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Blog January 2023

Takeaways from the AMCS Inspire Webinar on the Human Factor in Safety

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Gary Dietz

Product Marketing Manager - North America

When it comes to safety, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Therefore, we need think outside the box and look at safety from all angles to determine the best approach for achieving safe and sustainable performance at our organizations.

During a recent AMCS Inspire webinar, Ron Gantt, head of HSE Americas for the Yondr Group, and Timo Kronlöf, AMCS Quentic safety expert, discussed the human factor in safety and encouraged webinar attendees to think through a series of questions and look deeper into the meaning behind various safety messages and actions to improve safety efforts in their operations.

Here are 7 takeaways from the webinar:

1. Clear, easy-to-understand messaging is key

When it comes to working and everyday life, we all aim to stay safe and free from harm. We have become familiar with common roadway safety messaging such as stop signs and “Click It or Ticket,” but what about messaging that is not so clear to understand such as “check surroundings for safety” that often appears on a vehicle backup camera dashboard? If you take a moment to really think about this messaging, you may wonder what you would truly be looking for if you were looking for “safety.”

There is not a single answer that defines safety. But there are many steps you can take to improve your safety messaging and ultimately your overall safety efforts. For example, if your goal is to prevent backup accidents, you would traditionally determine the causes of previous accidents and develop best practices to prevent similar accidents from happening. However, in order to come up with the best practices, one must also study events where no accidents took place and understand why everything typically goes well.

2. Counterfactual thinking can be a useful safety tool

Believe it or not, most of us use counterfactual thinking without being aware of it. This concept, which focuses on “if only” scenarios allows us to think through the realities and “what ifs” of past events and become motivated to change future outcomes.

In hindsight, it is easy to say, “if only the person had been looking at the surroundings before putting the car in action.” But that won't really help us understand why they didn't. We need to put more focus and ask more questions about why a person made certain decisions that in hindsight look like mistakes

3. Creative problem solving and adaptation can lead to success

No system or process in the workplace is perfect, so we often use creative problem-solving techniques and adaptation to complete tasks. When it comes to safety, this is a smart approach as a cookie-cutter process just isn’t feasible due to the ever-changing demands and needs of our economy. This approach goes hand in hand with David Woods’ law of fluency, which states that “well-adapted work occurs with a facility that belies the difficulty of the demands resolved and the dilemmas balanced.”

One example of a company that utilizes this approach is Apple, which is constantly updating its products’ working environments to operate in a way that makes sense to both the brand and the users of the products. Instead of focusing on what was flawed in older products, Apple focuses on making sense of current and future work and living environments to design smarter products. Regarding this approach to safety, Apple has launched and worked to improve many features including Emergency SOS, Fall and Crash Detection, Backtracking and more.

Like this example shows, by thinking outside the box and constantly improving our systems and processes, we can improve safety efforts across all company departments.

4. If you don’t have accurate data, you can’t set up proper policies and procedures

Before creating safety and operational policies and procedures, you should collect relevant data so you know where your baseline is and where you need to improve. Once you understand those data points, you can create effective policies and procedures.

While this process can require time, funding, and documentation, having transparency into your operations is important and allows you to give your staff the information and tools needed to do the job correctly and safely.

5. The purpose of policies and procedures is not to control work; it is to support people in doing work

When developing and implementing safety policies and procedures, we must take into consideration that these policies and procedures must support a company’s living system of people who are adjusting and adapting to the ever-changing work environment.

In the workplace, we naturally take necessary actions to manage risks on our own. But when working as a team, it is important to take similar actions as opposed to our own paths to achieve the goal of being safe on the job each day. Like a rowboat, we can only navigate forward if everyone is rowing in the same direction at the same time.

6. Have rules for your rules

One of the biggest mistakes we can make when it comes to health and safety is setting and forgetting rules. To ensure rules are followed and working correctly, we must set them up for success by assuring each rule is enforced and has a process on the backend that validates it is working. Additionally, we must provide proper training to ensure all workers are trained on the rules and understand why they are in place. Without creating rules for your rules, you are likely setting yourself and your employees up for failure.

7. Human error is inevitable

It’s important to remember we are human, and we make mistakes. We all strive to get the job done safety and efficiently the first time around, but sometimes things don’t go according to plan. When things do go wrong, we need to take a step back and look at all the factors involved to understand the circumstances and reasons behind each conscious or unconscious decision.

It is very tempting to point a finger at human errors but given that human factors always have a part in both success and failures, it is not effective to end investigations by stating the obvious. In the end, no one intentionally causes an accident.

Answers come from anyone – and anywhere. Ask open-ended questions and do more asking than telling. Safety professionals aren’t the only ones within your operations with answers; answers can be found anywhere if you know how to ask and how to listen.

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