Illusions of safety success

Workplace deaths on the decline!  The Age, 8 January 2013.

If the rate of workplace deaths declines, anyone who has anything to do with workplace safety can pat themselves on the back and say that their efforts must be working – be it “enforcement”, “leadership”, “awareness”, “management”, “risk assessment”, “yellow jackets”.  Anything really.

If you did it at the same time as the rate improved you can say your program worked.  That might be right.  It might not be right.

I would not mind betting that statistics would show that cars with leather seats are safer in a crash than cars with cloth seats.  Let’s say this is true.  Is this because of the leather seats?  Probably not.

Simply because something happens at the same time as something else it does not mean one thing caused the other. Correlation does not equal causation.  It would seem very likely that changing patterns of employment in various industries would have an impact on the incidence of workplace deaths.  As one job goes from a relatively dangerous occupation and one more is added to a safer occupation the overall statistics improve without anyone doing anything.  The impact of safety programs may therefore be illusory or at least overstated.


About John Culvenor

Hi, Thank you for taking a look at this blog. I work in engineering, ergonomics, creativity, design, training, etc. Often this is about helping solve legal puzzles through accident analysis. Sometimes it is about thinking up better designs for equipment, workplaces, and systems. This blog is about good design and bad design, accident analysis and how it can be done better, and how we can make a better, safer world by design!
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2 Responses to Illusions of safety success

  1. mikebehm says:

    The link to the story shows a 12-year fatality chart at the bottom. It seems in 2005, VIC also experience 18 fatalities but then 2006 went up to 29. I wonder to what the increase in 2006 was attributed? Could it be the same things that are attributed to the decrease? What if 2013 goes back up? In the article, success is attributed to awareness campaigns and failure with ’rushing’, whatever that means. One point is that higher order controls (those found through safe design thinking) are permanent risk reduction controls whereas lower order controls rely on 100% awareness 100% of the time by 100% of the people. Maybe I could also draw the conclusion that female workers in Melbourne are more careful than male workers : )

  2. Hi Mike, Thank you. John.

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