Human Performance 101: "Gentlemen, this is a football."

As discussed in our previous blog, NFPA 70E 2018 Update: What do you need to know?, there is a new requirement to address human error in the risk assessment process. The guidance states in Article 110.1 (H)(2) “Human Error. The risk assessment procedure shall address the potential for human error and its negative consequences on people, processes, the work environment, and equipment.” It seems like a vague statement that can impact every facet of work. What do you do with this?

To help, NFPA 70E included “Informative Annex Q Human Performance and Workplace Electrical Safety” to introduce the concept of human performance and how to apply it. It has some great information, but it begins the discussion well down the road from where most people start. If you aren’t familiar with human error and human performance improvement you are quickly lost and perhaps a bit overwhelmed. Vince Lombardi didn’t open pre-season training with “Let’s run ‘shift to halfback twin right open, swap 72 all-go special halfback shallow cross wide open.’ Readyyyyy, Break!” He started with “Gentlemen, this is a football.” Let’s start with the basics too. 

If you watch the news, you have probably heard the term “human error”. A recent example is the false missile alarm in Hawaii that the Governor blamed on human error. It hints at a cause but doesn’t tell the whole story.  In short, human error is unintended action. With the best of intentions, we often make mistakes. Most of the time the errors are small, but can vary widely in their impact. Errors can result in some brief re-work or lost productivity; not great but not catastrophic. The same small mistake could result in damaged equipment, personnel injury, or even a fatality; many times the difference is a matter of being a few inches one way or the other. Human Error? Pretty easy concept. Human Performance? Without getting too technical…

Human Performance is a process that provides structure to the way people perform work to reduce the frequency and severity of errors. This structure is applied to many facets of the organization; not just to the worker as the name might imply. As NFPA 70E points out, it can strengthen the “people, processes, the work environment, and equipment.” Broadly, we need to address the potential for error in several ways. To make it easy to remember Knowledge Vine uses the acronym REMEDY.

RE- Reduce Errors. This is the active error performed by the individual doing the work. Think about the Hawaii Emergency Management worker and the physical act of pushing the wrong button. How do we help prevent the active error?

M- Manage. Many errors are setup by organizational factors; one of the largest being a lack of effective management engagement. Did the workers tell their managers “It’s easy to hit the wrong button” but nothing was done to correct this error likely situation? Was there a process in place that the workers weren’t following but management never observed their behaviors BEFORE the accident?

ED- Error Defenses. Again, organizational factors “set up” our people to make mistakes. Is there a procedure to follow? Is there a process to have a second person give a peer check before critical action is taken? Is the work environment (lighting, indications, interfaces) conducive to making accurate choices?

Y- Yield. We need to anticipate results and design outcomes rather than waiting for events to occur and then reacting. Are we anticipating what our efforts will yield by looking at precursors and behaviors or are we just hoping for the best? Is there a process in place to measure progress and performance?

This is the high-level view of human performance. Methodologies to strengthen worker decision making processes and bolstering the environment they work in to give us the greatest likelihood for success. This is not something else to do, but rather a more focused approach to the work we are already doing. It’s not unlike coaching; teach them the best way to do it, then put them in the situations mostly likely to be successful. In subsequent blogs we will go over the Xs and Os in greater detail but for now understand that human error is predictable, preventable, and manageable; we just need to start learning the playbook first.  

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