Is Human Error in Workplace Preventable? Maybe

If a worker makes a mistake that leads to an accident, should that employee take the blame?

Maybe not, according to Indiana University of Pennsylvania Safety Sciences professor Jan Wachter.

Wachter believes that human error in the workplace, while not completely preventable, can be managed by better tools to motivate and engage workers in the safety process.

“While human error has been associated with the majority of incidents in the workplace, it can be managed through a variety of mechanisms. But motivation and worker engagement may be the keys to human-error reduction,” he said.

Wachter will test this theory in a research project that recently received $90,000 in funding from the Alcoa Foundation.

Wachter hopes that the outcomes of this research, once instituted in the workplace, could reduce lost workdays due to accidents by 20 percent.

Wachter says that the key difference in his study, as opposed to other research on safety in the workplace, is that he will investigate how well—or how poorly—workers are engaged, or buying into, a shared accountability for identifying at-risk situations and responding to them.

For example, a worker may forget her safety glasses and get glass or metal shards in her eye. Wachter suggests that this type of accident could be prevented through methods of worker engagement. That is, before each work shift, employees may get together and remind each other of the specific personal protective equipment needed for that day’s task.

“It is believed that actively engaged employees demonstrate a greater sense of personal ownership and compliance with safe work methods, adjust more quickly to needed changes in safety practices, and act proactively to ensure that work is being done in the safest way possible,” Wachter said.

IUP has a history of collaboration and support with the Alcoa Foundation and Alcoa Inc. In November 2007, IUP received a $100,000 grant to partner with the Alcoa Foundation to present a two-day conference in Pittsburgh on workplace fatalities.

Source: Indiana University of Pennsylvania