The human element at play is one of the most important factors that shapes the safety culture in the industrial gases industry today, as the European Industrial Gases Association (EIGA) has been investigating at its 2017 Winter Seminar 2017 in Brussels, Belgium.

The vast majority of the incidents and injuries in our industry are caused by human factors, around 76% in fact – a statistic that EIGA intends to deflate by promoting a consistency of safety, health, environmental and technical standards throughout the sector.

Under the theme of Human Factors, the organisation’s seminar has been investigating the safety culture within the industry, with the idea of leadership proving to be pivotal in driving the changes deemed necessary to create a shift in culture within operational safety.

Most importantly, the message of driving a change in safety culture through management was reinforced throughout the first day of the seminar, with almost 200 delegates in attendance at the impressive Le Plaza Hotel Theatre for the event.

EIGA’s Vice-President Ivo Bols opened the show, underlining, “Understanding human factors as the underlying causes and how we should use this knowledge is important on our journey towards zero accidents in our industry.”

“If we had defined a set of rules and people had followed them, we could have avoided 84% of the fatalities from 2005-2015”

Susana Marques, Air Liquide

The first day investigated the human factors at play throughout transport operations, as well as in methods for incident and prevention and in behavioural safety observations, but it was the notion of cultivating a shift in basic behavioural change in the safety culture of our industry that was the overriding message, with many speakers believing this revolution begins on a management level.

As a collective term, human factors were defined as organisational, occupational and people-related factors that influence our decisions; decisions that ultimately affect our behaviour and our work. As Danilo Ritlop of Messer explained, “The most important factors that influence our industry are the safety culture, relations, leadership, communication and supervision. They all influence our behaviour in a complex way; some characteristics are fixed, but others such as skills and attitude can be changed and enhanced.” The emphasis on how these skill and attitudes should be adapted to foster the safety culture was then addressed throughout the day.

Air Liquide’s Susana Marques reinforced the influence that the predefined set of lifesaving rules, as promoted by EIGA, could have after revealing that every year there is at least one fatality in the industry. That is still “one too many” for Marques who went on to say, “If we had defined a set of rules and people had followed them, we could have avoided 84% of the fatalities from 2005-2015.”

Driving change

The second session investigated the role of the human factors at play in the transport sector with ways to improve safety standards at the forefront of the presentations. As Rainer Wysotzki of Praxair underlined, “Driving is the riskiest task within in our industry and it was the number one reason for fatalities in our industry over the last few years. In 2015, four fatalities were reported in relation to driving – all of which were related to human behaviour.”

Christine Becard of Air Liquide also added that, “Acting simultaneously on a combined approach towards technical, personal, and organisational levels is essential in decreasing the impact of human factors on the roads.”

Alastair Hutchinson of The Linde Group then switched the focus to India, explaining a case study in which Linde enhanced its operational efficiency and the welfare of its drivers and delivery fleet in the country. He revealed that the industrial gas giant reduced the possibilities of risks on Indian roads through positively influencing the changing behaviours of its drivers and implementing rules, such as banning deliveries at night time when risks are higher and making the drivers feel valued in their roles.

As a result, Hutchinson revealed that Linde increased its incident-free drive time in India from just two kilometres to over 25 million kilometres.

Safety sign

Following a networking lunch, the third session of the day focused on incident prevention and investigation, again with the overriding idea that the process needs to be implemented from a management level first. As many presentations affirmed throughout the morning, there are a number of external factors at play when talking about human factors in accidents in our industry, the majority of which are outside of our control.

Christina Fry of Air Products summarised this by saying, “Operators are not usually the instigators in accidents, they happen to be the inheritors of system defects created by poor design, incorrect installation, faulty maintenance and bad management decisions. Their part is usually that of adding the final garnish to the lethal brew.”

This is essentially a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. To combat this, she reasoned that employing a team effort to figure out solutions is the best course of action for future safety as ultimately, the team that invents the solutions will live through them in the future.

The day’s final session took a deeper look into behavioural safety observations with Praxair’s Juan Pelaez Bravo identifying that whilst 70-90% of the events caused in the industry are down to human error, 70% of those incidents are actually due to a system induced error or an organisational weakness – something that companies normally overlook.

In response to this, Praxair has been working on its internal company safety culture by implementing its Safety Observation System (SOS), a measurable, sampling procedure based on observations in the workplace. “If we can predict it, ultimately we can prevent it,” Bravo added.

The final presentations covered topics on the antecedents and consequences that address behaviours, safety feedback and the impact of human factors in spills and releases in the industrial gas industry that affect the environment.

Day two of EIGA’s Winter Session 2017 continues here in Belgium tomorrow, covering Seveso and alarm management, leadership and coaching, leadership and competence. A full review of the event will be published in the upcoming March edition of gasworld magazine.