The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

Fundamental Attribution Error in Incident Investigations

Graham Marshall - Friday, January 04, 2013

When examining and explaining the behaviour of other people, there is sometimes a tendency for incident investigators to overestimate the effect of internal "attitudinal" factors, and underestimate the effect of external factors on that behaviour.

In psychology, this problem is known as the Fundamental Attribution Error.

You'll have seen the Fundamental Attribution Error at work when you hear someone say "the person involved in the incident was a bit stupid, or had a poor attitude."

But the problem with adopting a focus on attitudes as a key safety failure mechanism is that it ignores what Psychologists know about mechanisms of the brain.

Many psychological studies have shown that people will experience attention failures, memory lapses, slips of action and mistakes based on incorrect knowledge or experience.

None of these failures can be explained by attitudes alone.

And an attitudes-based focus to incident causation is unlikely to resolve most of these failure mechanisms.

And even deliberate and willful violations of safety rules which do have a strong "attitudinal componant" often occur in response to external pressures rather than just being driven by internal attitudes.

Good incident investigations avoid the fundamental attribution error by recognising the range of failure mechanisms of the brain and the role of external factors in those failures.

And organizations with mature safety culture design error-tolerant work arrangement based on identifying which errors are most likely to occur.

Moreover, mature organizations view incidents as an opportunity to learn something about their systems, assets, or culture, rather than blaming individual workers and their "negative" attitudes.

Finally, they recognise that safety attitudes are most effectively fostered through genuine leadership practices and leading by example at all levels of the organisation, every day.

Post has no comments.
Post a Comment

Captcha Image

Trackback Link
Post has no trackbacks.

Recent Posts


Best bars in the oil patch WMC Resources WA Resources Safety Pollution prevention Psycho-social Hazards NORM Hot work Total Rail Safety Working at height Mining Contract Risk Management Safety Conference WorkSafe WA Hess Health TK Shipping one per center Kellogg Joint Venture Farm safety Railway Safety HSE Leadership Safe at Home Management of Change Driving Safety Workplace bullying SPE HSE Innovation Award Unconventional Gas OHS Law Social Responsibility Safety PowerPoint Presentation Shale Gas Safety Alert Safety Awards Job Safety Analysis Oil Spill Response Energy Model of Hazards Isolation Control UK HSE Bio-hazards Aviation Safety Hydraulic Fracturing ("fracking") Toolbox talk Call Centers Newfield LOTO Working with explosives Manufacturing Water Corporation Safe Operating Procedure (SOP) Incident Investigation Fire Prevention ALARP Process Hazard Management PPE Unconventional Hydrocarbons IFAP APPEA Save our Seafarers Campaign Marine Safety Supervision Kinetic Energy Natural Hazard Procedure Training Course Safety Management Program Construction Safety Hierarchy of Safety Control NOPSEMA Drilling CSB Fatigue Management Ladder Safety BHP Billiton Radiation Sources Emergency Response Safety "one per-center's" Santos MSDS Woodside Walking Hazard Spotting US OSHA Behaviour-based Safety (BBS) Rosedale Abbey Sakhalin Energy Risk Tool Box Catostrophic Disaster Situational Awareness Slips, trips and falls Crane lifts Office Safety Nautronix Nanotechnology Chevron Safety Information Posters Work in Confined Spaces Hospital Safety Hazardous Substances Safety Moment Thank God it's Friday ENI Australia Excavations Raspberry Ketones Scam Occupational Overuse Syndrome OSHA Coal Seam Gas Shell BP Risk Assessment Global Harmonized System Hazard Awareness Procedures NOPSA Salute to Our Hero's Manual handling Unconventional Oil Safety Video Australian OSH Codes of Practice Customer Testimonial Electrical hazards Safety Culture Survey Road Transport Risk Management


Blog / Terms of Use / Site Map / Disclaimer / Risk Management Tool Box 2009. All rights reserved. Web design by Luminosity. E-Commerce by JStores.