Category Archives: Safety Culture

Can you explain “Human Performance” versus “Industrial Safety” to me?

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Typical nuclear vernacular used for explaining the difference between safety and human performance (HU) sounds like this: Industrial Safety is about protecting you from the plant and Human Performance is about protecting the plant from you.  This issue comes up all the time and is worth exploring a little more in depth for greater understanding. “Safety” crosses many areas including cultural aspects of an organization – Environmental Safety, Equipment Safety, Nuclear Safety, Industrial Safety, & Radiological Safety. But commonly, when people refer to safety at home or work, it is meant to be in the realm of Industrial Safety; where the proper personal protective equipment used in the appropriate ways will keep you safer if something uncontrolled happens in your environment. Industrial Safety crosses many other areas, as well: lifting and rigging, electrical safety, working from heights, confined spaces, etc. and is mostly about controlling and managing yourself within a potentially hazardous environment. Human Performance leans more towards how you are potentially affecting or controlling that environment. Obviously, this statement could lead to some pretty awesome debates and I should remind you that this is my professional opinion.

So, let’s take the phrase, “Hazard Recognition,” and see which area it falls into… Safety… now let’s consider a live-dead-live check…Safety… let’s think about proper component verification… Human Performance… Procedure use and adherence… Human Performance…error precursors… Human Performance… With these chosen examples this model makes sense to me.

More perspectives

HU-minded people will tell you that Human Performance (Behaviors plus Results) really falls into the realms of observations and coaching, because what we are talking about here are observed behaviors, the antecedents that create those behaviors,  and the consequences of them, desired or not (shout out to Aubrey Daniels).

This puts us into an interesting mindset – Pre-Job Briefs are a human performance tools, but required by OSHA to prevent industrial safety accidents, which makes them seem like an industrial safety behavior and less like something related to HU…

Paraphrasing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Reactor Oversight Process, they explore different layers of safety by stating that the regulatory framework for reactor oversight consists of three key strategic performance areas:

  1. Reactor safety
  2. Radiation safety
  3. Safeguards

Within each strategic performance area are cornerstones that reflect the essential safety aspects of facility operation. These seven “cornerstones” include:

  1. Initiating events
  2. Mitigating systems
  3. Barrier integrity
  4. Emergency preparedness
  5. Public radiation safety
  6. Occupational radiation safety
  7. Physical protection

The NRC’s Reactor Oversight Matrix contains 3 major headings:

  1. Human Performance
  2. Problem Identification and Resolution
  3. Safety-Conscious Work Environment

Human Performance is made up of distinctive areas,

The Reactor Oversight Process is based on the presumption that licensees have mature, robust programs to self-identify and correct nonconformances and other program deficiencies throughout the conduct of their operations.

The Commission’s policy statement called, “Freedom of Employees in the Nuclear Industry to Raise Safety Concerns Without Fear of Retaliation,” (1996), describes SCWE (Safety Conscious Work Environment) as “a work environment where employees are encouraged to raise safety concerns and where concerns are promptly reviewed, given the proper priority based on their potential safety significance, and appropriately resolved with timely feedback to the originator of the concerns and to other employees.” This is related to safety, but do you see a direct correlation to HU?

Admission and Conclusion

Industrial Safety is so intertwined with Human Performance it’s no wonder people don’t understand or even choose to explore the overlaps and differences. Here is the way I see it – Human Performance is about the attitudes and values associated with top performer’s behaviors, and Industrial Safety is the culmination of behaviors used to keep you and others safe on the job. Human Performance has a wider scope and includes Industrial Safety within it.

At the end of the day, it probably doesn’t really matter as long as you associate the two together. Should we also associate root cause investigation into this mix as well? It’s a slippery slope when we start to consider all of the things that we do to prevent or investigate events. I used to think that Human Performance was everything we are doing to prevent errors or events, and the Corrective Action Program is everything you do after one happens. I now believe corrective actions that feed back into the things we do to prevent future events are part of HU, even though the NRC includes “Resolution” as part of the Oversight Matrix, separate from HU. This perspective could also start a long conversation with me on the negative consequential effects of cumulative actions designed to prevent errors and events. I feel like Change Management could be a big part of that discussion as well.

As always, I am interested in your opinions and feedback on mine. Please comment and let me know your thoughts.

Links and Misc.

Pertinent HU Joke: The Control Room of the future has 2 employees, a worker and a dog. The dog is there to bite the worker if they try to touch anything, and the worker is there to feed the dog.

Larry Wilson is one of my favorite Industrial Safety Instructors. Check him out here.

Some other related links:

NRC Cornerstones

Reactor Oversight Process

Safety and Human Performance: You Can’t Have One Without the Other