News: News

27 September 2017


News: Being Human in Safety-Critical Organisations: New book looks at how people create safety, what stops them and what to do about it

Human beings, so commonly the scapegoats for accidents in the workplace, are in fact an integral and indispensable part of a successful safety system. Frail and fallible as they may be, nonetheless the role—whether positive or negative—of humans in the safety food chain must be fully understood, argue psychologists Dik Gregory and Paul Shanahan in their new book Being Human in Safety-Critical Organisations.

“The underlying drivers of our behaviour—evolved over millions of years—will not go away and cannot be ignored. It is our contention that dealing with them effectively and responsibly will not only make work a genuinely and sustainably safety activity; it will also make it a more honestly human one. We also believe the reverse is true: making work more human will make it safer,” conclude the authors in their introduction.

The new work provides a rigorous and well-organised explanation of why traditional approaches to understanding accident causation have fallen short, and how resilience engineering—with its focus on the inherent complexity of safety-critical work environments—is more illuminating and constructive. This is a very accessible book to those new to the topic of human factors in safety, and is packed with case studies that vividly bring the key points to life.

In Being Human Dik and Paul introduce their SUGAR model for human behaviour, underlying their core contention that rather than being the weak link, “humans literally create safety.” In this model, State, Understanding and Goals provide the context for Action, after which the pattern (of human behaviour—good or bad) is Repeated. State takes account of both the mental and physical situation of each actor, while Understanding is defined as “what we know or think we know and how we came to know it.” Goals are a complex and dynamic structure of the values, purposes and objectives humans maintain to inform and drive professional, social and personal behaviour.

The new book directly addresses the multiple factors that can human safety performance, including fatigue, stress, boredom, complacency and how our senses can deceive us. It very directly tackles, in plain English, key questions such as: “why do we do risky things”, “how do organisations get the opposite of what they want” and “how we can bolster both our own resilience and that of the organisations we serve”.

The authors, who have extensive experience of the rail, maritime and aviation sectors, certainly don’t confine themselves to theory. Being Human is packed with clear descriptions of what good looks like and tactics for how workplace teams and their leaders can collaborate to strengthen the human link in the safety chain. This includes a summary of HeliOffshore’s Safety Performance Model, which is hailed as a sound basis for a proactive safety performance improvement strategy.

“If you read one book on human factors, make it this one,” commented Gretchen Haskins. “The stories exemplify the significant costs—loss of productivity, income and, most importantly, lives—that occur when human factors are not addressed. The opportunity to enhance human performance in day-to-day operations is something for which we can create a business case that is both deliverable and measurable. All it takes is a greater understanding of the mind sets of the people doing their jobs, creating the right support structure around them, and measuring the difference in terms of effective actions every day. This can be done proactively—as part of design, test and operations—before an accident happens. In fact, all organisations would benefit from such an investment strategy, based on a clear understanding of those things that support effective human performance in their company.”

Here, you can watch a video of Dik Gregory addressing HeliOffshore’s 2017 annual conference on the subject of human factors.

Being Human (ISBN 978-0-11-553535-2) is published by TSO and priced at £35.