Happy SafeDay 2015
April 28th is SafeDay – the World Day for Safety and Health at Work. A national occupational safety and health culture is one in which the right to a safe and healthy working environment is respected at all levels, where governments, employers, and workers actively participate in securing a safe and healthy working environment through a system of defined rights, responsibilities and duties, and where the highest priority is accorded to the principle of prevention.
In putting together our not-so-best-selling book, The Practical Guide to Defect Prevention, we did a lot of research on human error, and this continues to be a fascinating topic – one in which human progress is on a sliding scale. Think about the last time you misplaced your keys. How did that happen?
James Reason hypothesizes that most accidents can be traced to one or more of four levels of failure:
- Organizational influences
- Unsafe supervision
- Preconditions for unsafe acts
- Unsafe acts themselves.
In this model, an organization's defenses against failure are modelled as a series of barriers, with individual weaknesses in individual parts of the system, and are continually varying in size and position. The system as a whole produces failures when all individual barrier weaknesses align, permitting "a trajectory of accident opportunity", so that a hazard passes through all of the holes in all of the defenses, leading to a failure. The model includes, in the causal sequence of human failures that leads to an accident or an error, both active failures and latent failures[i]
Humans are predisposed to making mistakes. In a Darwinian sense, we have evolved as a species by building on our errors. In the modern organization, we have built support systems to help us improve.
Every year some two million men and women lose their lives through accidents and diseases linked to their work. In addition, there are 270 million occupational accidents and 160 million occupational diseases each year, incurring US$ 2.8 trillion in costs for lost working time and expenses for treatment, compensation and rehabilitation.[ii]
We’ve identified this day, April 28th, as a day to recognize the challenge we have in addressing human error.
How to Reduce Mistakes – some tips
Don’t act when you’re tired – sleep on it – send email to yourself to be delivered in the morning
Share your ideas early - Ed Catmull of Pixar says, “Protecting nascent ideas is not the same as isolating them from critical feedback. To be a good manager of creative enterprises, you have to “protect your employees from themselves. Because if history is any guide, some are diligently trying to polish a brick.”
- Don’t decide before you understand
- Pretend everyone you know is watching you
- Practice, practice, practice
- Weigh the consequences
- Don’t friend up your co-workers, boss, or employees
- Keep track of progress – beat your own high score
- Post visual reminders
- Float a trial balloon – beta test
As humans, we make mistakes every day. Some are more costly than others. Some are more common and some are even preventable. Our brains are amazing tools for progress, and we can use them to construct metaphorical scaffolding around areas where we know we are likely to make mistakes. For example, if you tend to lose your keys often, put a bowl or hook near the door or bed stand and put them in the same place every day until it becomes habit. If you are constantly forgetting an employee’s name or hire anniversary, develop a system so you are reminded or can practice until you solve the issue.