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Factoring in human performance to workplace safety

Firefighters have one of the riskiest professions.
Firefighters have one of the riskiest professions.

Human performance is a crucial element for safety in a high-risk workplace.

For emergency personnel and all who routinely encounter high-risk situations at work, training in human factors can be lifesaving.

After a severe accident a Fire Brigade of a major European city turned to third-party experts to provide their employees with practical instruction on factors such as leadership, communication and decision-making in order to ensure safety in stressful scenarios.

Safety in a stressful environment
The public relies on first responders in cases of natural disaster or other emergencies. Rescue teams, law enforcement, firefighters and medical personnel cannot avoid exposure to high-risk, stress, fatigue and unpredictable circumstances. In fact, these are their standard working conditions.

Unfortunately, the personnel who are called on when public safety is in peril are not immune to the hazards they face.

The Fire Brigade of a major European city was tragically reminded of this when a blaze claimed the lives of two firefighters in the line of duty. Investigations revealed that stress and fatigue had contributed to the accident, in part by undermining decision-making capabilities.

As a result, the brigade was motivated to find ways to address these human factors in order to prevent future loss of life.

Recognising the human side of safety
Human factors naturally play a role in any workplace where human beings are present. In a high-stakes setting, where errors can have deadly consequences, safety programmes are negligent if they do not consider the interplay between humans and their work environment.

Just as it is irresponsible to discount the importance of machine maintenance, technical parameters and hazardous substance risks, ignoring human factors can lead to major accidents and irreversible damage.

The aviation industry was one of the first to recognise the impact of human factors on safety. It developed Crew Resource Management, a system still used in pilot training today.

Focusing exclusively on non-technical skills, it seeks to strengthen participants’ leadership, communication, situational awareness, teamwork, stress and fatigue management and decision-making.

These concepts are transferable, appropriate in any industry and especially useful in high-hazard sectors like oil and gas, rail or public services such as fire brigades.

Human factors training
The Fire Brigade of a major European city turned to one of the UK’s largest work-based learning providers for support, and that organisation sought out Dekra Organisational Reliability to design a suitable human factors input to their training programme.

The Human Factors Command Skills workshop, based on Crew Resource Management concepts, was chosen and customised to fulfil the project’s specific requirements.

The Human Factors Command Skills workshop trains delegates in five key areas: leadership development, communication, emotional intelligence, situational awareness and decision-making. There is a natural overlap among these topics that reflects the conditions and demands emergency responders face.

As participants learn about leadership styles and perceptions, for example, communication and emotional intelligence come into play as well. In their training, firefighters learned of various leadership styles and how they impact communication among team members. Improving emotional intelligence can help leaders cultivate an atmosphere that encourages everyone, regardless of rank, to speak up. The costs of staying silent in critical, constantly evolving scenarios are too high for communication to be hampered.

Key features of a successful human factors approach

The ultimate goal of this type of training is to equip participants with safety-promoting strategies they can apply immediately in the working environment.

Modes of instruction are key in order for participants to benefit fully. The content must be relevant, stimulate curiosity and motivate individuals to modify their on-the-job behaviour.

Interactive exercises and activities that mirror real life scenarios are most effective. Because they inspire trust, instructors with a strong background in the relevant field achieve the best results, and delegates feel they can rely on their expertise.

The versatility of the Human Factors training is one of its most relevant features. It is easily adaptable to a variety of industries, and the topics it introduces are relevant and useful in any workplace.

Its focus on understanding and fine-tuning human behaviours provides organisations with tried and true tools and strategies for risk reduction and accident avoidance. Veterans of the programme agree the investment yields rich returns.

DEKRA Organisational Reliability
Dekra Organisational Reliability is a behavioural change consultancy. In collaboration with our clients, our approach is to influence the safety culture with the aim of “making a difference”. We deliver the skills, methods, and motivation to change leadership attitudes, behaviours and decision-making among employees.

Measurable sustainable improvement of safety outcomes is our goal. We are a business unit of Dekra SE, a global leader in safety since 1925 with over 45,000 employees in 50 countries.

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