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Safety and Human Performance

Article

John Bolt

Vice President, HSE

S&B construction workers with their arms around each other smiling

This year, we made a change to our safety program. We introduced a new way of thinking to a program that, by most accounts, was working and working well.

S&B is one of the safest EPC contractors in the industry, and we are consistently recognized by industry organizations for our best-in-class safety performance. With all the right metrics and the third-party validation, some may ask, “Why fix what isn’t broken?” My response would be that our safety performance has remained consistent year after year, which indicates a system that is operating in a steady state within its control limits. If the upper control limit is not zero, then there is the risk of harm to one of our team members, and that is unacceptable.

As an organization, we strive to continuously improve, especially regarding safety to ensure everyone goes home the way they came to work. That started our journey with Human and Organizational Performance (HOP), a science-based approach to looking at mistakes so we can address them more effectively. We started delving into the research of experts Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Dr. James Reason, Dr. Todd Conklin, and Dr. Sidney Dekker, among others. The more we learned, the more excited we got about HOP. Conklin’s 5 Principles of Human and Organizational Performance include:

  • Error is Normal
  • Blame Fixes Nothing
  • Context Drives Behavior
  • Learning is Vital
  • Response Matters

The principles became part of our leadership philosophy and fundamentally changed the way we think about and discuss safety. Safety is not the absence of accidents; it is the presence of capacity, and the freedom from unacceptable risk.

Our team members are problem identifiers and solvers. Rather than attempting to control their behavior by telling them what to do or not do, we ask them “What do you need?” The new view of safety recognizes that all human systems are complex adaptive systems, and all organizations are human systems. Because the interaction of elements within a complex adaptive system is unpredictable, relying on prescriptive strategies to control human behavior is futile and likely to create more opportunities for unexpected negative outcomes. That unpredictability should drive us to build additional capacity for safety and adaptability into these systems so that we can respond to the unforeseen and become more resilient.

HOP strengthens S&B’s core safety programs, processes and procedures that have made us successful. HOP reinforces our strong safety culture and supports our deeply held core values, ensuring our S&B team members go home to their families at the end of each day. Read more about S&B’s safety culture.

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