Difference Between Surface Cause & Root Cause And Examples

What are Surface Causes?

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The surface causes of accidents are those hazardous conditions and unsafe or inappropriate behaviors within the sequence of events that have directly caused or contributed in some way to the accident. It’s important to understand that surface causes describe unique conditions or individual behaviors.

hazardous condition is characterized by the following:

  • a unique tool, piece of equipment, or machinery, etc., that is not properly guarded or somehow defective
  • an employee’s “state of being” such as fatigue or being distracted
  • may also be a unique defect in a process, procedure or practice
  • may exist at any level of the organization
  • is the result of deeper root causes

Unsafe or Inappropriate Behaviors are characterized by:

  • taking an intentional/unintentional action that is unsafe or failure to take an action that is safe
  • a unique performance error in a process, procedure or practice
  • may exist at any level of the organization
  • are the result of deeper root causes

It’s important to know most hazardous conditions in the workplace are the result of the unsafe or inappropriate behaviors that produced them.

Best Practices For Securing And Documenting An Accident Scene

What are Root Causes?

The root causes for accidents are the underlying SMS weaknesses that consist of thousands of variables, any number of which can somehow contribute to the surface causes of accidents. This level of investigation is also called “common cause” analysis (in quality terms) because you’re identifying a system component that may contribute to common conditions and behaviors that exist or occur throughout the company. These weaknesses can take two forms.

  • SMS Design Root Causes: Inadequate design of one or more components of the safety management system. The design of safety management system policies, plans, programs, processes, procedures and practices is very important to make sure appropriate conditions, activities, behaviors, and practices occur consistently throughout the workplace. Design root causes describe the “condition” of the SMS, and ultimately, they contribute to most accidents.
  • SMS Performance Root Causes: Inadequate implementation of one or more components of the SMS. After each SMS component is designed, it must be effectively carried out or implemented. Performance root causes describe the “behavior” of the SMS. You may design an effective safety plan, yet suffer failure because it wasn’t implemented properly. On the other hand, if you effectively implement a poorly designed component, you’ll get the same results: inadequate system performance.

Accident Investigation Quiz

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