A safety conference in Victoria Australia today heard from Innes Willox of the AIGroup about new challenges in business and occupational health and safety (OHS). As many have mentioned recently big data is a challenge but with important benefits. A major flaw in any of these discussions is an overestimation of data sources and usefulness.
In 2013 Petter Bae Brandtzæg of a Norwegian research organisation wrote that
“A full 90% of all the data in the world has been generated over the last two years.”
If this is the case, the big data forecasts and analyses are operating from an extremely limited sample; the innovations and, perhaps more importantly, the failures from previous decades are not included. This encourages short term thinking and planning and compounds the operation within short term cycles rather than seeing change as a longer process on many safety issues.
Data has an enormous potential but we should perhaps be digitizing our past as much as we are collecting data now so that the historical context of safety is not missed or dismissed.