Can the Cause of a Surgical Error be the Same as the Cause of an Oil Spill?
This article raises a very fundamental question, are industries different when it comes to the causes of accidents? And even simpler, are job functions so different that they cannot have similar issues or problems?
Before we discuss this issue I want to start with a personal story. Many years ago I was giving a talk on Root Cause Analysis to a group of Physicians for a health system in Florida (about 50 if I remember correctly). The questions and discussion from the group had worked its way around to the difference in classes (jobs) within a hospital and the types of mistakes that are made. Understanding Human Performance as I do, I made what I thought was a simple statement of fact (and I quote),
Doctors and janitors make mistakes for the same reasons.
After the blank stares turned to surprise, contempt, then anger, I am sure you know the response I received. Later, once I escaped the room and was safely on a plane home, I thought about the reaction and came to the following conclusion. People truly believe that their job is different, different from any other, more important and difficult than any other. Is this perception? Or is this reality? Let’s find out …
Now, on the surface, I believe most people would say the answer to the question “Can the Cause of a Surgical Error be the Same as the Cause of an Oil Spill?” will be a stern “No”. The widely-held belief is that the causes of these two issues have to be different. A surgical error made by a physician or nurse in a surgical suite has to be different from the errors made by a highly skilled tradesman causing an environmental release. They appear as different as night and day until you dig down deep into Human Performance and realize that both situations hinge on similar human factors. Let’s begin this search by looking at these two events along with causal factors for each:
Our Sentinel Event is: Surgery is performed on the wrong patient
Our Spill accident is: 500 gallons released environment
Here are a couple of causal factors, one for each. Looking at these two different situations do you see any similarities?
Both of these causal factors, although from different industries and different situations and job types, have similar causes to them. Both deal with Management System->SPAC Not Used->Enforcement NI. Both situations show a series of behaviors that have not been addressed or fixed by supervision or management, that have happened multiple times and have become common practice. Looking at our Root Cause Tree® Dictionary, we would get a yes to the following question in the Enforcement NI Definition for both:
- Has failure to follow SPAC in the past gone uncorrected or unpunished?
I think that shows that both of these situations have common systemic problems that have led to similar behaviors. There may also be other root causes based on other causal factors and other conditions presented here. But there is at least one common thread above.
One more example from the same incident, here are two additional causal factors:
Again, both of these deal with misidentification of a critical part of the system, one the patient receiving surgery and one a valve in a process. Now before I get emails saying that you can’t equate a human life to a valve, I understand that point and that is not what I am doing. I am simply showing that the quality of the “label” used to ID something (no matter what it is) can impact the end result. There are also other root causes here that may be different based on the data presented, but there are similar Human Factors that apply to both.
And just to make sure you understand the label in the industrial example used, here is the font and the label used:
So in the end, no matter what you do for a living, no matter how educated or experienced the person is, mistakes happen because of Human Performance based issues. The same issues affect us all no matter how different we believe our systems can be. This is exactly why our system is based on Human Performance and Equipment Performance principles and not based on industry variables and conditions. Our TapRooT® system has been proven to work in any industry equally as well. The only limitation that is put on the use of TapRooT® is the one we impose on ourselves based on our own professional bias.
If you would like to learn more about how TapRooT® can work in your industry please feel free to contact me at email@example.com or attend one of our public seminars. Our courses can be found at www.taproot.com/courses.