Posted on Monday, November 28th, 2011

This year’s lectures at the Holiday Inn, Taunton occurred mid way through the annual IIAI Diploma sessions and focused on just a few of the many areas that “Redressing the Balance – A Commonsense Approach to Causation” (Difford 2011) dissects and analyses. As members know, the Institute has no particular position on the matter of causation but, a clear understanding of certain elements of the book will be needed by Diploma and CertLI candidates. In addition, certain prospective Fellows must be able to display a thorough understanding of it.


Pip Martin getting the sessions under way.


Pip Martin got the sessions under way with a re-cap of his presentation from 2010. He then focused on the mechanism behind Shell Tripod® aligned Root Cause Analysis (RCA) software programs to reveal they have the philosophy of Reason’s (1997:2004) Swiss Cheese model (SCM) running in the background. Pip then proceeded to explain how SCM aligned RCA programs force the investigator beyond what would be the normal stopping point for an investigator seeking to address salient cause rather than conditions.

Concluding an incredibly informative session, Pip offered that the SCM type philosophy (aligned to Bird’s (1974) ‘updated Heinrich domino sequence’ and Petersen’s (1971) Multiple Causation Theory) is based (without users realising it) on a view of the causes of human behaviour that neither science, the man/woman in the street nor experts in agent causation can accept.


Trevor was next up and touched upon agent causation over the past 300 years and the academic debate surrounding free-will.

Bearing in mind that the word blame is not in any of our vocabularies, his session was a warning shot across the bows of certain academics and is perhaps best summarised by the slide that remained on screen behind him throughout…

“…in things that are within the reach of every man’s understanding, and upon which the whole conduct of human life turns, the philosopher must follow the multitude, or make himself perfectly ridiculous” (Reid 1764).


Keith Scott on the critical distinction between causes and conditions.

The third speaker of the evening was Keith Scott, IIAI Honorary Fellow and Chairman of the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management. Making light work of a chewy subject, Keith touched upon what is perhaps the most difficult, but critically important, concepts that certain academics, writers and causal analysts seem unable to come to terms with; i.e. the difference between causes and conditions. Summing up his session, Keith quoted the following from Hart & Honore (2002) as cited in Difford (2011)…

In distinguishing between a cause and a condition, two contrasts are of prime importance. These are the contrasts between what is normal and what is abnormal in relation to a given thing or subject-matter and between a free deliberate human act and all other conditions. The notions in these contrasts lie at the heart of most metaphors that cluster around notions of cause and must be used in any literal discussion of the facts which they obscure.

Concluding, Keith said “unfortunately, a number of theories have not complied with that most vital requirement” and handed over to Paul Difford to explain the reasons for, and ramifications of, that failure. (Note to IIAI/IIRSM members, Keith was a party to the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the IIRSM and IIAI in June 2009).


Difford, explaining why he finds Reason’s (1997/2004) Swiss cheese model to be a theory full of holes.


Paul Difford was next up and explained how and why Petersen’s (1971) Multiple Causation Theory, Bird’s (1974) ‘updated Heinrich sequence’ and Reason’s (1997: 2004) Swiss Cheese Model fail every test that can be applied to them. Regardless of your beliefs, his view that ‘Redressing the Balance…’ thoroughly refutes those theories is a compelling one. Concluding, he argued that the underlying philosophy of the management failure and organisational accident schools is fatally flawed and that improvements needed in many organisations will not materialise until the notion of the so-called latent condition (the corner stone of the Swiss cheese model) is completely removed for their mindsets and vocabularies.


Proposer Difford looks on as Alan Dell MBE (right) confirms IIAI Fellowship on William Johnston.


Thanks go out to William Johnston who flew in from Belfast to be master of ceremonies for the evening. One of the matters to be attended to before the evening commenced proper was not on Will’s formal agenda; i.e. the announcement by Alan Dell (IIAI Memberships Committee Chairman) that he would be adding William’s name to the roll of IIAI Fellows on the 1st of February 2012. Congratulations Will (an IIAI Honorary Fellow for the past 8 years) from all of us at the Institute.


Also receiving an award on the evening was Babcock International Group SHEQS Manager, Dave Yeaman. Dave, who was unable to attend last year’s award ceremonies, is pictured below left receiving his IIAI Diploma from Alan Dell MBE.



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