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What is the New View?
By P.D. Shafer III CET, CHMM, CSHM
The Safely Working Project
Consider these labels: Human Performance, HOP (Human and Organizational Performance), Safety II, the New View, Safety Differently, HPI (Human Performance Improvement). Each of these, in some way, reflect an effort to take workplace safety to a new level. Some of the labels reflect the overall approach while others are major elements of what it takes to reach that new level. What they have in common is they reflect a philosophy that directly impacts workplace culture. Depending on who you read or follow, any one of these labels may be used to reflect this philosophy. For the purposes of this discussion we will use the label, the “New View,” to represent this overall philosophy.
Unless you have read about any of this you might be hard-pressed to describe the “New View” based on the labels above. I know for myself, it was all new to me. My experience with safety over the years has been driven by compliance. Few of my clients ever ask about how they can improve safety. Many would be considered reactive organizations. They deal with safety deficiencies as they are revealed. I have also been involved in developing and implementing best practices for employee safety for organizations working to improve safety. Those associations have been very satisfying professionally. More importantly, I have learned a great deal from both situations.
Recently, I was asked to provide a presentation on Safely Working and Safe 6® to a training team from a large industrial facility. While familiar with the plant, I was unfamiliar with its corporate safety policy and philosophy. So, in advance, I did my homework and learned as much as I could about their approach and commitment to employee safety. After some digging and reading I found an article about the organization and their efforts to reduce risk using human and organizational performance (HOP) techniques. I was not familiar with it.
With the presentation date approaching, I did some further review of HOP so if it came up, I would not be caught in the headlights. The presentation went well and I brought up HOP in relation to a question posed to me. I learned a little from the discussion but realized there was a whole lot more I needed to learn. That was the stimulus for me to research and read about Human and Organizational Performance (not to mention the hope to get some work). Since that time I have spent many hours reading, listening to podcasts and organizing what I’ve learned about the New View.
I have only scratched the surface of this subject so far. It turns out that this new philosophy has been evolving for over thirty years. It started with a handful of people, working independently, and has grown to involve many more people and organizations. It took the nuclear power industry to really embrace the concepts presented in professional papers written in the eighties. From there, the U.S. Department of Energy adopted the approach for its facilities. From those sources as well as academic minds and practitioners the New View has really begun to gain traction. In particular, other industries besides nuclear power like aviation and medicine have adopted the tools and concepts specific to the philosophy. There are now practitioners assisting organizations with implementing the New View philosophy worldwide.
While it is reasonable to observe that high risk industries like aviation and nuclear power have an obvious interest in the “New View,” does it have application to less risky industries? Consider this ― some organizations have invested a great deal into safety management and efforts to drive accidents to zero. Try as they might, these safety-centric organizations are realizing diminishing returns as they continually step up efforts within their established safety management program or system. Accidents, injuries and fatalities are still a risk, albeit at a lower rate than less vigilant organizations. But to such organizations, there is no acceptable number of injuries. They push forward looking for ways to eliminate the risk. many of these organizations are now refocusing their efforts using the “New View.” My impression is that the result of those efforts has been positive.
So, what is the “New View,” really?
Presently, I figure I have completed a semester course entitled ‘New View 101′. Well, when I finish this report, I’ll be done. This paper is what I’ve learned so far. Here is my list of the tenets of “The New View” as I understand them:
- People matter more than anything else
- A workplace is a complex environment
- Employees don’t come to work to get hurt
- Accidents are not a choice
- People make mistakes
- Error is normal
- Punishment is not a tool for improvement
- How is more useful than why
- Learning is everything
- Plan for failure
- Prevention, not reaction
- Safety has no hierarchy
I’m sure there are many more and I’m positive I don’t have a complete grasp of all I have identified. But, I am confident that the non-exclusive list above hits the major principles of the New View. More importantly, they reflect what needs to be understood to create the organizational culture that’s so important for the New View to succeed. You might be thinking at this point… we already strive to build a culture of safety. But as you will learn, the New View culture is more than just safety. It requires everyone’s involvement, not just safety management.
Before we get too deep let’s look at each of the tenets of the New View philosophy. We’ll return to the culture later.
- People matter more than anything else – I don’t know if I read or heard that anywhere in particular. Certainly it is not revelatory. Many organizations state that employees are their greatest asset. They do the work; they get the job done; they contribute significantly to the success of the organization. The reason I have included it here is because everything I’ve read expanded that notion and gave it real mass. Not only do they get the job done, they do it by problem-solving and adapting to subtle changes in conditions; they are experts and bring pride to their roles; they are attentive and respond to negative and positive cues in the workplace, both subtle and obvious. That also makes them vulnerable to those same conditions and situations.
- A workplace is a complex environment – As much as the objective of an organization is constant day to day and month to month, the conditions and influences in the workplace are all intertwined. To successfully complete a specific task requires the right people, the right materials, the right tools, the right conditions, the right procedures, the right sequence, the right maintenance, the right protection… all in the right location at the right time. A change in any one of those can cause a change in how the task or activity is completed resulting in either success, improvement or failure. As noted above, employees become experts at managing this complexity whether they know it or not.
- Employees don’t come to work to get hurt – Employees come to work, at a minimum, to earn a living. There are many important reasons for that paycheck – family, friends, hobbies, sports, the important things in life. A minor injury may impact those things very little, but as an injury or illness gets more significant so does the impact on the employee. Even the employee who pushes boundaries doesn’t want to get hurt. Perception of risk is different for everyone. Getting hurt can change an employee’s lifestyle or their life. That’s not something employees consciously do.
- Accidents are not a choice – This follows what we just described and is supported by the discussion of complexity. Employees working under changing or variable conditions contribute to the risk of an accident. Suggesting that an employee chooses to have an accident by his or her decisions discounts the influence of all the other factors listed in paragraph 2. Accidents are the result of many factors that are more important to understand than suggesting an employee chooses to have an accident.
- People make mistakes – While employees are doing their work they are constantly being challenged by subtle changes or differences in conditions that they must adapt to successfully. Employees are expected to adapt and manage these changes as part of the normal process of completing the task. Those changes that employees readily observe are much more manageable than those that are not so obvious before or after an accident. Mistakes happen for many reasons and are part of the workplace. Dwelling on a mistake is beneficial only if the organization is working to understand how it happened.
- Error is normal – The logical extension of ‘people make mistakes’ is that mistakes or error is normal, meaning some error is going to happen. It can never be eliminated. Nothing is perfect. With that understanding managing the risk of error is key to managing the consequences of error. If error occurs, regardless of consequence, it should be studied to determine how it happened; what conditions influenced the error; what can be done to manage some or all of the conditions that contributed to the error. While the risk of the error may not be totally eliminated, it may be reduced to a level where the consequences of the error are much more tolerable.
- Punishment is not a tool for improvement – If we understand that employees don’t come to work to get hurt, that accidents are not a choice, that people make mistakes, and that error is normal then why should employees be punished for making a mistake? Besides that, people are the more important than anything else. If an employee is punished with days off without pay or just receive a general berating, how does that change the attitude of an employee already recognized as an expert in his or her role? Better yet, by acknowledging that expertise, the employee can be much more helpful in determining how the mistake happened and how to avoid it in the future. Organizations need to learn from the mistakes as much as the employees do. This leads to improvement.
- “How” is more useful than “why” – When reviewing an accident or event understanding how it occurred provides a whole lot more information than why it happened. The standard answer to “why” is “because.” Answering why, also makes it easier to blame the employee and get back to work. In reality, to be able to prove “why it happened” you have to know and understand “how it happened.” The answer to why may appear to be obvious, but not necessarily the real cause. “How” is the key to learning and thus important to improvement.
- Learning is everything – Learning is a result of studying not just what goes wrong, but what goes right. If learning is not an important element of an organization’s mission, the organization will not grow. It will not discover efficiencies and it will not increase productivity. Learning must be present at every level of the organization. If it isn’t, then learning will not be sustained and will falter. Employees take cues from leaders in an organization. If learning isn’t important to a leader, then it won’t be important to the employee.
- Plan for failure – All the learning that is done by studying successes and failures helps an organization understand what conditions lead to errors, mistakes and accidents. If an organization focuses on those conditions the risk of failure can be reduced. While the failure may not be totally avoidable, the consequences can be managed to the extent that the failure can be viewed as a success. In other words, the consequences of the failure did not result in injury or property damage. A plan that relies on a standard procedure for correct completion of a task cannot address variability of conditions. Plans need to take into consideration the learning – what went right in the past and what went wrong.
- Prevention, not reaction – Learning and planning for failure are what is required to determine how to prevent an occurrence or event. More importantly, this learning and planning must take place before the event. If it is addressed as a result of the event, it is already too late. Employees can be useful in this effort as they have knowledge of conditions that managers and supervisors may not observe or be in tune with. Leverage the knowledge and expertise of employees to establish prevention as the solution.
- Safety has no hierarchy – Real-time safety is not a chain of command implementation. When it comes to safety, there are no managers, staff, supervisors, or employees – they are all people who will go home at the end of the day to enjoy their lives. Everyone has the same amount of skin in the game and the same ability to question conditions and help improve safety. Safety leadership should not be confused with safety management. Safety management keeps the metrics, completes the forms and manages compliance. Safety leadership is a responsibility of everyone. Safety leadership requires humility, learning, questioning and encourages people to speak up. People matter more than anything else.
If we can extract a central theme from the discussion above, it would include how we view and manage people and mistakes. Technically, (or officially when you consider the sources) “The New View” is all about human error and evaluating it differently than we have for centuries. If we accept human error as a normal part of a job or process, then it is more likely to be anticipated. Time spent on finding blame takes away from finding out how it happened and learning from the error. Learning from error supports safety, blaming and punishing does not. Nobody is truly safe because an employee is punished. It could be said that the workplace is less safe as a result of punishing an employee for a mistake.
The New View is about how we can leverage people and learning to improve safety in an organization. As it has evolved it does represent moving to a new level of safety performance. The organizations that are adopting The New View already have superior safety programs and low rates of accidents and injuries. However, it does not follow that an organization has to perfect best practices before they can consider the benefits of The New View. The fact is that adopting The New View at the start will support best practices and a successful safety program.
My understanding of The New View as a philosophy, is that it can be introduced at any time (the sooner the better). It doesn’t require a total rework; it requires a reorientation. As a philosophy, it impacts more than safety in an organization. Mistakes can be made by anyone in the organization, managers, staff, supervisors, employees. The New View is applicable to all mistakes and applying it universally propagates a positive workplace culture in every corner of the organization. Remember, the goal is to learn from error. There is no part of an organization that can’t benefit from learning. Improvement depends on learning.
As stated at the start, this new approach to safety is known by several names. “Safety Differently” and “Safety II” directly imply a different approach to workplace safety. They certainly make sense, but may cause confusion and discourage an organization from pursuing this new approach. Are we doing it all wrong or do we have to complete Safety I to get to Safety II? The other labels don’t suggest safety specifically. HOP and HPI are based on the study of human performance that is then applied to safety.
According to the Department of Energy, “…. human performance is a series of behaviors carried out to accomplish specific task objectives (results).” This is not related to behavior based safety. Human performance is more interested in recognizing and understanding behaviors as opposed to controlling behaviors. Human performance is the primary study while HOP and HPI represent variations on the theme for practical understanding and implementation of human performance principles in the workplace.
From my vantage point, the New View is the best label we can apply to the philosophy we are discussing. It doesn’t introduce any confusion or potentially intimidate organizations from exploring it and using it. The New View is based on scholarly thinking and research as any sound treatise should, but it doesn’t have to require organizations to employ specialists and consultants to succeed using it. An open mind will go a long way in transitioning to the New View.
It would seem that in the past few years the New View has been gaining momentum. The New View is a featured topic and poplar theme in professional development conferences and meetings. Considering the increasing number of books published also suggests the increasing level of interest. Experts in the field are writing books that are geared to organizations with titles like “Field Guide to Understanding Human Error,” “Pre-Accident Investigations” and “Managing the Unexpected.” You can expect to see more books published that examine the successes of the New View and present practical guidance and tools based on them.
The New View should not be the sole domain of already successful and highly reliable organizations ― it should become the norm for all organizations seeking success. The New View will accompany an organization as it strives for constant improvement and excellence. However, until people know what the “New View” is about it will continue to be a boutique topic. The New View is gaining momentum, but has a long way to go and a variety of organizational roadblocks ahead of it. It will be the favored approach in time because it is the right philosophy.
Minor edits 12/4/15 (Thanks LNB)
©2015 The Safely Working Project & P.D. Shafer III
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The Safely Working Project is focused wholly on employees and their health and well-being in the workplace. The Project promotes useful guidance that does not depend on a safety professional or staff to facilitate in the workplace.
The Safely Working Project envisions a path to workplace safety that is driven by employees and supervisors. This is fundamentally different from the traditional Safety Program where an EHS Professional manages workplace safety. So, instead of top down safety, Safely Working™ endeavors to succeed from the ground up. “We’re turning safety upside down.”