Blame the Road – Not the Person

Posted on August 19, 2009  Comments (5)

The system is responsible for 90, 92, 94, 97% of problems – W. Edwards Deming. Fix the system, don’t blame the people. When you seek system fixes you approach situations differently than if you search for people to blame.

By the way, I am often asked about the data supporting Deming’s contention that the system was responsible for 97% of the problems. This statement was not based on a set of data but on Dr. Deming’s decades of experience. And he increased the percentage over time – as he learned more.

Roads that are designed to kill

Half blamed the runner, saying she should not have been running in the street at that hour. Half blamed the driver, for not paying close enough attention. Not a single writer blamed the road.

Your streets are designed to kill people.

Vision Zero started about 30 years ago, when traffic safety researcher Claes Tingvall got the idea that we didn’t have to accept road traffic deaths as a fact of life. Tingvall and his colleagues said that these deaths were not “accidents’’ but were predictable and preventable. And they set out to prove it.

One of the ways they began to protect people was to put barriers down the center of two-lane roads. They showed that this could be done cheaply. When Mylar – a strong polyester film – is supported by closely spaced plastic poles, it can keep cars from crossing the median. When the Swedes used this type of center barrier to separate the traffic going in opposite directions, they effectively prevented head-on collisions and the death rate on these roads fell by 70 percent to 80 percent.

Global health research shows more improvements can save lives. For example, Ghana put in rumble strips – small bumps spaced closely together – across all the roads leading into the capital city of Accra, reducing fatalities by 35 percent. Research has shown that speed bumps on roads are one of the “best buys” in all of global health.

Most people think we are doing all that can be done to keep our roads safe. They are wrong. Road traffic injuries kill more than a million people a year worldwide, including 40,000 a year in the United States.

Is a situation killing 40,000 people in the USA a year a health care issue? It sure seems to me it would be. It probably isn’t a disease management issue though (some might try to say bad roads are a disease but I wouldn’t say that). I think this is one, of many examples, that shows that we have a disease and injury management system not a health care system (in addition to illustrating systems thinking, effective root cause analysis, PDSA, innovation, respect for people…).

Related: Find the Root Cause Instead of the Person to BlameTraffic Congestion and a Non-SolutionChecklists Save LivesSaving Lives: US Health Care ImprovementThe Economic Benefits of Walkable CommunitiesSWAT Raid Signs of Systemic FailuresSystem Improvement to Respond to the Dynamics of Crowd DisastersThe Leading Causes of Death

5 Responses to “Blame the Road – Not the Person”

  1. Arjan’s World » LINKBLOG for August 20, 2009
    August 20th, 2009 @ 11:57 am

    [...] Blame the Road – Not the Person – John Hunter [...]

  2. Links for Aug 23, 2009 | Eric D. Brown - Technology, Strategy, People, Projects
    August 23rd, 2009 @ 10:06 am

    [...] Blame the Road – Not the Person by John Hunter on Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog [...]

  3. Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog » The Problem is Likely Not the Person Pointing Out The Problem
    July 31st, 2010 @ 9:51 am

    [...] to address system failures in the organization. Why do I see this? I think because we still find it very easy to blame the person and not look for the system failures. Plus managers are the ones who hire consultants – so [...]

  4. Posts on Managing People from Around the Web » Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog
    April 17th, 2011 @ 7:58 am

    [...] is that people want to do good work. Performance problems should be looked at first, second, third, fourth and fifth as problems with the system not the [...]

  5. Self Driving Cars Have Huge Potential for Benefit to Society » Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog
    September 6th, 2014 @ 12:59 pm

    […] sensible as systems are more responsible for the results. This will be one of the challenges to a safer transportation system – the desire to assign blame in the same way we did before. The delay of safer solutions […]

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