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TAUC Summer Summit: Tackling the Big Issues in Cincinnati (Part 3 - Bob Fitzgerald on Human Performance)

August 20 2014

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Human Performance and Safety

What is Human Performance – HP for short – and what does it have to do with safety? That was the question Bob Fitzgerald set out to answer on Wednesday morning with a high-energy presentation.

Fitzgerald, the Manager of Project Safety and Health for Southern Company’s Engineering & Construction Services division, has been using HP for years. He gave attendees an overview of how it works in the safety realm, and how it can be a powerful tool to educate employees and reduce injuries.

First off, Fitzgerald emphasized what HP is not – it’s not a performance management tool, not an excuse for holding workers accountable, and most definitely not a substitute for existing safety efforts. In fact, it’s not a safety program at all, he said. Rather, it’s a way to help your organization function better.

“Human Performance is an operating philosophy that acknowledges that people make mistakes,” Fitzgerald said. “It identifies causes of human errors and provides specific tools to help eliminate them. And it empowers employees, regardless of title or tenure, to contribute equally to the safety and operational excellence of their organization.” In short, Fitzgerald said, “Human Performance is the way people think about and perform their work.”

Add together peoples’ behaviors (the “how”) with the results they get (the “what)” and you get Human Performance. HP focuses on using various tools and techniques to minimize errors and prevent harm, Fitzgerald explained. The goal is to help people focus their mental approach for doing safe work through more deliberate thoughts and actions; better awareness of potential consequences and risks; and improved recognition of “error-likely situations and error traps.”

HP can be boiled down to five basic principles:

  1. People are fallible and make mistakes, even the best…
  2. Individual behavior is influenced by organizational processes and values
  3. Error/mistake-likely situations are predictable and manageable
  4. Incidents (operational and personal) can be avoided by understanding mistakes and learning from them
  5. Leadership response to failure matters (how you react matters)

Using these five principles, companies can create an organizational structure that employees rely on to manage the business, make the product and operate safely, Fitzgerald said.

To learn more about HP – including the difference between an “error” and a “violation,” and a new way of looking at both – check out Bob Fitzgerald’s PowerPoint presentation.

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