Making safety more human

22/02/2013 - Health and safety

Making safety more human

Health and safety is the single most important aspect of our business, which is why we continually push ourselves to do better. One of the key things we have learned this year is that knowledge of rules and policies alone does not necessarily change the actions of people in a high risk activity. Making a workplace safer requires taking account of the “human factors”, and this year we’ve invested in building our understanding of these factors as part of our commitment to Zero Harm.

Accident assessment has traditionally focused on the failed events themselves and their immediate precursors. With Human Factors thinking, however, the investigation begins further back in the accident sequence and examines and fixes the problems at the highest levels. While it is really important to understand the technical aspects of an incident, from an accident prevention perspective we also need to understand the human factors aspects of the incident - in other words, it is less about mechanical cogs, wheels and levers and more about the cogs, wheels and levers of the human brain.

Renowned psychologist James Reason’s “Swiss Cheese” accident causation model demonstrates how most accidents can be traced to four levels of failure: organisational factors; supervision; preconditions; and unsafe acts. In the Swiss Cheese model, the steps to prevent accidents are modelled as a series of barriers, like slices of Swiss Cheese. The holes in the cheese represent the weaknesses in each part of the system. They are always varying in size and position in all four slices. The system as a whole fails when all of the holes in each of the slices align allowing a failure to get through.

Realistically, people commit unsafe acts all day, every day, despite the fact that they know they’re not supposed to. The best way to change behaviour is actually to address factors above the level of the individual. So instead of focusing all our energy on preventing holes in the last slice of Swiss cheese, we’ve been seeking to understand the root causes of incidents and focusing our energy on what we can do at the organisational and supervision levels.

Some of the ways we’re doing this is through new Incident Causation Analysis Method (ICAM) software to help us better investigate accidents, and introducing risk management software into our retail network to codify activities and map where risks are occurring.

As a company that distributes and sells around 2.5 billion litres of fuel and that comes into contact with thousands of people every day - we have to be obsessed about safety. Improving our safety statistics starts with the operations that are closest to us, our Head Office and our retail and commercial networks, and progresses out to our supply chain. Together, our new accident investigation software, our integrated approach and our in-house Human Factors expertise are giving us new understandings of how people work and enabling us to better look after our people, and help them better look after themselves.


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