Call for participants: Belief and Causality Relating to Accidents


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Andrew Bober, a postgraduate researcher at the University of Strathclyde is seeking respondents for his survey about “Belief and Causality Relating to Accidents”. Bober has written the summary below for The Skeptic and we’d invite you to complete the survey and provide constructive, critical feedback if you have 10 minutes spare.


Research Rational – Belief & Causality


According to Heinrich (1931), who developed what we know as the domino theory, 88% of all accidents are caused by unsafe acts of people, 10% by unsafe actions and 2% by acts of God. He proposed a five-factor accident sequence in which each factor would actuate the next step in the manner of toppling dominoes lined up in a row.


Whilst Heinrich was a pioneer in the field of accident prevention, and must be given his due, the sources of his research are unavailable and rife with misinterpreted terminology (Manuele, 2011). Stefansson (1928) makes the case that people are willing to accept as fact what is written or spoken without adequate supporting evidence, and perhaps none are more evident than myths surrounding Heinrich’s work. These have become embedded within the psyche of many practitioners, and need to be dislodged.


Curiously, the first step in the sequence which Heinrich’s proposes, ‘ancestry and social environment’, has become either omitted or at most anecdotally mentioned with a compulsive predilection for generalization and simple induction and the arbitrary bias of applying personal experience as a means of rationalisation. Yet, the influence of ‘ancestry and social environment’ is a well-established concept within various scientific fields.


Kouabenan’s (2009) work is particularly relevant as it hypothesises that an understanding of the beliefs people hold about risks and the causes of accidents, as well as their perceptions of risk targets and the need for safety, are important prerequisites for effectively managing risk and designing preventive measures. Kayani et al. (2012†‡) uses a similar approach when looking at cultural fatalism within road accidents in Pakistan. Harrell (1995) looked at similar factors in agriculture and fishery, while Murraya et al. (1997) researched similar factors to accidents in fishery.  Arbous & Kerrich’s (1951) and Clarke’s (2006) studies show that there is the possibility that safety perceptions are much more predictive in some occupational settings compared to others.


Therefore, the purpose of this enquiry is to:


• Ascertain the connection between ‘belief-fatalism-causality’ and gauge its significance in root cause analysis of accidents.

• Provide supplementary understanding of root cause analysis beyond the over-employment of generalization and simple induction.


This is an initial piece of post-graduate research that will be used to develop a fuller postgraduate theme. It does not rely only on the survey but participants are invited to draw attention to any perceived inherent flaws or ambiguities within its methodologies.




Arbous, A. G; Kerrich J. E. (1951). Accident Statistics and the Concept of Accident-Proneness. Biometrics, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Dec, 1951), pp. 340-432. Available from:


Clarke, S. (2006). Contrasting perceptual, attitudinal and dispositional approaches to accident involvement in the workplace. Safety Science, Vol 44, Issue 6, (July 2006), pp. 537-550. Available from:


Harrell, W. (1995). Factors influencing involvement in farm accidents. Percept Mot Skills 81: pp. 592-594


Heinrich, H. (1931). Industrial Accident Prevention. New York: McGraw-Hill.


Kayani, A; King M. J; Fleiter, J. J. (2012†). Fatalism and its implications for risky road use and receptiveness to safety messages: a qualitative investigation in Pakistan. Health Education Research Advance Access, 17 September 2012, pp. 1-12. Available from:


Kayani, A; King M. J; Fleiter, J. J. (2012‡). Achieving safe road use in a rapidly motorising country : The influence of longstanding beliefs on risky driver behaviour in Pakistan. In International Conference of Applied Psychology (ICAPP 2012), 16-18 December 2012, Lahore, Pakistan.(Unpublished). Available from:


Kouabenan, D.R. (2009). Role of beliefs in accident and risk analysis and prevention. Safety Science, 47, pp. 767-776. University Pierre Mende`s France, Grenoble II, France. Available from:


Manuele, F. (2011). Reviewing Heinrich: Dislodging Two Myths From the Practice of Safety. Journal of American Safety Society of Safety Engineers. Available from:


Murraya, M; Fitzpatricka, D; O’Connella, C. (1997). Fishermens blues: Factors related to accidents and safety among Newfoundland fishermen. Work & Stress: An International Journal of Work, Health & Organisations Volume 11, Issue 3, 1997, pp. 292-297. Available from:


Stefansson, V. (1928). The standardization of error. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd
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