The Bradbury Effect, BP Syndrome and TRIFR Stats

by Dr Rob Long on November 3, 2016

in Safety Statistics,Zero Harm



The Bradbury Effect, BP Syndrome and TRIFR Stats

imageEveryone knows the story about Stephen Bradbury and his gold medal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYUjmEH9NNk). Here is the Aussie running last in the speed skating event of 2002 and by sheer luck and the misfortune of others he comes first and wins the gold medal. Now, without taking any credit from Steve and his gold medal, anyone would be crazy, including Steve to attribute anything other than luck to his win.

I had a friend call me today who was concerned that his organization was about to give out awards for finally reaching a TRIFR (Total recordable incident frequency rate) stat of zero last week. The story goes that the CEO was going to stand up and attribute this zero statistic to all their hard work, policies, effort and safety programs. Now, whilst it may be admirable to be pleased about a zero statistic one needs to stop and think about the trajectory of this state of affairs. One can just as easily get to zero on luck. So, what happens when the TRIFR rate goes up in the future? What does that say about all that was attributed to the zero TRIFR rate? Well of course, it means someone or something must be now blamed for this failure after all, someone or thing was attributed and awarded for its success.

The big problem with the celebration of statistical aberrations and Fundamental Attribution Error (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_attribution_error) given to events, is the seduction of the BP Syndrome. The current movie Deep Horizon (https://safetyrisk.net/deepwater-horizon-and-the-suppression-of-risky-conversations/) captures the moment when BP handed out awards for 7 years with a zero TRIFR rate. This was the day BP killed 11 people and poured 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico killing millions of wildlife in the name of zero harm.

The problem with celebrations based on attribution is that they often form part of a trajectory of organizational hubris (overconfidence) and this is the case with the BP Syndrome. The BP Syndrome cultivates perception blindness and the FIGJAM (F%$# I’m Good Just Ask Me) Effect based upon the ideology of zero (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon ). When one gets to zero and celebrates it, awards it and plays out the fanfares, a psychological by-product is generated, hubris. Hubris in any culture is a greater risk than any physical threat or hazard simply because it is hard to see and runs under the radar of any safety management system.

However, risk is about the unknown, the unseen and the faith required to act as-if the future is certain, when it is not. Risk is a gamble against the odds. No-one expected Steve Bradbury to win gold on 17 Feb 2002 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/2430350/Speed-skating-Bradbury-rides-luck-for-historic-gold.html ). No-one would lay a bet on him winning, no chance. Even making the final for him that day was due to three unexpected events and a succession of highly unexpected circumstances. But he won gold. To then attribute his win to anything other than luck is sheer nonsense.

So to my friend with the zero TRIFR rate I suggested a low key celebration by watching the movie Deepwater Horizon and reading excepts from Ed Smith’s wonderful book ‘Luck’.

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