Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ergonomics society oil and gas conference - part 1

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.

Martin Anderson opened the conference by giving an idea of where industry should be heading. Of particular note was his negativity towards behavioural safety. Not because there is anything particularly wrong with it, but because too many companies think using such a programme means they have 'done' human factors.

Martin showed a poster add from the airforce. It read "It takes about 80,000 rivets, 30,000 washers, 10,000 screws and bolts to help make this aircraft fly...... and only one nut to destroy it." Martin made it clear that this was NOT a useful message. Individuals rarely have much influence over the factors that make it more or less likely they will make an error, and so telling people to 'be careful' makes very little difference.

We all know that culture is an important part of human factors, but Matrin made the point that we can think this refers to 'operator culture' when in fact it is the 'organisational culture' that we need to be looking at. He quoted the following examples from the major accidents

* Poor competency assurance - Esso Longford
* Poor user interfaces - Texaco Pembroke
* Failure to learn from the past - Mexico City
* Poor maintenance management - Bhopal
* Inadequate management of change - Flixborough
* Poor communications - Piper Alpha
* Poor implementation of safety policy - Kings Cross fire

Martin made the point very forcibly that behavioural safety does not equal huaman factors. Behavioural approaches:

* Focus on observable behaviours only
* Draw attention away from process safety issues
* Don't address the significant impacts of management behaviour
* Can make a contribution to safety, but have limited benefits for the control of major hazards.

In particular it is not appropriate to focus on employee behaviour or culture when the organisation has insufficient resources, inapparopriate priorities, does not plan work effecitvely, has not assessed risks, has poor control over contractors, does not invest capital, has inadeqaute procedures and competency assurance etc.

Martin finished with a quote from Winston Churchill

"To look is one thing, to see what you look at is another
To understand what you see is another
To learn from what you understand is something else.
But to act on what you learn is all that really matters"

Andy Brazier

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