Safety today has arrived at a place where we can’t handle to truth, we are not interested in the science, nor are we informed by evidence. We have become religious zealots. Anyone that challenges the dogma, is subjected to hysteria and condemnation. We collect data that has been corrupted through performance incentives and for the most part we base of our actions and conclusions on emotion that is suffocated and cloaked in zero harm rhetoric.
When we look to safety public policy, it has been subjected to these same dogmas. Public policy and its incumbent investment is driven by emotion and herd mentality, rather than critical analysis. We need to challenge the dogma and the emotional claims, and return to critical thinking, with management based on evidence and open thinking . A current example of public policy in the USA is the debate on gun control arising from a series of mass killings. Whilst this is an important issue, are there other matters that have a greater impact on public safety, with lower political barriers?
Let’s take the example of child drowning’s in USA swimming pools. This data was reported in the book Freakanomics:
In a given year, there is one drowning of a child for every 11,000 residential pools in the United States. (In a country with 6 million pools, this means that roughly 550 children under the age of ten drown each year.) Meanwhile, there is 1 child killed by a gun for every 1 million-plus guns. (In a country with an estimated 200 million guns, this means that roughly 175 children under ten die each year from guns.) The likelihood of death by pool (1 in 11,000) versus death by gun (1 in 1 million-plus) isn’t even close: Molly is roughly 100 times more likely to die in a swimming accident at Imani’s house than in gunplay at Amy’s.
Freakanomics applies a radical concept, before you leap to a conclusion about the nature of a problem, analyse the data. In a recent podcast How to Think About Guns Steven D. Levitt (the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago) concluded that gun buy backs are completely ineffective as public policy to reduce gun related fatalities. There are an estimated 300,000,000 guns in the USA. The death rate from hand guns is 1 per 10,000 hand guns. Two-thirds of all gun-related deaths in the United States are suicides. In 2010, there were 19,392 firearm-related suicide deaths, and 11,078 firearm-related homicide deaths in the United States. On this basis, gun buy back would need to recover in the order of 190,000,000 guns with a cost of about $10 billion.
As safety practitioner’s, we eulogise the importance of data and analysis. The problem however is that we don’t understand how to collect and analyse data. We collect data on failures under the pretext of not having any failure as acceptable. We undertake analysis and investigation, where we start from the answer and work back to the question. I cannot count the times I have heard investigators state that they know the cause of an incident before the investigation is begun. We base our analysis on starting from the answer and working back from there to justify the cause.
Safety Practitioner’s should study the work of Hans Rosling. View his talk: Stats that Reshape the world. Hans has mastered the art of unencumbered inquiry to study the nature of a given problem. With this type of philosophy we would discover, rather than determine. Sidney Dekker challenges us to “look up and out” rather than down and in. Hans builds data tools that go up and out, tools that we could harness in an open minded enquiry.
If we used open research, analysed the nature of the problem, we may arrive at a very uncomfortable place where we discover that we have not understood the nature of the problem, and that our efforts in safety rules, procedures and mountains of documents are not justified by the evidence. It is time for we looked for the truth.
Are you Ready for a Swimming Lesson: Freakanomics
How to Think About Guns: Freakanomics
Stats that Reshape the world. Hans Rosling