EI launches free human factors web-based training course

May 29, 2012

Understanding how human factors influence performance is a key aspect in preventing and mitigating major accidents within industry, and the EI is continually producing new tools to improve the understanding of those working in industry. Under the guidance of the EI’s Human and Organisational Factors Committee, or HOFCOM (see Who are the HOFCOM?), a new free online training course has been launched.

Human factors awareness: web-based training course is based on the human factors key topics identified by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive. Each of the 11 modules covers:

  • an introduction to the human factors key topic;
  • problems and issues linked to that topic;
  • the causal factors that make these problems and issues more likely;
  • possible solutions;
  • real examples and case studies where applying human factors has been beneficial, and
  • assessment questions to test learning.

The course is interactive, providing links to other useful websites and videos. Each module takes around 30 minutes to complete, saving progress and enabling users to return to the course at a later date.

The training is aimed at building awareness of human factors and is intended for those whose work may impact safety, whether directly through their work, or through managing people. On completion of the course, users should be able to identify human factors issues and their potential impact on safety, and understand the range of approaches and solutions that are available to manage these issues.

While this course was originally developed for use by those working in the energy sector, it can be applied across numerous other industrial sectors where safety is of prime importance. This new training course supports the EI’s portfolio of resources designed to increase awareness of human factors. This includes Human factors briefing notes, Workforce involvement poster pack, and Guidance on human factors safety critical task analysis.

To access this training course, please visit: www.eihoflearning.org

We’d like to hear your feedback on the training course – please send feedback to Stuart King e: sking@energyinst.org.

Dial 911… I mean 919! Area code system leads to emergency service misdials

May 21, 2012

Here’s an interesting case study about the large consequences of a seemingly small historical oversight in the US system for assigning telephone area codes.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, the area code is 919, which is similar to the emergency services telephone number of 911.  Until recently within Raleigh, dialling the area code was optional, alleviating the risk of misdialling the emergency services.  However, Raleigh is now large enough that dialling the area code is mandatory which has caused an influx of misdialled calls into the emergency services.

Misdials can be verified in a number of ways – such as at the time of the call, through the operator calling back if the caller hung-up, or through sending out police officers to investigate a hang-up.  The problem has gotten so bad that officers are being sent out to investigate hang-ups every 7.5 minutes on average.

The majority of misdials are caused by the elderly, who are less used to having to dial the area code, and businesses, who often need to dial ‘9’ to get an outside line.  Changing the area code is not really considered an option, as it is felt it will be too complicated.  The Director of Emergency Communications has implored citizens to ‘dial carefully’ – though not likely to be an effective solution.

It’s a fascinating problem that highlights how a lack of human factors foresight can go on to cause major operational issues.

Is it worth remembering this case study within industry, particularly when designing communications systems, controls, procedures, etc., so as to future-proof them?

UK petroleum tanker operations trade dispute: an opportunity to remind ourselves of the human factors aspects of driving operations

May 15, 2012

In many industries and many parts of the world, driving is one of the largest hazards, either because of the nature of the industry, the amount of driving undertaken, the overall standard or culture of driving in that country, or because for the majority of workers driving to and from work is the biggest hazard faced.

Since March 2012 the Unite Union, which represents 90% of fuel tanker drivers in the UK, has been in negotiations with haulage companies over ‘fragmented working practices’ which it claims are affecting not only working conditions but also health and safety.  Details of negotiations and said working conditions are not public knowledge and mainly of concern to those involved in the dispute – but whilst this issue is a ‘hot topic’ it would be a wasted opportunity not to remind ourselves of some of the human factors issues involved in driving operations (and work-related driving) more generally.

Road incidents

It is thought that human failure is a factor in 95% of road incidents.  However a higher percentage of resources go on improving vehicle roadworthiness and construction. Whilst improvements to vehicles can help reduce risk – often by helping the driver ‘control the controllable’ (e.g. utilising ABS braking systems) managing the human and organisational factors affecting driving operations (often out of the direct control of the driver) can be a crucial and effective means to prevent incidents.

For example, “[in the UK] driver sleepiness is estimated to account for around one fifth of accidents on major roads, and is responsible for around 300 deaths per year” (EI Human factors briefing note no. 5).  Fatigue is not something directly controllable; the various factors contributing to fatigue need to be managed instead.  For instance, recognising the added risks presented by long commutes, especially when preceding or succeeding a long shift, in some industries and countries there is a growing trend towards accounting for commuting time when setting shift patterns (for example see Fatigue management for the Western Australian mining industry).

Fatigue is only one potential human factor in road accidents.

A recent study found that a driver’s ability to focus on the driving environment varies depending on the ‘cognitive demand’ placed by non-driving activities. The deeper the level of thought in a driver’s mind, the less he/she focuses on his/her surroundings, and the more likely he/she is to be in an incident.

“Good drivers routinely scan the road ahead and around them, looking for potential hazards that they might need to react to. When drivers face even light levels of cognitive demand, they scan the road less”.  This is why using mobile phones and other devices whilst driving can be detrimental to human performance and illegal in many countries.

A question to pose may be what constitutes ‘cognitive demand’?  Is it just physically distracting activities, like using a mobile phone, or also mental distractions, such as daydreaming, worrying about personal issues, etc.?

Managing the risk of driver distraction comes down to influencing driver behaviour and attitudes.  As ever with occupational human factors, efforts to do so focus on the individual, the job/task and the organisation, through applying consistent rules and standards of working – such as appropriate disciplinary actions for unsafe driving behaviours  (see OGP’s publication on the use of life saving rules) – providing training and procedures, managing the workload effectively, and developing the right organisational culture through sending the right messages to the drivers about what is important.

Hearts and Minds ‘Driving for Excellence’ is a publically available training tool published by the Energy Institute, designed to improve both driver and supervisor hazard awareness and journey planning skills. Containing ready-to-use short training exercises it provides an effective and simple-to-use means of changing driver and supervisor behaviour, improving their appreciation of hazards, and improving the culture around driving operations.

Loading and unloading

Road tanker drivers aren’t just expected to drive but also to load and unload product, whether it be petroleum product or chemicals.  Simple human failures here have the potential to result in complicated (and financially expensive) consequences.  For example:

“A road tanker driver was making a delivery to a customer. One compartment of his tanker was connected to the customer’s diesel tank and was already discharging. The driver then made the connection between the customer’s unleaded tank (tank no. 4) and compartment 4 on his vehicle. He opened the valve and a few moments later realised that he should have connected tank 4 to compartment 3 on the tanker. By then, approximately 600 litres of diesel had been delivered. Almost 3 000 litres of unleaded petrol was contaminated by diesel.” (EI Human factors briefing note no. 15).

Two main factors contributed to this incident: firstly it was found that in this company drivers were paid bonuses based on deliveries made and distance travelled, and so were highly incentivised to meet delivery schedules; secondly, forecourts had to close whilst unloading was taking place, and so forecourt staff often put pressure on drivers to complete unloading quickly.  These factors caused the driver to rush the delivery and not take the time to double-check the connections were correct.

With the intent of understanding incident causation and making improvements, the EI commissioned research and developed Guidance on reducing human failure in petroleum product distribution loading and unloading operations: this explores the human failures behind 22 loading and unloading incidents within three companies, both the immediate causes and root causes.

It found that 1 incident was due to an excessive workload, 2 were due to inconsistency in operations, 5 due to the design of the tasks themselves, 7 due to the design of equipment, and 16, by far the majority, were due to there being a ‘performance culture’ – i.e. getting the job done quickly was considered more important than getting the job done correctly/safely.

This guide provides a series of checklists of contributors to human failure in loading and unloading operations, focusing on:

  • the workplace: for example, are loading areas easy to manoeuvre into and out of? Once parked is there enough space to move around the vehicle? At the delivery point is labelling clear?
  • the tasks: are tasks so routine drivers do them on ‘autopilot’? Are there incentive schemes to make drivers rush jobs? Do drivers need to take shortcuts in the tasks due to time pressure?
  • the selection and attitudes of personnel: is driver training of a high standard? Is driver morale high?
  • the organisation: is there inconsistency in the industry regarding equipment and facilities? Is equipment well-maintained? Is the system to report incidents effective?

Where problems are present, guidance is also provided to solve these.

Managing risk

Driving operations pose a hazard in many industries and there are a number of tools and guidance available to help manage that risk, much of which is widely applicable with a little read-across.

But perhaps it’s worth asking whether managing driving risk is comparable to managing risk in other areas of operation, bearing in mind that, unlike onsite operations, there are a number of variables outside the control of haulier companies – such as the behaviour of other road users, the layout of forecourts, etc.?