ASSP Talks Human Error: Key Trends in Human Performance Presentations

A handful of speakers talked about human error during the three days of ASSP Safety 2020 Virtual. Here are some of the trends and key takeaways.

It’s easy to assume that a workplace injury or death was caused by human error, and figure that it was by the worker’s fault and not that of the company or system. But how do you measure human error and use cognitive science when it comes to decision-making? Thankfully, two presentations from this year’s virtual ASSP Safety 2020 helped me better understand human errors in the workplace.

On Tuesday, June 24 I listened to Bill Sims’s presentation titled “Green Beans, Ice Cream & HOP: Looking for Human Error,” and on June 25, I listened to John Barlew’s presentation titled “Skewed: Understanding the Mental Models Leading to Error.” These presentations had different ways of discussing human error and worker decision-making. However, their similarities spoke volumes.

Barlew opened with an interesting fact: frequencies of non-fatal injuries are decreasing in the workplace, but fatal injuries are plateauing and not decreasing. It is clear that we need to shift our thinking and learn more about human cognition and errors.

How do we do this? Well, Sims used a quote from the movie Sully: “You want to talk about human error? Make it human.”

Both Sims and Barlew explained that making human error “human” means looking at the external factors that impact a situation gone-wrong. If a worker is injured, employers need to consider other factors like stress, emotional tagging, memory queues, fatigue, positive reinforcement and more. Managers and employers need to focus less on teaching workers how to do their jobs (technically) and more on helping them with external emotional and cultural factors.

Examples of helping workers be safer on the job, and reducing the risk of workplace injury, include the following:

  • incorporating more positive reinforcement in a workplace that reinforce positive experience
  • helping workers manage stress and fatigue
  • promoting open sharing of experience and feedback

Sims and Barlew go in-depth in their presentation on how the brain works in real-time, high stress situations and how company culture affects safety. However, both emphasized that human error at a workplace injury or fatality are most likely because of other factors from leaderships, colleagues, safety culture and that individuals’ previous behavior.

The Safety 2020 virtual show was definitely unlike other years, but ASSP continued to provide helpful information for industry professionals. It is clear that the safety industry is as much about a worker’s physical safety as it is about his or her emotional and mental safety, too.

About the Author

Amanda Smiley is an Associate Content Editor for Occupational Health & Safety Magazine and 1105 Media.

Download Center

  • Industrial Premium Library

    Empower your workforce with the manufacturing, industrial maintenance, operations, HSE, compliance, and professional development skills they need to complete their tasks efficiently and safely. Not only will you boost productivity, reliability, skills, and morale but you’ll also onboard faster, and retain your best employees while meeting regulatory standards. Vector Solutions offers over 1,800 award-winning eLearning courses designed to keep your employees safe, transfer knowledge of fundamentals, and develop industry and job-specific skills that reduce downtime, maintenance costs and more.

  • Safety Metrics & Insights Webinar

    EHS professionals have been tackling the subject of how to best measure performance for many years. Lagging indicators like the Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) and Days Away Restricted Transfer Rate (DART) are a good place to start, but you shouldn’t forget about the leading indicators that your workforce does every day to prevent incidents from occurring. Learn about some of the most common KPIs of safety programs and how Vector EHS Management software can be used to track these metrics in this webinar.

  • Risk Matrix Guide

    Understanding the components of a risk matrix will allow you and your organization to manage risk effectively. Download this guide for details on risk matrix calculations including severity, probability, and risk assessment.

  • OSHA Recordkeeping Guide

    In case you missed it, OSHA recently initiated an enforcement program to identify employers who fail to electronically submit Form 300A recordkeeping data to the agency. When it comes to OSHA recordkeeping, there are always questions regarding the requirements and ins and outs. This guide is here to help! We’ll explain reporting, recording, and online reporting requirements in detail.

  • Safety Metrics Guide

    Is your company leveraging its safety data and analytics to maintain a safe workplace? With so much data available, where do you start? This downloadable guide will give you insight on helpful key performance indicators (KPIs) you should track for your safety program

  • Vector Solutions

Featured Whitepaper

OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - September 2022

    September 2022


    • ESG
      EHS Will Guide Future ESG Success for Many Organizations
      Handling Material Handlers: Training Beyond PIT Requirements
      The Missing Link with EHS Software
      Noise Surveys from the Trenches
    View This Issue