Wishing you a very Happy Christmas
Something I have done for several years. Here are a few of my reflections based on things that cropped up in the last year. As always, they are in no particular order.
It’s still with us and unfortunately Omicron has ramped it up again. When I wrote my reflections a year ago I really did not think it would still be top of my list of issues. Personally, it hasn’t affected me too much. I have not (knowingly at least) caught the virus. Our eldest son was supposed to be coming home from university today but got a positive lateral flow earlier in the week so has had to delay his plans. He has no symptoms and luckily should be clear early next week and will make it home for Christmas.
I have kept busy with work. Lots of Teams meetings, which are generally working very well. In some cases, remote workshops are working better than face-to-face. Task analysis is a good example because it is allowing more and different people to attend workshops and is less disruptive at the client end because it can be organised in a more flexible way. The task Walk-Through and Talk-Through on site is still very important but can be done as a separate activity when COVID restrictions allow.
The reporting on the pandemic has highlighted to me the problems we have with data in general. The problem is that as soon as numbers are presented as part of an argument or explanation we start to believe that they give us an answer. That can be the case if we are sure that the data is truly representative and applicable to the question that is posed. I don’t know about the rest of the world but in the UK the number of positive test results has been continuously reported as evidence of the pandemic getting better or worse but most of the time appears to be most influence by the number of tests carried out. If I am generous I would say this is just lazy reporting of headline numbers with no attempt to contextualise the meaning. I guess the same often happens when we are presented with quantified safety analyses. We are given numbers that give a simple answer to what is normally a far more complex question.
Another observation that has parallels with my human factors work is not taking human behaviour into account when deciding what controls to implement. A particular example is face coverings. I have seen several lab studies showing how they can stop droplets that may be expelled when you cough, sneeze or even sing. But that seems to have very little relevance to the real world. I know I am not alone in using the same face covering all day, putting it on and taking it off multiple times, and adjusting it the whole time I am wearing it. I don’t know how these behaviours affect the effectiveness of face coverings but I would have liked to see some results from real life applications instead just the lab. At a risk of contradicting my rant above about use of data but infection rates in Wales over the last couple of months have been consistently higher than in England, at a time when face coverings were required in more places in Wales.
Emergency response procedures (nothing to do with COVID)
Several of my clients have asked me to review their emergency response procedures this year. It has usually cropped up as part of a wider scope of task analysis work that I have been involved in.
A key point I would like to emphasise is that treating emergency response as a task is rarely appropriate. One of our main aims when we conduct task analysis is to understand how the task is or will be performed. A key feature of emergencies is that they are unpredictable. Clearly we can carry out analyses for some sample scenarios but the danger is we start to believe that the scenarios we look at will happen in reality. This can give us a very false sense of security thinking we understand something that cannot be understood.
My main interest is usability of emergency procedures. That means the procedures must be very easy to read and provide information that is useful to the people who use them. Often emergency response procedures I see are too long and wordy.
My guidance to clients is to create two documents:
- Operational guide – supporting people responding to emergencies. Develop this first.
- Management system – the arrangements needed to make sure people can respond to emergencies when they occur.
The main contents of the operational guide are a set of “Role cards,” which identify the emergency roles and list the main activities and responsibilities in an emergency, and a set of “Prompt cards” that cover specific scenario types. Each card should fit on one page if possible, but can stretch to two if that makes it more useful. The guide can include other information as appendices, but only content that would be useful to people when responding to an emergency.
There should be a role card for each emergency role and not a person’s normal role. For example, the Shift Manager may be the person who, by default, becomes the Incident Controller so it may appear the terms can be used interchangeably. But in some scenarios the Shift Manager may not available and someone else would have to take the role. Also, there will be times when an individual has to fulfil several emergency roles. For example, in the early stages of an incident the Shift Manager may act as Incident Controller and Site Main Controller until a senior manager arrives to take on the latter role.
Prompt Cards should cover every realistic scenario but you do not need a different one for every scenario. For example, you may have a number of flammable substances so may have several fire scenarios. However, if the response is the same for each you should only have one prompt card for fire. In fact, you will probably find that the same main actions have to be considered for most incidents and it makes sense to have one main Prompt Card supplemented by scenario specific cards that list any additional actions.
The management system is important, but secondary to the Operational Guide. It should identify the resources (human, equipment etc.) required for emergency response, training and competence plans including emergency exercises, communications links and technologies, cover and call-in arrangements, audit and review, management of change etc. The format is less of a concern because it is not intended as an immediate support to people when responding to emergencies, although it may be a reference source so should still be readily available.
Human Factors Engineering
Human Factors Engineering (HFE) is the discipline for applying human factors in design projects. Whilst specialists can be brought into projects to assist, their ability to influence the basic design can be limited. Much better results are achieved if discipline engineers have some knowledge of human factors, especially at the earliest stage of a project. Unfortunately HFE is perceived as concerned only with detail and so left towards the end of a project. Opportunities to integrate human factors into the design are often missed as a result.
I find that engineers are often interested in human factors but rarely get the opportunity to develop their skill in the subject. They already have a lot to do and do not have the time or energy to look for more work. This is a shame because with a little bit of awareness they can easily incorporate human factors into their design with little or no additional effort.
To support designers to improve their awareness of HFE I have created an online course. It introduces HFE and how it should be implemented in projects, from the very earliest concept/select stages though to detail design and final execution. It should be useful to anyone involved in design of process plant and equipment including process engineers, technical safety and operations representatives.
The course is presented as a series of 2-minute videos explaining how to carry out HFE in projects. It is hosted on Thinkific and the landing page is https://
The full course includes 35 videos (all less than 2 minutes long), splint into 7 sections, each with a quiz to check your understanding. Also, a full transcript that you can download. You have up to 6 months to work through the course.
There is a small fee (currently $30) for the full course. There is free trial of the course, intended to give you an idea of how the course is presented. You will need to create a user account to see that.
Technology and communications
I have been working with my friends at Eschbach.com, exploring the human factors of communications and how technology can help. This started with a focus on shift handover. It is easy to focus on the 10 or 15 minutes of direct communication when teams change but to be effective it has to be a continuous process performed 24 hours per day.
One of the ironies is that the busiest and most difficult days are the ones where communication at shift handover is most important. But on those days people do not have the time or energy to prepare their handover reports or even update their logs during the shift.
In our everyday life we have become accustomed to instantaneous communication with friends and family using our mobile phones. Most of us probably use WhatsApp or Messenger etc. to send important and more trivial messages to friends and family. Often these include photos because we all know an image can convey so much more than words. Wouldn’t it be good to use some of these ideas to help communication at work?
We held a couple of really good, highly interactive webinars on the subject. You can see a recording of this at https://player.vimeo.com/
If you would like us to run another for your company, industry group etc. let me know because we keen to continue the conversation.
I had a series of three articles published in The Chemical Engineer with co-author Nick Wise. The main theme was on deciding whether risks are As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP). Our interest was whether the various safety studies we carry out can ever demonstrate ALARP. Our conclusion was the studies are our tools to help us do this but ultimately we all have to make our own judgement. The main objective should be to satisfy ourselves that we have the information we need to feel comfortable explaining or defending our judgement to others who may have an interest.
You can access the papers at https://www.abrisk.co.uk/
Trevor Kletz compendium
Finally. I am pleased to say the Trevor Kletz compendium was published earlier this year by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) in partnership with publisher Elsevier. I was one of the team of authors.
Trevor Kletz had a huge impact on the way the process industry viewed accidents and safety. He was one of the first people to tackle the issues and became internationally renowned for sharing his ideas on process safety. We hope that this compendium will introduce his ideas to new audiences.
The book focuses on understanding systems and learning from past accidents. It describes approaches to safety that are practical and effective and provides an engineer’s perspective on safety
Trevor Kletz was ahead of his time and many of his ideas and the process safety lessons he shared remain relevant today. The aim of the compendium was to share his work with a new audience and to prompt people who may have read his books in the past to have another look. Trevor did not expect everyone to agree with everything he said, but he was willing to share his opinions based on experience. We have tried to follow this spirit in compiling this compendium.
It is available from https://www.elsevier.com/
Contact me for a discount code!
I hope you enjoy reading my reflections of 2021 and that you have a happy and healthy 2022.