard” is the issue and all hazards must be removed. Safety people are drilled with these correlations, ignoring the fundamentals. Hazards are only half the equation but they seem to get all the attention.

So, if you are not spending at least 50% of your safety effort on the person side (either spend, resources or both), your investment is skewed and probably towards the hazards. Take a look at your safety program and ask yourself “What are the key focus areas?” I’ll bet you have lots of people and money being spent of identifying, removing, reducing or managing hazards. Any investigation talks about removing the hazards and not much about the person.

Then ask yourself “Do my programs identify the person moving into the hazard or vice versa as a root cause?”. If not then it might be time to refocus where you are making your investments.

Again, the Universal Law gives us the causation that is so rare to find. It will reliably predict what happened in any incident if we start our investigations there. It can also form the basis for our safety strategy.

Like Ray Dalio, invest based on causation not correlations. Anything else is probably wasting money.

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