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4 Essential Reports and Safety Articles on Human Factors Management

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Learning how to manage human factors can be a tall order—especially if you aren’t used to thinking about the concept on a daily basis. Human factors management can be an incredibly valuable part of your safety management system, so it’s worthwhile to become more familiar with the principles behind it. To that end, here are several reports, excerpts and safety articles on human factors management that will help you get a better grasp on integrating human factors-focused thinking into your SMS.

The Power of Safety

This classic excerpt from The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is famous for a reason: it outlines how Paul O’Neill used safety-first thinking to turn around Alcoa’s performance. It’s a well-known story of how O’Neill took over a struggling manufacturing company and began talking about safety incessantly, not only internally but in shareholder meetings too. The end result was a big boost in safety results and, following on its heels, major improvements in productivity. The link was clear: safety outcomes beget production outcomes.

What often goes unrecognized in this story is the extent to which different areas of any business are connected—even for an organization as large as Alcoa. O’Neill recognized that human factors spread widely throughout a company and that injuries affect morale, and morale affects productivity, and productivity drives executives to mandate changes that increase the risk of injury. It’s a vicious cycle and one that can be mitigated by addressing the human factors that are found at the root of it: frustration, rushing, and a handful of other factors that stem from disharmonious internal cultures.

It’s also a great example of how “small wins have enormous power,” as Duhigg says, and that managing human factors doesn’t have to be a convoluted process, as long as it embeds human error management principles throughout the entire organization.

Why Happiness Is the Secret Ingredient of Workplace Safety

Several human factors, like fatigue and complacency, are immediately identifiable as safety risks. Others are less so. This is why this article on considering happiness in a human factors management strategy is so eye-opening.

Many safety professionals have a general understanding of human factors. And they also believe in the power of engagement (which, as the article points out, is really just another word for on-the-job happiness). But fewer EHS folks recognize how these two concepts dovetail in the workplace.

As the article concludes: “Happiness creates far more than these six pathways to higher safety outlined here. It sparks innovation, making manufacturing processes simpler and safer. It creates greater trust in leaders, greater belief that safety really does come before production, and therefore greater willingness to hit stop before a serious break. It feeds the willingness to comply with safety protocols rather than disregard what the company has requested. And overall, it leads to people, who of course don’t want to get hurt, through dozens of difficult-to-document causal connections, being better at actually avoiding the catastrophic.”

The value of happiness is clear in terms of both safety and productivity. But to make it happen, you need to start thinking in terms of human factors management. This includes helping supervisors develop the skills to take an individual approach to managing employees, and making sure that employees feel like they can voice safety concerns when they arise.

The Supervisor’s Crucial Role in Safety Performance

Supervisors are a huge factor in determining safety outcomes for their crew.  So it should come as no surprise that they also play a huge role in managing human factors. According to this article about how shift supervisors affect safety performance, one of the key techniques of human factors management strategies is to empower frontline leaders.

It’s a straightforward concept but, as the article points out, there’s a lot of nuance to it. Supervisors need to have a robust understanding of human factors (as well as other safety requirements). They should have good communication skills. And they must be able to have direct, and sometimes difficult, conversations with employees. Few supervisors have this full set of skills and knowledge, and so it’s up to the organization to train them.

The best option, in terms of both cost and efficiency, is to conduct a multi-purpose supervisor safety training course that targets both communication skills and human factors recognition. It’s one of the most direct and effective ways to get frontline leaders on board with managing human factors on a daily basis.

A Framework for Managing Human Factors

This last entry provides a lot more than a traditional article in a trade publication, but getting more than you expect is a big theme for this human factors whitepaper. It seems to offer a basic premise: a diagram that charts how human factors circulate throughout an organization. But at its heart, it provides a rigorous way to monitor and manage human error and to improve your approach to reducing the effects of human factors.

Given how flexible it is, the framework that you’ll find in the white paper can be applied to companies of almost any size, and in pretty much every industry. In fact, if you’re looking for a way to really kick off your drive to better manage human factors in safety (and, keeping in mind Paul O’Neill’s story, throughout the rest of your organization too), then this human factors white paper is an ideal place to start.

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Safety and the Supervisor: Developing Frontline Leadership Skills to Improve Safety

Supervisors are the bridge between organizational directives and on-the-ground operations. Their skills and knowledge are critical to a seamless flow of information in both directions and to their organization's safety success. This webinar offers EHS managers and company executives actionable advice on improving safety through leveraging the role of frontline leaders.

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