Human factors impact our industry on a daily basis; we’re all mortal and so we all have the capabilities to make mistakes. But how can we anticipate, react and optimistically eradicate all accidents and injuries from the workplace? That’s what the European Industrial Gases Association (EIGA) has been investigating at its 2017 Winter Session here in Belgium.

Over the course of the past two days, around 25 industry professionals have taken to the stage to debate and break-down the human element at play in the industrial gases industry as the sector continues along its trajectory towards a zero-accident workplace.

Under the theme of Human Factors, around 200 delegates gathered at the Le Plaza Hotel in the heart of Brussels for the organisation’s event.

Whilst day one focused on driving a change in safety culture, day two turned its attention to the psychological performance of humans in the industrial gas environment and scrutinised the impact that leadership and learning experience techniques can have on the impact of human factors.

With the majority of delegates from engineering backgrounds, it seemed that everyone was looking for a formula – a concrete and straightforward answer to eliminate the human factor impact in risky situations.

But there are so many uncontrollable, external factors that influence the chain of events that there is no uniform meaning to safety across the industry; there is not a magical formula to solve all human impact issues in a rigid, step-by-step process. Instead, it was suggested that companies should be asking what can be done to make those undesired outcomes less likely.

“There is no off-the-shelf solution to controlling catastrophic risk”

Ian Travers, Leidos

Julie Bell of HSE Health and Safety Laboratory and Air Products’ Christina Fry opened the first session, both presenting on systematic approaches via task analysis management to handle human factors in operations. In order to appease relevant authorities, Fry suggested that a systematic approach to risk assessments will lead companies to ask if the risk identified is acceptable in the workplace, rather than attempting to eliminate it completely.

Ian Travers of Leidos then took to the stage and summarised, “The term ‘process safety’ does not conjure up the same share understating by everyone within an organisation; there is no off-the-shelf solution to controlling catastrophic risk.”

He proposed five crucial questions that companies should be asking: what could go wrong; where will it go wrong; what systems are in place to prevent that failure; most importantly, which of those systems contribute the greatest amount to preventing that harm and critically; which of these systems are the weakest? “Some systems, like people, will be very vulnerable to failure; risks need tailored solutions,” he reiterated.

According to Travers, looking at the criticality and vulnerability of each activity is crucial, with communication the key to unlocking and cultivating a safety culture.

Leading by example

The second session focused on leadership, widely regarded as a critical component in any safety management system. The Linde Group’s John Edward Hunter noted, “The difference between management and leadership is essential but often confused. It’s impressive that people think they can manage behaviour but I don’t agree entirely.”

“We can lead people to create a culture where we have an expectation of a style of behaviour within the workplace, but we need to clearly define the expectation of leadership and the responsibilities of the safety management role,” he expressed.

Air Liquide’s Blandine Armengaud believed her company had an answer – a collective approach based on human factors, founded on a combination of individual and collective intelligence. Whilst Armengaud confessed that Air Liquide does not have a magic wand, she did claim that she had a formula for workplace safety, “Common human values plus methodologies equals the desired results.”

teamwork ideas concept

She explained, “At Air Liquide, we switched the objective from zero accidents to 100% of people going back home in good health after work. Then we relied on the core values of respect and benevolence, mutual aid and recognition by providing meaning to safety action, promoting individual intelligence and encouraging collective intelligence.”

“This collective approach allowed us to grow together; and it extended beyond safety. It reinforced leadership, it boosted industrial performance, it improved social dialogue and built solid working relationships. As a result, the overall day-to-day activity improved,” she said.

The final session of the seminar honed in on coaching, learning and competence methods with discussions surrounding the training of ASU personnel and methods to decrease safety and reliability events due to human mistakes.

Engaging with the engineering mind-set of the audience once again, Tiffany Gaskel of Performance Consultants International also believed she had a formula to execute effective coaching in the industry. She said, “Performance equals potential minus interference; basically, the measure of success in relation to the goal equals what’s possible minus what’s getting in the way.”

“By bringing in a coaching approach, you are incrementally moving towards an interdependent culture and moving out of compliance and into commitment.” Gaskel revealed that industrial gas corporation Linde had seen a 74% drop in incidents since partnering with Performance Consultants International and using this methodology. “Human beings don’t come with a manual but if there was one, coaching would be it,” she added.

Chairman of Praxair’s Organising Committee Per Øystein Storlien closed the event, remarking, “We have had heard some facts, some lessons and some ideas. Now it’s time to convert that information and knowledge that you have learned here and we hope that now you will take these ideas back to your organisations.”

EIGA has begun preparations for its 2018 Winter Seminar, which will take place on the 24th and 25th of January next year in Brussels under the theme of Transport Safety. A full review of EIGA’s 2017 Winter Session will be published in the upcoming March edition of gasworld magazine.