The data you can see vs. the data you can’t.
During the second war the airforce had lots of data. They took the trouble to examine returning bomber aircraft, to assess the damage, and how they might respond to it.
This is what EHS professionals do every day. They examine the data from adverse events and figure out ways to improve safety.
During the war this data seemed to show a clear pattern. Planes were riddled with bullet holes all over the wings and fuselage. They were not being hit in the cockpit and tale!
So they came up with a brilliant plan. They armoured the planes in areas where they found most of the bullet holes. This made sense. This was where the bullets were impacting and therefore where the aeroplanes needed additional protection.
There was however a clever Hungarian mathematician called Abraham Wald that disagreed. He realised that the military chiefs left out some key data. They were only considering the data harvested from the planes that returned from the fight. They did not include the data from the planes that were shot down. The data they had suggested that the cockpit and tail areas did not need reinforcing because they were never hit here.
What was actually happening is that the planes that were hit in the cockpit or tail never returned.
In other words, the data that they saw showed the exact opposite of the truth i.e. the areas of the planes that could take damage and still return home safely. They survived because they were not hit in the cockpit or tail.
This reveals two things:
- You need to take into account all data, even the data that you cannot immediately see if you are going to learn from adverse events.
- Learning from failure is not always easy. It often means looking beyond the obvious data and understand the underlying lessons.
Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor says that ‘learning is anything but straightforward. The attitudes and activities required to effectively detect and analyse failures are in short supply in most companies, and the need for context-specific leaning strategies is under appreciated. Organisations need new and better ways to go beyond lessons that are superficial.’
According to the global Verdantix Green Quadrant EH&S Software 2016 survey, the majority of firms still manage incidents via Excel spreadsheets, custom-built databases or on paper. It found only 24% of firms use commercial software for incident management.
Software applications aggregate data from multiple EH&S workflows, such as safety processes, chemical spills and near misses, into a single database. Having centralised incident data, documents and associated risks, facilitates more comprehensive interrogation and more robust risk analysis.
You can always trial Incident.Cloud.