Long-standing conventional wisdom in the safety community has held that roughly 90% of all workplace injuries are caused by human error or behaviour, with the remaining percentage generally attributed to equipment and facilities. You will find this statement to persist in many safety reference books today.

However, our experience has shown that this is an incorrect and misleading statement that can foster undesired paradigms for safety leaders. Most incidents, and virtually all serious incidents, have multiple root causes that are inclusive of both behaviour and one or more causal components of facilities, equipment, and/or work processes.

Stating that 90% of injuries are caused by behaviour gives undue license to leadership to shift blame to the worker and potentially inhibits organisations from addressing all of the root causes of serious incidents. When we look at incident investigations we frequently see that the corrective action identified is "retrain the workers" or "discipline the worker", and this is indicative of the underlying belief that the only cause that needs to be addressed is behaviour.

Today's organisations will benefit from renewed emphasis on effective Root Cause Analysis that looks comprehensively at what we refer to as the "Working Interface", or the interrelationship of People, Processes, and Technology (where accidents occur) in the workplace and their causal relationships.

Further, organisations should seek to understand the behavioural component in a manner that provides new insights for supporting sustainable safety improvement. Applied behaviour analysis (ABA) is powerful methodology for achieving this degree of insight and begins with understanding three basic concepts: the antecedent, the consequence, and the behaviour itself.

You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.