Why every risk manager should study logic and fallacies

Logic and fallacies.  Sounds like something you studied in college.   And many of you probably did; however, if you are anything like me you also probably forgot most of it too.  With OSHA pressing down on organizations harder than the Muller investigation, developing a deep understanding of logic and fallacies is one sure fire way to give you a leg up in the battle for your life.

Recently, our clients have seen an unprecedented uptick in OSHA citations as well as referrals to have criminal charges pressed.  While we are not entirely sure what is going on behind the scenes at OSHA, we do know that now is not a time that you want to be responding willy-nilly to any inquiries.  Now is the time to batten down the hatches and use every legal and ethical tool you have to defend yourself against potentially life-changing citations.

With more than one client facing fines in excess of $50,000 for allegedly not completing heat illness training (a 30-minute training)  it was time to revisit some old philosophy courses.   Let’s face it, everyone makes mistakes.  Even OSHA officers.  And using their mistakes to your advantage is not only ethical it is the right thing to do to save you and your organization.   Better to put the $50,000 in safety programs than the wallet of OSHA.


Making sense is one way to look at it, but logic is much more than this informal sense-making.  Logic is the study of the principals in making correct reasoning.  Sounds difficult, but it really isn’t.  Simply put, logic follows and order and maintains validity in the reasoning.  Let’s look at an example:

All employees receive safety training. Non-employees don’t receive safety training.

Tom is an employee.  

Therefore, Tom receives safety training.

In this example, you can easily see the flow of logic from one statement to the next.    So, what creates fuzzy logic or better yet disrupts logic?  Those, my friend, are fallacies.

All work comp claims are OSHA recordable cases.  Not all OSHA recordable cases are work comp claims.

Jenny filed a work comp claim.

Jenny’s injury is OSHA recordable.


Purdue University has the most succinct definition of fallacies, so let’s use that  here

Fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points, and are often identified because they lack evidence that supports their claim.

Errors in reasoning or more precisely, errors in correct reasoning (logic).  These errors invalidate the logic and therefore are our key to battling OSHA citations.


Every Defense

When it comes to defending yourself against OSHA citations, every defense must be your philosophy.  Appeal every citation and fight it as your life depends on it.  Because it does.  The health of your organization is directly related to your cash flow and revenues.  Spending money on citations can bankrupt you, cause great struggles in cash flow and runs many small organizations out of business.  Reducing classifications is a great achievement and can save you down the road the next time you come up on the radar screen.


What to look for


One of the biggest issues that are often overlooked is jurisdiction.  Often times, OSHA will overstep their bounds trying to address non-employee issues, student issues, and the like.

Enforcment can only occur in jursidction.  No enforcement can occur outside jursidiction.

The violation was outside jursidciton.

Therefore, enforcement of the violation can not occur.



Code Applications

You would not believe how many times OSHA improperly cites code and applies it to a particular organization.  They routinely issue citations and cite the wrong section of code.  All of these add up to having your citations revoked.


X code applies to X industry.  Y code does not apply to X industry.

X company is in X industry

Therefore Y codes does not apply to X company


No Accident Violations

Often times OSHA will sign off on a 170B form which states that no law, rule, regulation or code was violated due to the accident.  When this occurs, code violations following the accident must be extremely narrow and only apply to a limited subset of work or employees.

The accident violated regulations.  The accident did not violate regulations.  Safety policies are governed by regulations.

No violation was found in conjunction with the employee accident.

Therefore, safety policies were not violated.


Think of it this way.  The IIPP is found to be compliant at the time of the accident.   If no changes were made to the laws governing IIPP’s and no changes were made to the IIPP itself, then the IIPP is compliant prior to the accident and following the accident as well.  A citation cannot be validated for an IIPP violation prior to the accident, but not on the date of the accident.


Settling the citation

Once you have fully dismissed the citation violations or reduced the penalities and classifications, you will receive a settlement notice.  So what do you want in your settlement agreement, here are a few ideas:

Non-Admissions Clause

This is a clause that states you do not admit that you violated the regulations, but to settle the action, you are going to pay the citation.   This is helpful when it comes to obtaining a discount for history in the future.


General or Regulatory Citations

Serious and Serious & Willful violations are the kind that stacks up and leaves lasting effects.  The kind that gets your referred for criminal action.  Yes, people do go to prison for failure to implement safety regulations.  By getting the classification of the citation reduced you give yourself a chance to fight another day.


Good Faith and History

Abating hazards and showing good faith to correct the citations is one fee reduction you should seek.  And if you have a good history, no previous citations, then you are eligible for a discount.


A list of fallacies

From Purdue  https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/659/03/


Slippery Slope: This is a conclusion based on the premise that if A happens, then eventually through a series of small steps, through B, C,…, X, Y, Z will happen, too, basically equating A and Z. So, if we don’t want Z to occur, A must not be allowed to occur either. Example:

If we ban Hummers because they are bad for the environment eventually the government will ban all cars, so we should not ban Hummers.

In this example, the author is equating banning Hummers with banning all cars, which is not the same thing.

Hasty Generalization: This is a conclusion based on insufficient or biased evidence. In other words, you are rushing to a conclusion before you have all the relevant facts. Example:

Even though it’s only the first day, I can tell this is going to be a boring course.

In this example, the author is basing his evaluation of the entire course on only the first day, which is notoriously boring and full of housekeeping tasks for most courses. To make a fair and reasonable evaluation the author must attend not one but several classes, and possibly even examine the textbook, talk to the professor, or talk to others who have previously finished the course in order to have sufficient evidence to base a conclusion on.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc: This is a conclusion that assumes that if ‘A’ occurred after ‘B’ then ‘B’ must have caused ‘A.’ Example:

I drank bottled water and now I am sick, so the water must have made me sick.

In this example, the author assumes that if one event chronologically follows another the first event must have caused the second. But the illness could have been caused by the burrito the night before, a flu bug that had been working on the body for days, or a chemical spill across campus. There is no reason, without more evidence, to assume the water caused the person to be sick.

Genetic Fallacy: This conclusion is based on an argument that the origins of a person, idea, institute, or theory determine its character, nature, or worth. Example:

The Volkswagen Beetle is an evil car because it was originally designed by Hitler’s army.

In this example, the author is equating the character of a car with the character of the people who built the car. However, the two are not inherently related.

Begging the Claim: The conclusion that the writer should prove is validated within the claim. Example:

Filthy and polluting coal should be banned.

Arguing that coal pollutes the earth and thus should be banned would be logical. But the very conclusion that should be proved, that coal causes enough pollution to warrant banning its use, is already assumed in the claim by referring to it as “filthy and polluting.”

Circular Argument: This restates the argument rather than actually proving it. Example:

George Bush is a good communicator because he speaks effectively.

In this example, the conclusion that Bush is a “good communicator” and the evidence used to prove it “he speaks effectively” are basically the same idea. Specific evidence such as using everyday language, breaking down complex problems, or illustrating his points with humorous stories would be needed to prove either half of the sentence.

Either/or: This is a conclusion that oversimplifies the argument by reducing it to only two sides or choices. Example:

We can either stop using cars or destroy the earth.

In this example, the two choices are presented as the only options, yet the author ignores a range of choices in between such as developing cleaner technology, car-sharing systems for necessities and emergencies, or better community planning to discourage daily driving.

Ad hominem: This is an attack on the character of a person rather than his or her opinions or arguments. Example:

Green Peace’s strategies aren’t effective because they are all dirty, lazy hippies.

In this example, the author doesn’t even name particular strategies Green Peace has suggested, much less evaluate those strategies on their merits. Instead, the author attacks the characters of the individuals in the group.

Ad populum/Bandwagon Appeal: This is an appeal that presents what most people, or a group of people think, in order to persuade one to think the same way. Getting on the bandwagon is one such instance of an ad populum appeal.


If you were a true American you would support the rights of people to choose whatever vehicle they want.

In this example, the author equates being a “true American,” a concept that people want to be associated with, particularly in a time of war, with allowing people to buy any vehicle they want even though there is no inherent connection between the two.

Red Herring: This is a diversionary tactic that avoids the key issues, often by avoiding opposing arguments rather than addressing them. Example:

The level of mercury in seafood may be unsafe, but what will fishers do to support their families?

In this example, the author switches the discussion away from the safety of the food and talks instead about an economic issue, the livelihood of those catching fish. While one issue may affect the other it does not mean we should ignore possible safety issues because of possible economic consequences to a few individuals.

Straw Man: This move oversimplifies an opponent’s viewpoint and then attacks that hollow argument.

People who don’t support the proposed state minimum wage increase hate the poor.

In this example, the author attributes the worst possible motive to an opponent’s position. In reality, however, the opposition probably has more complex and sympathetic arguments to support their point. By not addressing those arguments, the author is not treating the opposition with respect or refuting their position.

Moral Equivalence: This fallacy compares minor misdeeds with major atrocities.

That parking attendant who gave me a ticket is as bad as Hitler.

In this example, the author is comparing the relatively harmless actions of a person doing their job with the horrific actions of Hitler. This comparison is unfair and inaccurate.




Hope you enjoyed this article.  If you need more personalized assistance, you can work directly with us.  Reach out here. http://wilmes.co/contact-wilmes-risk-control/

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