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The Art of Safety: Lead People, Not Robots

Given the predictable nature of hazards, how and why do incidents occur? Think about this: If I know the winning numbers ahead of a lottery drawing, it’s simple for me to be 100% successful at winning the lottery money. So, if we know how hazards are going to act and how they cause harm, why aren’t we 100% successful at safety? It’s because we don’t fully grasp and utilize the Art of Safety.

That’s why I wrote the book “Frontline Incident Prevention – The Hurdle: Innovative and Practical Insights on the Art of Safety” and why I am focusing my 2023 Incident Prevention articles – and their corresponding free webinars – on the Art of Safety. So, let’s get started and discover how to effectively lead and protect people rather than managing robots and pleasing systems.

In the first article of this series, we discussed C5 safety leadership. As we build our system of how to lead safety and work safely, human factors are the next thing we need to discuss. You’ve probably heard the terms “human performance” and “human factors,” and I hope you are already familiar with them and using tools like self-checking with STAR (stop, think, act, review).

In this article, I want to explain what human performance is and why it’s important in the simplest way I can – which is to assume it isn’t important and we shouldn’t consider human factors in safety. If we do that, we are left with a world of robots.

Robots
Robots consistently do what they are programmed to do without question. They lack feeling, have no risk tolerance, won’t get distracted, lack individuality, are not influenced by culture and work out of habit. Assuming their hardware and software are properly functioning, robots don’t make errors. And in the event of a robotic error, we must assume something is wrong with the robot, diagnose programming or mechanical issues, and fix them.

People
On the other hand, people question instructions and make situational judgments about how we will behave. These judgments are rooted in a combination of factors, including culture and risk tolerance. People also have feelings and should be treated equally while acknowledging none of us is the same. And we make errors stemming from factors associated with the task we are doing along with our work environment, individual capabilities and human nature.

People, Not Robots
Comparing robots and people provides tremendous insight into the significance of human performance and human factors and leads us to some very important conclusions. First, we must lead and protect people rather than managing robots and pleasing systems. We simply cannot discount the human factor. Second, we can never assume other people are like us or that they will perform tasks perfectly. In other words, we need to lead people how they are and not how we wish they were. Third, safety must be designed in a way that protects us from errors. That’s why the two goals of human performance are to reduce errors and manage controls. We can also deduce that common sense isn’t so common – or maybe it doesn’t exist at all. Replace the assumption of common sense with verified common knowledge.

Challenging and Rewarding
I’ll be honest. It’s nice to dream about a work environment in which everyone is aligned toward common goals, everyone performs perfectly with no risk tolerance, and instructions are always followed. That work environment does not and will never exist. It’s part of what makes leadership, culture and safety so challenging – and what makes them fun and rewarding. Let’s all work to stop discounting human factors and start leading people, not robots.

From Words to Action
The words in this article will not save lives, but what you do with them can. Attend the free webinar on this topic – which will be broadcast live May 10 from the iP Utility Safety Conference (https://utilitysafetyconference.com) – to learn more about how to turn these words into action. We’ll discuss the contents of the article and specific action items that will help you incorporate human factors into your leadership and safety programs. You’ll also get additional resources plus the opportunity to ask questions and add value to the discussion. I hope you’ll attend and look forward to seeing you there. I also encourage you to read “Frontline Incident Prevention – The Hurdle: Innovative and Practical Insights on the Art of Safety” and enroll in The Art of Safety course available at https://ip-institute.com.

Webinar: Lead People, Not Robots – May 10, 2023, at 11 a.m. Eastern
Visit https://ip-institute.com/frontline-webinars/ for more information.

About the Author: David McPeak, CUSP, CIT, CHST, CSP, CSSM, is the director of professional development for Utility Business Media’s Incident Prevention Institute (https://ip-institute.com) and the author of “Frontline Leadership – The Hurdle” and “Frontline Incident Prevention – The Hurdle.” He has extensive experience and expertise in leadership, human performance, safety and operations. McPeak is passionate about personal and professional development and believes that intrapersonal and interpersonal skills are key to success. He also is an advanced certified practitioner in DISC, emotional intelligence, the Hartman Value Profile, learning styles and motivators.

About Frontline Fundamentals: Frontline Fundamentals topics are derived from the Incident Prevention Institute’s popular Frontline training program (https://frontlineutilityleader.com). Frontline covers critical knowledge, skills and abilities for utility leaders and aligns with the Certified Utility Safety Professional exam blueprint.

Current, Frontline Fundamentals


David McPeak, CUSP, CIT, CHST, CSP, CSSM

About the Author: David McPeak, CUSP, CIT, CHST, CSP, CSSM, is the Director of Education for Utility Business Media’s Incident Prevention Institute (ip-institute.com) and the author of "Frontline Leadership – The Hurdle" and "Frontline Incident Prevention – The Hurdle". He has extensive experience and expertise in leadership, human performance, safety and operations. McPeak is passionate about personal and professional development and believes that intrapersonal and interpersonal skills are key to success. He also is an advanced certified practitioner in DISC, emotional intelligence, the Hartman Value Profile, learning styles and motivators. Reach him at david@utilitybusinessmedia.com.