IADC Human Factors Conference: Measuring Human Performance Improvement

The International Association of Drilling Contractors recently held their annual Human Factors Conference and Exhibition in Galveston, Texas to discuss human performance and how it pertains to operational safety in upstream oil and gas.

The conference featured panel discussions on procedural discipline, fatigue, distraction and other human factors that affect personal safety; the success of checklists in industries ranging from aerospace to nuclear power generation; and many other interesting topics related to human performance improvement.

The presentations were all some of the most actionable I have seen at any conference. A young engineer from Chevron pointed out the lack of measurable data presented during the conference, however.

If your organization has a human performance improvement plan or initiative, how are you measuring the success of the program?

How Do We Measure Human Performance Improvement?

The most common human performance improvement metrics are often related to numbers that are actually tracking the health, safety and environment of the organization.

Data related to health, safety and the environment may appear like the right place to start, but is it really measuring the effectiveness of employees as it relates to human performance?

Sure, having low incident rates or a TRIR flatlined at zero are positive, but do those numbers tell you how far away you are from your next or first major incident?

Our quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) systems are adequate for measuring and rating equipment before putting it into service. Out of the factory, every piece of equipment is tested and given some safety factor over its intended maximum working rating. Even after we put a piece of equipment into service, we operate somewhere below 100% of its maximum allowable working rate.

When it comes to people, however, we often run them well beyond their safety rating for fatigue, stress and physical abilities. We humans don't have a standard "safety rating" for any of our abilities. We are custom designed, with unique characteristics and challenges that affect our ability to live and work safely.

How long can an individual work, and in what conditions, before stress or fatigue affects his or her work? That depends on factors too numerous to count, yet we are not often surprised when someone drives off the side of the road at 3 in the morning or is involved in a workplace accident because he/she forgot a safety barrier at the end of a shift that ran over.

Troubleshooting Human Performance

Because human beings don't come with a manual and we're all affected by our home and working conditions differently, then how can anyone be expected to identify when they or someone they're working with are the biggest risk associated with the job?

Objective self-evaluation is something that we are not the best at doing on a continuous basis. Identifying when we're tired, fatigued or stressed isn't hard when no one else is counting on us to get something done. If you're sitting at home binge-watching Netflix, it's easy to turn off the TV and go to bed. If you're out on location and you have to get a job done, its a lot harder to self-evaluate and tell your boss or your co-workers that you need to stop.

It's important to have human performance tools, and to train/coach employees to use them so they can look at themselves and their co-workers through an objective lens.

When I say "human performance tools," I'm not referring to creating policies or procedures and expecting them to be followed exactly. While giving employees proven procedures for their work activities is one tool, it is not a silver bullet that will solve all human performance problems.

The Importance of Human Performance Improvement Tools

One of our previous posts covers the actual human performance improvement tools (that is, TOPI Tools) that we use, so if you want more information about what they are and how they can improve the safety of your operations, click here.

It is also vitally important to provide employees with the means to evaluate themselves and the people they work with.

Much like the equipment we work on in the field, using human performance improvement tools provides indicators and fail-safes for employees to identify when some aspect of their work could lead to a workplace incident.

We often focus on the repair, maintenance and capital expenditure of the physical assets we work with. Less time is dedicated to the general upkeep of our most valuable assets – the people who do the work and serve our customers.