Incident Prevention Magazine

Phillip Ragain

The Human Error Trap

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The agitation of the managers sitting in the meeting room is palpable. The safety director sits stiffly at the conference table. Everyone is overwhelmed by a hurricane of thoughts. "We did everything we could, right?" Conjectures whirl. Voices surge. "We've spent the last three years installing a safety management system to keep this sort of thing from happening. It was textbook!”

These leaders wonder to themselves, “Did I do something that led to this?" But soul-searching eventually gives way to frustration as a voice stands out in the room: "What were they thinking out there?"

People grab hold of these words and their implication – that the incident occurred because a handful of people in the field did something wrong. It seems a simple matter of fact that explains what happened and points to what must be done next. "We will review our policies, retrain everyone, hold people accountable and get rid of those we can't trust." And it works … until the next storm blows in.

This scenario has played out countless times, with an array of casts and in the aftermath of many different kinds of events. Some are small-scale events, like an employee failing to lock out equipment before servicing it. Others are catastrophic events, like an exploding chemical plant.

My colleagues at The RAD Group and I propose that the thought process represented here is a trap, and one that people at all levels of an organization can fall into quite naturally. We call it the “human error trap,” and when organizations become ensnared, they find themselves unwittingly stuck in a status quo of safety.

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Phillip Ragain

Assimilating Short-Service Employees Into Your Safety Culture

Assimilating Short-Service Employees Into Your Safety Culture

Culture is one of the most significant drivers of an organization’s safety performance. It can take time to build a safety culture, and it also takes time for employees to assimilate into an existing culture after beginning work for an organization. This poses a serious challenge for organizations that regularly scale to meet project demands. An influx of short-service employees (SSEs) often coincides with an increase in incidents. While there are a number of reasons for this – such as poor hazard recognition – one significant reason is that SSEs have not yet assimilated into the existing culture’s standards of safe operations. Despite efforts to overcome this problem, many companies continue to report that it remains one of their greatest challenges. After examining SSE programs implemented by different organizations, my colleagues at The RAD Group and I have identified criteria for an SSE program that helps new employees more effectively adapt to a company’s safety culture.

The Root of the Problem
Once a strong culture is in place, it is like a hidden force guiding people’s decisions to work safely. However, it takes time for people to fall under the influence of a safety culture, and in the meantime they may work in a way that does not align with their employer’s standards. The root of the problem, of course, is that SSEs by definition have not been in the organization long.

To better understand and respond to this enduring challenge, it helps to address three questions:
1. How do people assimilate into a culture?
2. Why do some SSE programs fall short?
3. What kind of program would more effectively assimilate SSEs into a safety culture?

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Phillip Ragain

Shifting Your Organizational Safety Culture

Shifting Your Organizational Safety Culture

In one way or another, culture helps to shape nearly everything that happens within an organization, from shortcuts taken by shift workers to budget cuts made by managers. As important as it is, though, it can seem equally as confusing and hard to control. Culture appears to emerge as an unexpected byproduct of organizational minutiae: A brief comment made by a manager, misinterpreted by direct reports, propagated during water cooler conversations and compounded with otherwise unrelated management decisions to downsize, outsource, reassign, promote, terminate and so on.

Culture can either grow wild and unmanaged – unpredictably influencing employee performance and elevating risk – or it can be understood and deliberately shaped to ensure that employees uphold the organization’s safety values.

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Phillip Ragain

The Safety Side Effect: How Good Supervisors Coincidentally Improve Safety

The Safety Side Effect: How Good Supervisors Coincidentally Improve Safety

Why do those supervisors whose employees are the most engaged, productive and efficient also seem to elicit the best safety performance? Without having to climb atop their safety soapboxes, boisterously wave the banner of safety or plaster every surface with “Safety First” stickers, their style of leadership coincidentally generates safer performance. It is a side effect of the way that good leaders facilitate and focus the efforts of their subordinate employees. But what, specifically, produces this side effect? As it turns out, supervisors who lead in a certain way create a climate in which their employees are more likely to do something that improves safety: take initiative.

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Phillip Ragain

Understanding and Influencing the ‘Bulletproof’ Employee

Understanding and Influencing the ‘Bulletproof’ Employee

Some employees are regrettably willing to take risks, as though they believe that they cannot be injured. This is the challenge of the “bulletproof” employee. To influence these kinds of employees, we first need to understand why they take the risks that they do, and our approach to understanding these employees, as it turns out, is where the challenge starts. By breaking a handful of old habits and adopting a more useful model for understanding others' decisions and actions, we can become better equipped to tackle this challenge head-on and positively influence these employees.

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