Part 2

Carrying Out Innovative Safety Improvements Without Errors

The error-proofing approach can have a much broader impact on the construction process than just reducing or eliminating worker injuries.

This article is the second article of a series of two. To read the first, please click here.

Workers have to successfully utilize organizational systems in order to accomplish their work. The resulting discrepancy, errors or accidents may emanate from the employee, the operational systems, or the interaction of the worker with the systems. Below are some general classifications that may lead to "defective" performance. This list is by no means complete and may differ for different organizations.

  • Capability: Physical strength, dexterity, experience, competence, skill, talent, etc.
  • Knowledge: Lack of information, lack of understanding, intelligence, miscommunication, incomplete information, misinterpreting memory, etc.
  • Judgment: Prejudice, expectation, perceptiveness, acumen, assessment, misjudgment, etc.
  • Attentional: Lack of focus, breaks in concentration, interruptions, disruptions in flow, multitasking, focus, etc.
  • Mistakes: Slip, lapse, oversight, deviation, perception, etc.
  • Personality: Habit, disposition, confrontational, drive, ignore rules or standards, arrogance, over-confidence, risk taking, disruptiveness, stubbornness, etc.
  • Motivation: Desire, impetus, impulse, actuation, cause, induce, influence, etc.
  • Intentional: Deliberate action, personal agenda, sabotage, etc.

The above categories provide a different approach to risk reduction and error proofing the operation. These originate from the workers performance, but most of the solutions have a management or system component. Generally, management designs systems, devise processes, or implement procedures that can be error proof. An example of error proofing where the systems make it impossible to make a mistake is the USB plug: you can only install in only one way. Likewise, management can devise systems that either eliminate or significantly reduce the error-making possibility.

Traditionally employees making errors were told to be careful, pay attention, or they were retrained. Training is only useful in cases of knowledge deficiency and don’t address many other underlying causes. Some research findings indicate that humans make five or more mistakes per hour, and since we cannot change human nature error proofing is a proactive approach to minimizing the potential negative results.

Motivation, feedback, and/or training work best if and when the physical environment as well as the systems and expectations are well designed and do not provoke errors. There really is no way the organization can expect to achieve excellence unless the systems facilitate ease of execution, reduce required effort, and enhance flawless achievement, while promoting safety. It is difficult if not impossible to achieve excellence in operations if the operational as well as organizational systems are error provocative.

Error provocative systems may create situations which increase the potential for workers to make mistakes. Management must study their construction process, or procedure, their operational means and methods, as well as their organizational systems to identify elements, functions, or areas which are error provocative and redesign or modify them in order to correct such predicaments. Sometimes design defects come to light during the construction phase. Astute contractors should alert the owner that an error proofing assessment should be conducted before construction commences, or better yet during design development in order to identify such problems and resolve them preconstruction.

Prior to the preliminary project start up steps the preconstruction group and the potential project team should review their operational, tactical, and logistic plans, the project schedule, budget, the procurement plan, subcontractor selection, staffing, controls, etc., for error-provocative potentials. This early investment of resources will ultimately have a tremendous impact on the reduction of variability, uncertainty, inconsistencies, and constructability, leading to substantial efficiencies and elimination of waste and injuries.

An assessment of the project systems should first look at the project team and ensure they have all the necessary capability, knowledge, and motivation and that they can and will function as an effective team.

All potential deficiencies should be addressed and mitigated prior to start of work.

The systems critique starts with a review of all the potential processes, procedures, expected practices, and performance expectations that will be in effect, utilizing the framework of steps listed above.

System error-proofing guidelines may include:

  • Assign project team members who ate capable, knowledgeable, and motivated, and who will work as an integrated team
  • Devise robust systems that enhance error-free performance:
    • Utilize shop prefabrication over field installation where possible to reduce error.
    • Use preassembly to reduce exposure time.
    • Incorporate modularization to foster ease of installation.
    • Standardization can help reduce task difficulty/variability.
    • Utilize checklists and use them every time the activity or situation changes (similar to CRM).
    • Anticipate deviations, fluctuations, and changes in flow with "ready" preplanned possible interventions.
    • Minimize disruptions so as to reduce distractions and focus attention.
    • Have recovery plans ready for use for potential disruptions or failures.
  • Make "doing it right" the first time an organizational "living" core value.

Utilize a team environment that promotes open participation and leverages experience in the continuous improvement process.

Employ planning, risk assessment, and problem-solving methodologies to drive performance to perfection and defects to zero.

Implement a continuous improvement process supported by an organization-wide sustaining system.

Once the systems are optimized, the next step is to address the interaction of the people with the systems. This is the understanding or perception of the people who are operating within the operational systems and their understanding of what is expected of them. They may misunderstand or draw the wrong conclusions and so act in ways that are not in the best interest of the organization. Some of these problems may result from communication or information that is not clear, insufficient, untimely, or confusing. Management must ensure that workers have a clear understanding of expectations. Mistakes may occur because of:

  • Perception errors (misunderstanding, misreading, misidentifying, misjudging, etc.)
  • Communication (ambiguous, incorrect, incomplete, untimely, etc.)
  • Expectations (speed, production goals, performance, compliance, task demand, working too slow, trying to catch up, being overloaded, etc.)
  • Influences by others (failure to deliver as promised, lateness, shortage, defective part, etc.)
  • Task assignment that ignores worker capability (strength, experience, skill, competence, proficiency, etc.)
  • Poor planning or risk assessment (which increases variability, uncertainty, pressures and stress, surprise, etc.)
  • Failure to assess worker knowledge (lacking experience, training, skill, etc.)
  • Not controlling the environment (stress, noise, heat, cold, lighting, risk, etc.)
  • Motivation (influence, desire, activate, persuade, stimulate, perform, etc.)


Probably there are as many mistake-proofing strategies as there are mistakes. Generally a holistic approach to mistake proofing requires engagement, communication as well as cooperation between the producers (workers) and supervision. The internal systems have to be fully integrated and aligned with business goals and objectives. Managers must become leaders to empower and motivate the workforce to become fully engaged and contributing to improving the processes and practices. The culture and climate must support and sustain the error-proofing procedures and the worker-system interface. Error proofing must become an organizational value and the guiding "way of life."

Significantly the error-proofing approach can have a much broader impact on the construction process than just reducing or eliminating worker injuries. Studies have determined that anywhere from 40 to 65 percent of the cost of construction does not create value for the project owner. Whatever percent may be the true reflection of this waste, it is a waste, and every effort should be made to address this. The error-proofing process defined above looks at the three key areas where the risk of defects may occur in the organization's systems, business practices, and operational process as well as the behavior of the people within it. If error proofing is integrated into the organization's "means and methods," the potential benefits are going give it an error free work environment, significantly improvement of its bottom line, and improve the company's reputation.

This article is the second article of a series of two. To read the first, please click here.

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