How to Stop Bias in Managers During an Incident Investigation

Stopping Bias in Managers During an Incident Investigation

Date Posted: 16th August 2021

How to stop bias in managers during an incident investigation

How to stop bias in managers during an incident investigation. Recently I’ve been delivering loads of incident investigation training, and we spend all afternoon investigating a real incident. The students start off with a first aid report, and then they have to ask for evidence, which they trawl through, and they even have to interview some witnesses. And then at the end they have to do a 5 Whys Analysis.

What’s really interesting when doing these types of exercises is that you see people’s biases come out live in front of you. You see people jump to conclusions on why the incident happened. And in all of these incident investigation courses, whether it’s non accredited or whether you go for the NEBOSH HSE Introduction to Incident Investigation award, we have to cover the the concept of bias and warn people against it.

There are 3 main types of bias that we tend to focus on in these courses:

Fundamental attribution error

A fundamental attribution error is when you assume that somebody did something wrong because there’s something wrong with them. You assume that they made a mistake, they slipped, or they forgot something, because they’re careless, they’re forgetful, they’re stupid, or maybe they just don’t care. You assume that the problem is them rather than the task, the process or the system.

We’ve all made that mistake, haven’t we? Every time we get cut off when driving a car or a driver breaks hard in front of us, we all shout: “you bloody idiot!”. That’s a fundamental attribution error. And you need to get managers to stay away from that because some of them tend to react too quickly with responses like: “he’s an idiot”, “he’s as clumsy as he is stupid”.

You do get that kind of reaction. And I’ve seen it live in the training sessions: “it was the pedestrians fault he got hit by the forklift” and so on.

Self serving bias

This means it serves yourself. It serves to boost your self esteem. You assume that you did nothing wrong.

If one of your employees misunderstands an SOP which you have written, you in your self serving bias might assume that because you wrote the SOP, then it couldn’t possibly be misinterpreted, and that it is as clear as day to understand. That’s self serving bias. And again, self serving bias leads us to blame individuals for the mistakes, rather than looking at ourselves, we assume that they’re the problem.

Cherry picking bias

Also known as a type of confirmation bias. Cherry picking bias is where we focus and accept the evidence which agrees with our pre-existing opinions and beliefs. And we tend to dismiss, ignore or reject any evidence which goes against our beliefs and opinions. And again, we’re all victims of this, particularly in the days of social media. We’ll see a news article, it could be politics, it could be science, it could be anything, but whatever it is, you’ll see an article which supports your opinion, and then you’re likely to read that and agree with it, and then use that to defend your position.

And then if you see an article which disagrees with your position, you tend to react negatively towards the article and dismiss it as just nonsense. And so we all victims of this.

Conclusion – how to stop bias in managers during an incident investigation

If we can teach this in an incident investigation course, or if we can give people a real life experience and point this out as they’re doing it, it will help them combat this in the future, and they will become much more aware of these types of biases.

Take care.