Companies often struggle with what are called “human factors.” These are problems dealing with human nature. This is a challenge for all of us, even though it can feel like we’re alone sometimes when trying to overcome these challenges.
Human factors affect safety, but they can affect other key performance indicators (KPI) as well, such as engagement, quality, performance, efficiency and overall culture.
When you stop and think about it, it’s no secret to anyone that the world has really changed due to the pandemic, and a number of other things going on in the world – there are a lot of things affecting all of us at this point in time.
These are the types of physical and mental states that affect how people think and act which can cause people to deviate from their normal behavior.
And this is all part of being human, so it won’t just go away.
Organizations struggle to recognize the impact these human factors have.
When it comes to safety, how do we try to reduce injuries?
By eliminating or guarding hazards, instituting rules or regulations, doing more training and introducing PPE.
Is that enough?
We know it isn’t, and the reason is because none of it addresses the human factors.
Corporate America spends a lot of time focused on a traditional approach to safety. And that’s because it gives us a measure of efficiency and has eliminated a lot of hazards, but when we have all those measures in place we come almost to a point of diminishing returns.
Human factors may get identified in a risk assessment – if they’re identified at all – but it’s rare that guidance is given on how to manage them.
There is a risk pattern associated with human factors that involves a learning loop – that can be both positive or negative – tied to an individual’s thoughts, feelings and decisions as well as to the actions they take based on those items.
And this human factor risk pattern affects injury risks, performance and overall culture.
Climate v. culture
Addressing your company climate, not your culture, is an important part of addressing the human factor issue.
Culture is basically the idea of “the way things are done around here” in contrast to climate which is “the way things feel around here these days.”
Climate has a more narrow focus than culture.
For safety, climate is about employees’ perceived value of safety today, and it can be influenced by other people’s opinions, attitudes and actions.
It also changes based on circumstances.
Things that could change climate include the boss being in a bad mood, a rush order or a production line being shut down.
If you want to improve your safety culture, start with improving your climate.
Do that by:
- ensuring there is effective communication throughout the company
- making sure everyone is aware of hazards
- having methods for effective reporting and gathering of data
- ensuring employees are engaged
- having active leadership since supervisors and managers wield a great deal of influence over climate.
(Adapted from a presentation by Danny Smith, Senior Safety Consultant, SafeStart, Birmingham, AL, at the VPPPA Next Level Safety Virtual Event)