‘Human Error’ has long been identified as a contributing factor to incident causation
Commonly cited statistics claim that human error is responsible for anywhere between 70-100% of workplace safety incidents. While it's tempting as a business to apportion blame to a person or group of people, it ignores conditions and processes that may have contributed to the incident. It also highlights that no matter how 'safe' your workplace is, there's always a chance that a workplace emergency will occur when humans are involved.
Accidents Will Happen
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), human failures can be active or latent. Active failures are direct and immediate causes of an accident such as slips, lapses in judgement, mistakes, or violations. Latent failures are aspects which influence human behaviour and make active failures more likely, which can be:
- Job related – such as lack of time, inadequate procedures, poor lighting or extremes of temperature;
- Human related – such as a worker's physical ability, anxiety levels, or fatigue;
- Organisational – output expectations, poor scheduling, insufficient training processes or supervision; and
- Plant and equipment – faulty or poorly designed equipment, or incorrect workplace layout.
The Fatal Four
According to OSHA, in 2019 there were 5,333 worker deaths in the US. 20% of these (1,061) were in the construction industry and attributed to the ‘Fatal Four’: falls from height, struck by object, electrocution, and becoming trapped. Each incident would likely incorporate both active AND latent failures. You might have fostered a safety culture at work - and implemented processes to deliver on it - but there's only so much you can plan for or prevent. How you respond is equally important.
As part of your workplace emergency plan, you need to ensure key personnel understand what needs to happen in a workplace evacuation or medical event. How is everyone notified? How is a response coordinated? How will workers know what action is required of them? How are events reviewed at a later date?
Generally you need a clear system in place that covers the process of emergency response:
- Physical and virtual triggers
- One-to-many alert process
- Quick responses at three levels: worker, manager, corporate
- Event analysis to reduce likeliness of it happening again
Selecting The Right System
There's numerous systems on the market that can feed into your workplace emergency plan. When reviewing your options you'll want to consider:
- What type of system do you need - evacuation, medical alert, or both...
- Hardware - triggers, sirens, lights, sensors, control panels - and the location of this hardware...
- Software - how you'll access it, what you want it to do, whether it needs to integrate with existing business systems, is it reactive or proactive...
- Flexibility - will devices need to move, will processes need to change, does the system need to be static or fluctuate with a project...
- Management - who will be responsible for managing and maintaining it, who needs access, how much time you're willing to devote on a daily or weekly basis...
- Budget - how 'future proofed' is the solution, what are the ongoing costs, is the investment transparent...
It's important to review both active AND latent failures following a workplace emergency. It's tempting for a business to conclude the investigation once an error has been identified, and to classify this as the root cause of the incident. Actions are then developed to address the individual error, such as training, procedure modification, disciplinary action, and so on. This approach may have some success in preventing such an error from occurring again, depending on the type of error that was involved. However, this approach is unlikely to resolve any latent conditions that may facilitate errors across the workforce, or to identify error mitigation controls.
Event analysis shouldn't be about blamestorming or deflecting corporate responsibility for fear of retaliation or litigation. It should be about ongoing process improvement. As processes improve, you'll be demonstrating that the business is truly devoted to workplace safety, which will not only reassure workers but create a positive culture that everyone will appreciate.