Q: We are a small, distribution-only municipal utility that has been looking into human performance. We are having some trouble understanding it all and how it could benefit us. Most of the training resources are pretty expensive. Can you help us sort it out?
A: We can. Human performance management (HPM) has been around in various forms and focuses since before the 1950s. Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, it seems the focus was on companies performing functional analysis and correcting issues that created losses, thereby promoting more efficient and error-resistant operations. In the ’60s and ’70s, much of the literature on HPM seemed to surround the nuclear power industry, and indeed the introduction of HPM into the transmission/distribution side of the utility industry appears to have come through the generation side. In the ’70s, researchers began to experiment and write about more closely analyzing the knowledge and skills of the performer. It took a while to sink in, but the safety industry began to research HPM as a culture analysis and risk prevention tool. It makes sense. Human performance – in particular knowledge, skills modes, decision-making modes and performance – affects all of every enterprise whether you have an HPM program or not. Organizations are made of people. HPM has identified and categorized commonalities in types of personalities that predict how people make decisions and perform tasks. Studying human performance also can help identify safety culture issues and risk behaviors. It’s not a big or expensive step to train your workforce on problem-solving and decision-making characteristics of the human mind. Soon they will understand their own processes and the limitations of the way they naturally think, allowing them to make adjustments toward better performance. So if we can take advantage of HPM to prevent incidents, why not do it? Most organizations start small. Pick a few key people to begin training on the basics of HPM, and then look at your organization to see where the initial undertakings can do the most good. There are several experts associated with Incident Prevention who will be glad to help should you need it. Additionally, on the iP website (www.incident-prevention.com) you can find numerous HPM articles in the iP archives as well as information and training sessions from past iP Utility Safety Conferences. HPM works. We hope you will pursue it.