Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Worker safety goes beyond human error



News Release 19-Jan-2021
Perceptions of safety procedure quality and utility are the best predictors of workers' likelihood to comply, Texas A&M researchers found
Texas A&M University


Disasters in high-risk industries can have catastrophic environmental, financial and human safety consequences. One way these industries help prevent and mitigate disasters is formal procedures designed to standardize how work is done. These procedures typically come in the form of a written document workers use while performing a task.

Camille Peres, associate professor at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, said that there are two models of safety companies usually follow to varying degrees, whether they realize it or not. Safety model one "is very much a control paradigm," Peres said. "The idea the company has is that if they control absolutely everything that's going on, then they will be safe." This narrow, rule-following approach does not account for unexpected circumstances and broader system issues, such as safety climate.

Safety model two focuses on procedures as a tool for the worker, and the worker being sufficiently trained to know how and when to adjust to unforeseen circumstances.

"Safety model two involves empowering the workers to understand the risks and be able to adapt when necessary to unexpected situations," Peres said. "There is an acknowledgment that things don't always go according to plan, and there is constant feedback between workers and superiors about how best to accomplish work -- this often means improving procedures in an efficient and effective way."


The researchers' main findings were that the better the worker's attitude toward compliance and the utility of procedures, and fewer years' experience, the less likely they are to deviate from and actually use procedures.

Further, the researchers found that of the individual-level characteristics, attitudes toward procedure utility were found to be the best predictor of incidents and near-misses, suggesting that the better workers' attitudes regarding procedure utility, the fewer incidents and near-misses they were involved in per year.

"To have utility associated with incidents and near misses is a big deal," Peres said. "This tells industry that it's not enough to have high quality procedures -- you have to have procedures that help workers do their jobs." Specifically, they found that utility was the best predictor of procedure use, even after accounting for procedure quality.

As found in other studies, procedure quality was found to be important. The better the quality of the procedure, the fewer deviations there are, resulting in fewer incidents and near-misses per year.


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