AN ACCIDENT WITHOUT A CAUSE

A challenge from Mr Ron Gantt

 

The Publisher has been made aware of a challenge in respect of Difford (2011) from Mr Ron Gantt. Gantt has contributed in Eds Shorrock & Williams (2017), is Co Editor of Safety Differently.com and is currently studying for a Phd. His challenge was supported by Mr John Norton-Doyle who writes widely on safety matters. However, both are supporters of a systems perspective and it is probable that the circular causal chains which that philosophy promotes has assisted their confusion.  

 

Difford (the author) and others have attempted to correct Mr Gantt but he remains convinced of his challenge. However, the challenge is chaotic, opinionated and contains numerous errors and inaccuracies. Furthermore, the challenge is puzzling given that Gantt openly admits to not understanding critical terms like ‘normal functioning’, ‘abnormal functioning’ and the concept of ‘what makes the difference’. He has also declared extreme difficulty with the  notion of the ‘deliberate act’ and it is also clear that he has not yet grasped Heinrich’s common cause hypothesis.

 

Difford has declined to comment here (understandable given his prior attempts to correct Gantt). However, Mr Gantt’s self declared confusion should have lead him to withdraw his challenge (indeed, he should not have offered it in the first place) and the fact that he has not raises serious concerns that, as publisher, we cannot ignore.

 

Ron Gantt is clearly enamoured with writers such as Hollnagel and Dekker and uses their language frequently. However, his belief that he has found problematic areas and flaws within “Redressing the Balance – A Commonsense Approach to Causation” appears to be due to an over zealous desire to support his preferred authors. The essence of his challenge lies in his belief that an example within the book reveals a critical flaw insofar as, according to him, it presents an accident without a cause.

 

Gantt’s argument is best disposed of by way of reference to the actual example and aspects he refers to. Therefore, at pages  44 - 46 in Difford (2011), we find...

 

“Such a view, shared by those (e.g. Dekker 2002: Hollnagel 2004 citing Woods et al 1994) who believe that cause is ‘constructed’, is incorrect. We do not ‘select’, from amongst a set of conditions, the one that we treat as cause (Hart & Honore 2002:31); the belief that all conditions, necessary or otherwise, have an equal right to be labelled as causes is wrong (Hart & Honore 2002:21). Causes are found and it is only when the critical contrasts between them and mere conditions are understood that the latter is prevented from clouding the former. To get us going then, Hart & Honore’s (2002:34) general contrast between a cause and a mere condition can be summarised as follows;

 

By way of a purely fictitious example; imagine a man walking along his local High Street. For reasons known only to himself, he walks into a lamp post...a lamp-post he has successfully negotiated hundreds of times before...not to mention all of the other lamp-posts that he has also avoided. So, what is the cause of this accident? True, “but-for” the lamp-post, that accident would not have happened. But, the question is not enquiring about things that would have prevented the collision, the question relates to what caused it! So, is the lamp-post the cause, or a mere condition?  

 

Whilst pedestrians do collide with lamp-posts (in the same way that they collide with each other, telephone kiosks and waste paper bins for instance) they do not ‘usually’ or ‘normally’ collide with them. More importantly, unless in the process of falling down for instance, lamp-posts never collide with pedestrians; lamp-posts must be acted upon. Therefore, we immediately reject the lamp-post as being the cause of the accident since it is present when the accident happens and, it is also present when the accident does not happen (i.e. it is a condition); in the circumstances here, it cannot be a cause of an accident. Consequently, the focus of attention would not stray far from the man; or, more correctly, from the deliberate act (Hart & Honore 2002). Whilst his act was neither voluntary nor intentional in the literal sense, his collision is ‘unusual’ or ‘abnormal’ and it is therefore he who has ‘made the difference’ (i.e. been the cause) on this occasion.

 

For now, that rather simplistic explanation will suffice to commence the highlighting of the contrasts between causes and conditions that are “an inseparable feature of all causal thinking”. (Difford 2011 pp. 44 - 46).

 

 

Whilst that rather simplistic explanation did not assist Mr Gantt, it should be clear to casual readers why his “challenge” is groundless and, hence, rejected. We do, however, look forward to Ronald’s next challenge but hope that he handles it with a little more professionalism and care than his last.

 

 

Note From Ed:

Amongst other things, Difford (2011) lays a case to support Heinrich’s common cause hypothesis. The book has not received any form of peer reviewed challenge (such is welcomed and will be responded to here). On the contrary, Dekker (2015) now concedes that Heinrich’s common cause hypothesis is correct in the vast majority of organisations around the World (of course, Difford argues that it is correct in every workplace). That, alone, should have lead Ron Gantt to reconsider things. Instead, similarly aligned consultants and book reviewers such as Bridget Leathley have publicly declared that knowledge of the common cause hypothesis does not help them. Unfortunately, that situation is a reason why so many employers are, at this moment in time, unknowingly awaiting their turn to be shocked and surprised by tragedy and disaster. 

 

Of course, many would not be in their current positions if certain writers would refrain from commenting upon matters they are not qualified to comment upon.

 

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