Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ergonomics society oil and gas conference - part 5

I was a speaker at the Ergonomics Society's conference on 'Human and organisational factors in the oil, gas and chemical industries' on 27-28 November 2007. I am blogging key messages from some of the presentations.

Andrew Hopkins gave a presentation entitled "Thinking about process safety indicators." Andrew is very well known for his book "Lessons from Longford" which gives a fascinating account of organisational failures related to Esso's fire and explosion in Australia.

Andrew made a number of very good points in his presentation. He talked about the 'Heinrich triangles' which suggest that for every fatal accident there will be 10 major injures, 100 minor injuries, 1000 near misses etc. He said this gives the impression that reducing the rate of minor incidents can influence the likelihood of a major accident. However, this is not the case and that a separate triangle is required that only covers process safety incidents so that for every major accident there is 10 major process disturbances, 100 minor process disturbances and 1000 near misses. There may be a very small overlap on the bottom level of the personal and process safety triangles.

Andrew's main point was that we have become overly concerned with the difference between leading and lagging indicators of safety performance. This distinction is quite artificial and not as clear cut as it may appear. Instead what we need is more process safety indicators. It does not really matter if they are leading or lagging, as they only need to occur with sufficient frequency to give statistically relevant data. To do be effective the indicators need to show how well barriers or defences are working and performing.

An interesting suggestion from Andrew was that manager bonuses should be linked to process safety, although it must be done in a way that does not cause 'perverse outcomes' whereby the act of measuring leads to data being hidden. Any personal incentives should be symbolic and public (e.g. cinema pass).

Andy Brazier

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