You can look at human errors that lead to workplace accidents in one of two ways, says professor of psychology Dr. James Reason in the British Medical Journal, the person approach or the system approach. According to Dr. Reason:
No time to write safety meeting materials? You don't need to with the 50 prewritten safety meeting modules in BLR's Safety Meeting Repros program. All meetings are ready to use, right out of the box. Try it completely at our expense! Get the details.
The person approach emphasizes unsafe acts resulting from slips, lapses, fumbles, mistakes, and violations of safety rules. The person approach blames the errors that lead to accidents on human failings such as forgetfulness, inattention, poor motivation, carelessness, negligence, and recklessness.
"Naturally enough," Reason says, "the associated countermeasures are directed mainly at reducing unwanted variability in human behaviour."
A serious weakness of the person approach, Reason believes, is that focusing on the individual origins of error isolates unsafe acts from their system context. "As a result," he says, "two important features of human error tend to be overlooked:
Examine Safety Meeting Repros completely at our expense. Send no money. Take no risk. Get more info.
The system approach, on the other hand, recognizes that humans are fallible and errors are to be expected, even in the best organizations. "Errors are seen as consequences rather than causes, having their origins not so much in the perversity of human nature as in 'upstream' systemic factors," says Reason. "These include recurrent error traps in the workplace and the organisational processes that give rise to them."
Preventing workplace accidents under the system approach is based on the assumption that though you can't change the human condition, you can change the conditions under which employees work.
"A central idea is that of system defences," Reason asserts. "All hazardous technologies possess barriers and safeguards. When an adverse event occurs, the important issue is not who blundered, but how and why the defences failed."
Tomorrow, we'll continue to examine human error and workplace accidents, featuring three common "error traps" identified by a renowned American safety expert whose name you'll probably recognize.
Copyright © 2013 BLR Business & Legal Reports Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.