3 EHS & Risk Lessons from the 2018 World Cup Final

July 19, 2018

The 2018 soccer World Cup final took place on Sunday, and whether you were cheering for France or Croatia, or were neutral, the game definitely didn’t disappoint. France won 4-2. Six total goals in a soccer match is unusual. Many people feared the game would be a 1-0 snoozer like 2010 and 2014, but it ended up being very entertaining. France won its second World Cup, and they did it in style by scoring four goals, the highest since Brazil’s 4-1 win in 1970. In this post we take a look at three EHS and Risk lessons that we can learn from the 2018 final.

1) Past Performance May Not Be Indicative of the Future

Many people think that soccer games are boring. Skeptics of the game have a point. It seems that when the stakes get higher, teams play a more conservative and defensive style. It’s as if they’re just trying to avoid losing, as opposed to trying to win. The World Cup final is a great example. Consider the scores of the previous seven World Cup finals for the 90 minutes of regulation (i.e. excluding extra time and penalties): 0-0 (2014), 0-0 (2010), 1-1 (2006), 2-0 (2002), 3-0 (1998), 0-0 (1994), 1-0 (1990). In the previous seven finals, three had zero total goals in 90 minutes, and the average number of total goals was a miserable 1.14.

Naturally many people expected the 2018 World Cup final to follow the pattern. But it didn’t. There were six total goals, the highest since the seven goals at the 1958 World Cup (if we only look at the 90 minutes of regulation). The lesson for EHS and Risk professionals is that you should never assume that past performance will always accurately predict the future. It will for most of the time, but not always. For example, if your organization didn’t suffer any significant adverse event in the last few years that disrupted operations, don’t assume that things will remain the same. There could suddenly be a that upends your organization.

2) Beware of Complacency

When it was 4-1 for France at the 65th minute, it felt like the game was pretty much over. FiveThirtyEight, a website that focuses on opinion poll analysis, politics, economics and sports, used its Soccer Power Index ratings to give World Cup predictions and estimate in-game win probabilities. When it was 4-1, 538’s model gave France a 99% chance of winning:

FiveThirtyEight Game Probabilities

But at the 69th minute, the French goalkeeper did a mistake that resulted in a goal by Croatia. Maybe that mistake wouldn’t have been made if it was a close game and the goalkeeper was more alert.

The lesson for EHS and Risk professionals is that you should never be complacent and let your guards down. For example, lagging indicators may show steadily declining rates of incidents and accidents, but if leading indicators are not improving, it may indicate that there’s trouble on the horizon. If new hires are taking less training than usual, existing workers are not taking as much refresher training as they should, and everybody is participating less in a program to report observations, safety may be impacted and incident rates could rise.

3) Technology Makes a Difference

France was awarded a penalty kick in the first half following a handball, and scored a second goal. Here’s the irony: If this was the 2014 World Cup or any other, a penalty wouldn’t have been called, France wouldn’t have scored a second goal, and the direction of the game may have been altered. But it was different this time because of the use of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) or instant replay. Initially a penalty was not awarded, but the decision was reversed after the replay. The TV announcer I was listening to loudly proclaimed “Truly this is a 21st century game”, and during FiveThirtyEight’s live blog Michael Caley said:

“This World Cup has featured 29 penalties in 64 matches (0.45 per match). There were 80 penalties in 380 matches in the Premier League this season (0.21 per match). VAR is doing something to this World Cup.”

Technology made a difference for France, and made the game more fair and less controversial. Technology can also make a difference for EHS and Risk professionals. With the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, advanced analytics, etc., organizations can transform EHS and operational performance; and enable a more proactive, predictive approach to EHS and risk management to achieve operational excellence. Technology can uncover previously unknown information, patterns and trends that provide valuable insights. Also, and allow organizations to predict incidents, improve safety, and decrease incident-related costs.

The next World Cup is in 2022. But soccer fans won’t have to wait that long to see France and Croatia in action again, along with Belgium and England, the other two semi-finalists. Euro 2020 is in two years, and the qualifiers begin in March 2019!

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