On human performance & culture
Don’t focus on frailties; don’t mandate culture
The focus on human performance has quickly become no more than human error of yesteryear. I’m amazed at how many “neuroscience solutions” there suddenly are that can fix human (safety) performance. Yet the focus remains on human frailties and failures and human performance still has the worker as the deer in the head light -- the imperative of mitigating human errors.
My position is the human link is the most complete link in the safety chain, with skills and capabilities that exceed any other. Human response in a risk environment is highly complex, iterative and variable - exactly what risk dynamics require. So I am not quite in the camp of human performance as it’s commonly defined.
Mandating an improved safety culture
The notion of safety culture “compliance” is a false goal. It implicitly reduces/removes the individual or collective obligation to be ready to “respond to risk” (my definition of safety). Increasingly accidents are happening despite compliance and, sometimes, even as a result of compliance.
The issue of safety culture is much misunderstood. There are many simplistic definitions for it, and therein lies the problem. It’s a bit like global warming – it is one of the most complex phenomena in modern sciences, and yet every politician, activist or blogger knows exactly what it is and how it affects daily events, and can link it to every hurricane or bushfire. Similar beliefs surround “culture.” We believe both climate change and culture exist because scientists tell us so. But in both cases, exactly what scientist agree on is not clear or precise. We can and link culture with every accident, too.
Regarding culture, some deny its existence, others deny it can be measured, others deny it can be changed/improved.
I think all three are true, but that doesn’t mean it is readily possible. Culture can be improved:
- If it is derived from the “correct” vision, where what is “correct” is highly diffuse;
- If driven by the “correct” actions and practices of leaders;
- If supported by the appropriate systems and processes; and
- If there is aligning of behaviors at the front line.
Notice all the if’s for each of the many factors that will drive culture! In essence, culture is not rocket science. It is far more complicated than that. Can it be achieved? Yes. If mandated? Simple answer has to be no…