Friday, December 05, 2008

The Fun Police

Cutting Edge documentary on Channel 4 last night (4 December 2008).

I don't think anyone in the health and safety profession ever expected this documentary to be particularly informative, and it wasn't. And, it is no surprise that people are saying on the internet today that they are disappointed or even angry about how the profession was represented.

But I have found five newspaper reviews of the program, and I don't think any have said it showed how ridiculous health and safety is. All noticed that the start of the program did labour some of the issues, making it look like health and safety people see danger everywhere. But all recognised that there are many serious issues, and the people shown were doing the right thing.

The following quotes are taken from the various papers:

The Telegraph - "If the popular press is to be believed, they’re full-time killjoys and agents of an increasingly spineless culture. Yet watching them as they trudge from one premise to the next, harangued, mistrusted, occasionally shouted down, it’s quite heartbreaking. They may be meddling and almost neurotically preoccupied with catastrophic scenarios, yet on the evidence of this documentary, presented by health and safety expert Ed Friend, their intentions are noble. Perhaps it’s worth considering too, whether they are any more to blame for our risk-obsessed culture than insurers and an increasingly litigious public?"

The Guardian - "This film is nicely non-judgmental. It simply shows these health and safety people, going about their business, doing what they believe is right. And Ed certainly believes it. He's passionate about health and safety, if that's possible. He's not going to shut up about it until there are no more accidents. And even though he's clearly the most annoying and ridiculous man in the world, there's also something quite admirable in that."

The Times - "One of the inspectors said he gets angrier and angrier at the “absolute waste of human life” presided over by lazy companies. His job meant he was an “expert in human misery”. There would never be a recession in “health and safety” — sadly. "

The Independent - "For anybody approaching the film in a Littlejohn state of mind, there was plenty here to confirm any prejudices; being of a nervous, risk-averse disposition, I was less sure about the message. Most of what Mr Friend had to say about the dangers of everyday life wasn't entirely stupid; the joke lay in his bothering to point it out, and in his somewhat pedantic manner. This being TV, it strikes me as entirely possible that in pointing out danger on every hand, he was only doing what he had been asked to do ("Go on, Ed, show us a risk"). Even if he was as neurotic as the film made out, that hardly amounts to an argument about health-and-safety regulation in general. I don't suppose, either, that Ms McIlravey's anxieties about glue would seem quite so petty if you'd found that the glue on the back of your falsies was eating through your actual nails, which is apparently one of the possibilities."

The Herald - "There is no health and safety in this country," Ed stated, "only accidents and ill health." The Fun Police convinced you we need more Ed Friends, not fewer."

My view on the program is that it was pretty boring and a missed opportunity. It will not be worthy of further consideration, unless Ed Friend becomes a TV celebrity as a result.

Andy Brazier

Thursday, December 04, 2008

How to influence people at work

Article in the Times by Carly Chynowth on 3 December 2008. Gives 10 points as follows:

1. Build raport - people enjoy doing business with people they like. Take time to ask about family, holidays etc. It smoothes the way, just like WD40;

2. Earn respect - this is better than being liked. Showing you know what you are doing and are a good leader, and able to bring a sense of order and cohesion will earn you respect;

3. Get your message right - clear and concise. When under pressure we tend to add lots of extraneous words (e.g. 'I hope you don't mind');

4. Get things in context - understand and hence avoid the cultural and professional constraints that others are working under and cause barriers to progress;

5. Open your ears - listening to others means you will know what motivates them and hence how best to influence them;

6. Reciprocity matters - doing something helpful to someone means they will want to help back (e.g. a Big Issuer seller sold far more copies when he held the door open for people);

7. Get the timing right - talk to people when they are least likely to be pressured;

8. Give up the glory - let others take the credit and do not get emotionally attached to your ideas;

9. The element of style - the way you look and act has a big influence, but beware of changing to try and suit the circumstances;

10. Don't manipulate - direct people but let them work our the path for themselves.

Andy Brazier

OECD-CCA Workshop on Human Factors in Chemical Accidents and Incidents

Another long report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Published 2008. Available free from the OECD website

The report presents the main output of the OECD-CCA Workshop on Human Factors in Chemical Accidents and Incidents, which took place on 8 and 9 May 2007, in Potsdam, Germany. The overall objective of the workshop was to explore human factors related to management and operation of a hazardous installation, and to share information on assessment tools for analysis and reduction of human error in the chemical industry, including small and medium size enterprises (SMEs).

Seems to provide a good summary of issues, but I can't see anything particularly new.

Andy Brazier

Guidance on Developing Safety Performance Indicators

Guidance published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) specifically related to chemical accident prevention, preparedness and response. Second edition published 2008 and available free from the OECD website

It is a very long document, and so will take some studying. But it lays out why you want Safety Performance Indicators (SPI) and how to develop them. Also, there seem to be lots of examples of indicators to use.

The introduction reads "Safety Performance Indicators (“SPIs”) provide important tools for any enterprise that handles significant quantities of hazardous substances (whether using, producing, storing, transporting, disposing of, or otherwise handling chemicals) including enterprises that use chemicals in manufacturing other products. Specifically, SPIs help enterprises understand whether risks of chemical accidents are being appropriately managed. The goal of SPI Programmes is to help enterprises find and fix potential problems before an accident occurs.

By taking a pro-active approach to risk management, enterprises not only avoid system failures and the potential for costly incidents, they also benefit in terms of business effi ciency. For example, the same indicators that reveal whether risks are being controlled can often show whether operating conditions are being optimised."

The Guidance divides SPI into two types: "outcome indicators" and "activities indicators."

* Outcome indicators are designed to help assess whether safety-related actions (policies, procedures and practices) are achieving their desired results and whether such actions are leading to less likelihood of an accident occurring and/or less adverse impact on human health, the environment and/or property from an accident. They are reactive, intended to measure the impact of actions that were taken to manage safety and are similar to what are called “lagging indicators” in other documents. Outcome indicators often measure change in safety performance over time, or failure of performance. Thus, outcome indicators tell you whether you have achieved a desired result (or when a desired safety result has failed). But, unlike activities indicators, they do not tell you why the result was achieved or why it was not.

* Activities indicators are designed to help identify whether enterprises/organisations are taking actions believed necessary to lower risks (e.g., the types of policies, procedures and practices described in the Guiding Principles). Activities indicators are pro-active measures, and are similar to what are called “leading indicators” in other documents. They often measure safety performance against a tolerance level that shows deviations from safety expectations at a specific point in time. When used in this way, activities indicators highlight the need for action when a tolerance level is exceeded.

Thus, activities indicators provide enterprises with a means of checking, on a regular and systematic basis, whether they are implementing their priority actions in the way they were intended. Activities indicators can help explain why a result (e.g., measured by an outcome indicator) has been achieved or not.

Andy Brazier

Simulation will increasingly be used to train pilots for optimum operations

Very interesting article by David Learmount from Flight International, published on the Flight Global website on 25 November 2008

It refers to an analysis of global airline safety data by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) that said "pilot judgement, decision-making and/or handling are key factors in 75% of catastrophic accidents, whereas technical failures tend to be causal in the less serious events." This is despite advancing technology and improved aircraft, and is expected to remain the case for the foreseeable future. However, the article does say "It is important to note that this [statistic] does not imply that the pilot was at fault or to blame, because it is now well-established that 'pilot error' cannot continue to be the scapegoat for the many and various factors that can lead to the error occurring."

Quality pilot training at all levels remains the critical factor in preventing the most serious accidents. Whilst some airlines are beginning to use simulation to improve crews' wider operational and flight management skills there is a danger that this is at the expense of getting "raw" flying practice, which get less of operationally because of high degrees of automation. Apparently ongoing studies "show that handling skills degrade with time, while cognitive skills are less time-sensitive, and that recent manual flying practice does improve manual flying performance."

The CAA data "highlights the crucial importance of pilot performance in safety, and therefore reminds us to invest resources in anything that might support it - [for example] training and simulation facilities - and to minimise influences that might adversely contribute, [like] time pressure, fatigue, and distraction."

An interesting development is that airlines are using simulators not only to train pilots to fly and manage aircraft, but to fly procedures specific to their own requirements to reduce costs and increase the operational efficiency of the airline. An example is Emirates, who are looking beyond using simulators to meet regulatory requirements, employing them also to hone crew decision-making skills in situations where there are operational options purely from the safety point of view, but where one of the outcomes will be the more efficient.

It is seen that "tier-two" airlines are bringing more training in-house, and are getting quite sophisticated in the business case analysis they are undertaking with respect to their operations. They don't have this barrier to change that the tier-one airlines do. I'm sorry but I haven't seen, for example, British Airways, innovate when it comes to this stuff - they just won't.

Andy Brazier

AWG slashes picking errors with Voice

I'm always interested in claims of quantifiable reductions in human error. In this press release BCP, a systems and software house specialising in the retail and wholesale distribution markets, say one of their clients has reduced their 'picking error' by 97.3% saving over £100,000 per year.

The picking they refer to is people taking items from the shelves in a warehouse to fulfill orders. In the past these people were given a written list of items. This has been replaced by an automated voice instruction to headphones via a wireless system. They have to confirm their understanding by repeating the instruction, which is checked using voice recognition.

The following quote regarding user acceptance gives an insight into why this has been successful - "Pickers, initially sceptical, have adapted to Voice quickly, finding it simple to learn and adopt. Assemblers - even those who’ve been with us for years and very settled into the old system - really like the new technology. They’re keen to extend it to other warehouse activities as they’ve found it makes their jobs much easier."

Andy Brazier