Procedures: Safety Clutter or Safety Critical?

By Oliver Mellors, Director HOP & Safety Innovation at HOPLAB

How do organisations find a balance between safety clutter and safety critical when it comes to their operating procedures?

A client recently gave us some great feedback about their first Learning Team with their “fieldies” on the topic of “what things we do that add no value to our processes”. The frontline team came up with a few gems – most of them stemming from things they understood to be mandatory but appeared to do little to change the risk profile of their operations.

This got me thinking about the concept of safety clutter. Safety clutter can be thought of as the things organisations do for safety, but in reality don’t contribute much towards improving safety. This can lead to systems and processes becoming clumsy, unwieldly and (generally) not all that helpful. We can perhaps all reflect on our own organisations and find areas where safety clutter exists, such as redundant paperwork, or signing a form to say you’ve understood the rules. As good as it is to remove safety clutter (nobody likes more work to do), it is also important consider what procedures are useful and are needed. This is the balancing act between safety clutter and safety critical.

In this article we’re going to look at how organisations can find this balance with their operating procedures.

Optimising Operating Procedures for Human & Organisational Performance

Operating procedures, including method statements, work instructions, permits to work and checklists are agreed safe ways of doing work. Well designed and managed operational procedures serve the purpose of giving operators the right level of support at the right time and with the right information – which positively contributes to human and organisational performance.

So how do we create operating procedures that support high levels of human performance? To answer that, here are a few tips:

  • Take a risk-based approach to developing and monitoring the effectiveness of procedural controls. The greater the risk, the greater the focus.
  • Ask “what if” questions for key safety critical task steps to understand where mistakes might happen and recovery is weak. Sometimes following procedures is not enough.
  • Use task analysis methods to inform the content of procedures, the most basics being walking and talking through the task with users.
  • Consider the difficulty, frequency and importance of the task when determining the right level of procedural support. Difficult, infrequent and high importance tasks often need a greater level of procedural support.
  • Get users involved in the development and give them a means to provide operational feedback. Work is dynamic and changes over time.
  • Design procedures that are user-friendly – think about layout, format, and language. These all contribute to good performance.

Using Safety Critical Task Analysis to develop Operating Procedures

Here is a great example of good practice in procedure development from a major hazard facility in the UK.

The facility applied the Safety Critical Task Analysis process to review their safety critical tasks. This included a review of their supporting operational procedures, which consisted of 6 stages:

  • Identify safety critical tasks within major accident hazard scenarios
  • Pre-analyse and restructure existing procedures
  • Develop a Hierarchical Task Analysis using a Consensus Group workshop
  • Perform a Predictive Human Error and Consequence Analysis (PHECA)
  • Carry out a Performance Influencing Factors (PIF) analysis
  • Import the analysis findings into the procedures

Apart from improving their operating procedures, the case study also highlights the positive benefits of involving the workforce. Here is some the feedback they received from the operators involved in the process:

  • “Methodical by nature, in depth with genuine open discussion concerning the real issues associated with the task (i.e. safety, real world practices)”
  • “Very good, a lot easier to understand as (the task steps) are broken down”
  • “I feel more involved in the development of procedures”

(Reference: Hazards 26 Intelligent Operating Procedures: A Human Factors Safety Analysis Based Approach to Work Instruction Development (2016)

Suffering from Safety Clutter? See how we can help.

We help organisations design effective operating procedures that foster high levels of human and organisational performance by putting people and the work they do at the heart of what we do.

If you’re interested in applying a Human & Organisational Performance (HOP) approach to your operating procedures, reach out to any member of the HOPLAB team at any time – we’re keen to hear what challenges you are facing and how our experience can help.

Read more articles on how we support organisations to adopt HOP & Operational Learning.

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